With a late-inning surge in campaign fundraising in a handful of crucial battleground states, Republicans appear to be on track to regain control of the Senate in the Nov. 4 mid-term election.
The new analysis by University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato on his “Crystal Ball” website says the political “math and the map” are likely to produce a modest Republican Senate majority of one to three seats. The Democrats currently hold a 55 to 45 seat majority in the Senate, and the Republicans will need at least a six-seat pickup to turn the tables.
The GOP momentum heading into the home stretch has been helped by a turnaround in the campaign funding picture. The New York Times reported Thursday that Republican candidates for the Senate “have overcome a sizeable fundraising edge held by their Democratic opponents for most of the 2014 election cycle,” based on new disclosures that were filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The Times said that in seven key races -- Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan and North Carolina – GOP candidates had more cash on hand than their Democratic opponents in six of the races, with a net advantage of about $7 million. However, Democratic campaigns had booked more TV advertising from Sept. 29 through Election Day in at least five of the races, according to the report.
Sabato – like a number of other political prognosticators who are hedging their bets -- is predicting a GOP net pickup of five to eight seats currently held by Democrats. Two of those seats – in Montana and West Virginia – are considered slam dunks for the Republicans, while a third in South Dakota is deemed only slightly less so. Still, former Republican governor Mike Rounds has managed to turn a sure-thing victory into a probable win in a three-way race with Democrat Rick Weiland and the state’s former Republican Senator, Larry Pressler, who now identifies as an Independent.
Arkansas is likely to be the fourth state to fall to the GOP, according to Sabato, with Rep. Tom Cotton (R) still favored to beat freshman Sen. Mark Pryor (D). The fifth seat might well be in Alaska, where Republican Dan Sullivan is holding a steady lead over another freshman Democrat, Mark Begich. However, Begich is counting on a strong voter turnout operation to prove the polls wrong.
Divining the sixth Democratic seat that will fall is proving more problematic, although Republicans appear to have a number of avenues to gaining that critical seat. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is in deep trouble and losing ground to GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy. Yet the outcome of that race may not be conclusive on Nov.4 if neither candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote. In that case, the two will square off in a runoff election on Dec. 6. Cassidy would be the favorite in a runoff, but are no guarantees.
The race to succeed Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa is another tossup, with GOP nominee Joni Ernst holding a narrow lead over Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley. In Colorado, meanwhile, Rep. Cory Gardner (R) has been moving up on Sen. Mark Udall (D), thanks in part to a surprise endorsement from the Denver Post.
That said, the Republicans are struggling to hang on two states red states – Georgia and Kansas. Veteran Sen. Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas stumbled badly after being pilloried in the primary for having lost touch with his state. For a while, some observers gave Roberts up for dead. But he is fending off a serious challenge from independent Greg Orman, a wealthy business entrepreneur, who has begun to stumble in the final weeks of the campaign.
Finally, in the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Democrat Michelle Nunn has surged in recent weeks and now leads her Republican opponent, David Perdue, 48 percent to 45 percent in Georgia.
If neither Nunn nor Perdue wins more than 50 percent of the vote next month, they too would be headed for a runoff on Jan. 6. In other words, it’s possible that the outcome of the races in Georgia and Louisiana won’t be known until well after the Nov. 4 election. Depending on how tight the overall election proves to be, it’s possible that many weeks would go by before it was certain which party controlled the Senate next year.
“With less than three weeks to go, we would much rather be holding the cards Republicans have been dealt versus the ones dealt to the Democrats as both sides play for a Senate majority,” Sabato wrote. “Despite the likelihood of two runoffs, it’s not impossible to imagine the GOP having a good enough night that they get to 51 seats without Georgia or Louisiana.”
That said, a month ago “the Republican position looked much stronger in Georgia and Kansas…as well as South Dakota, a seat that until recently looked like an easy pick-up,” Sabato added. “Republicans could and probably should win all three, even if it takes them until January to do so in the Peach State. But 2014 has been a crazy enough election that one of these seats could possibly slip through the GOP’s fingers.”
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