Why the GOP Looks Like a Sure Bet to Take the Senate
Policy + Politics

Why the GOP Looks Like a Sure Bet to Take the Senate

In the latest sign Republicans may be wrapping things up in next Tuesday’s midterm election, University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato has gone out on a limb with a forecast entitled “Bet on a Republican Senate Majority.” 

“While many races remain close, it’s just getting harder and harder to envision a plausible path for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate,” Sabato wrote Wednesday in his “Crystal Ball” analysis. “Ultimately, with just a few days to go before the election, the safe bet would be on Republicans eventually taking control of the upper chamber.”

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Other political analysts and forecasters have been more cautious, though the growing consensus is the GOP will somehow win back a Senate majority and slightly expand on their hold over the House.

Sabato stressed it may take many weeks before the Senate’s new makeup is fully revealed. The races in Louisiana and Georgia will almost certainly be determined by run-offs: It’s highly unlikely any candidate will pick up more than 50 percent of the general election vote in either state.

The Georgia runoff between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue would be held on January 6, or three days after the 114th Congress is scheduled to open. Vote counting in some states, like Alaska, will take days, and other races are close enough to trigger a recount, according to Sabato.

A nervous Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), meanwhile, warned in a fundraising pitch to Democrats yesterday that Republicans likely would try to impeach and remove President Obama from office if the GOP takes control of the Senate – and that Congress would be headed for another stormy, unproductive period.

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“Frankly, a Republican House and Senate could go beyond shutting down the government — they could waste months of our lives on impeachment,” Reid said in an email to nearly one million members of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC). The grassroots group has raised over $1.4 million this campaign cycle for progressive candidates and campaigns.  

“In six days the fate of the final two years of the Obama administration will be determined,” Reid wrote. “Either House Speaker John Boehner and a new Senate Republican Majority hold our government hostage in order to pressure President Obama to swallow right-wing policies. Or, we shock Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers, and many pundits like we did on Election Night 2012 – and have a Democratic Senate that puts hard-working Americans first.”

Reid focused his fundraising effort on three races in which the Democratic incumbent or challenger is in hot water: Alaska, where Democratic Sen. Mark Begich faces a tough challenge against Republican Dan Sullivan; Colorado, where Sen. Mark Udall trails GOP Rep. Cory Gardner; and in Iowa, where Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley is slugging it out with GOP state senator Joni Ernst for the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.

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In his analysis, Sabato moved Udall’s race against Gardner from a “tossup” to “leans Republican,” in light of the most recent polling, including one by Quinnipiac that shows Gardner with a seven-point advantage. 

Sabato also revised his rating of a three-way race in South Dakota to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson from “leans Republican” to “likely Republican,” which is good news for former GOP Gov. Mike Rounds. Recent polls show Rounds with an 11 percent to 14 percent advantage over Democratic nominee Rick Weiland and former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler, who is running as an independent.

The Senate is split 55 to 45 in Democrats’ favor, so Republicans need to pick up at least six seats to claim a majority. Republicans have two “surefire pickups” in Montana and West Virginia, says Sabato; it looks increasingly as if South Dakota’s Senate seat will go to the GOP as well.

Thing get murkier after that. Alaska, Colorado, and Iowa, which appear to be edging toward Republicans, could provide the winning margin for a takeover. Those races are not GOP slam dunks but “the tea leaves do not augur well for the Democrats,” Sabato said.

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“Generally speaking, candidates who have leads of three points or more in polling averages are in solid shape to win, but in this election five states – Republican-held Georgia and Kansas, and Democratic-held Iowa, New Hampshire, and North Carolina – feature a Senate race where both of the two major polling averages (RealClearPolitics and HuffPost Pollster) show the leading candidate with an edge of smaller than three points,” according to Sabato.

But what makes the Democrats’ prospects so  precarious is that Republicans have polling leads of more than three points in Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia, where Democrats currently control the seats, while Sullivan holds a more tenuous lead over Begich in Alaska. Sabato said that if he gave the Democrats most of the breaks in these close contests, they could achieve a 50-50 Senate split and retain the majority – with Vice President Joe Biden casting the tie-breaking vote. 

“Given the fundamentals of the 2014 cycle, that outcome remains unlikely,” he concluded. “The Republicans have more credible paths to 51 than the Democrats do to 50. This was true in January and it is still true just days from the election.”

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