Posts Tagged ‘Pat Toomey’

Milazz 2010 Senate Primer

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

With nine days to go, it looks like the Republicans are poised to take the House. The math in the Senate looks like more of a long shot.

The current Senate makeup is 59-41, counting Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, so Republicans would have to net 10 seats to get to 51, since a 50-50 tie would be broken by Joe Biden.  Below I look at the races where Republicans have to prevail in order to take control.

Probable Republican Pickups

Arkansas, North Dakota and Indiana have long been considered Republican pickups, with the Republican candidates leading in opinion polls for months. These races are basically over at this point and can safely be considered Republican pickups.

Lean Republican

Wisconsin

In one of the more puzzling results of the year, Russ Feingold has trailed badly behind plastics manufacturer (I can’t help but think of The Graduate) and Tea Party candidate, Ron Johnson. A few months ago, I characterized this as a Democratic Firewall seat, based on Feingold’s history of bucking party and common wisdom as well as Wisconsin’s traditional voting patterns.  Wisconsin has been true blue for a while now and has a history of electing fiery populist Democrats (dating back to ”Fightin” Bob LaFolette during the Progressive Era). In recent polling Feingold has trailed by up to 8 points, with Johnson polling over 50% in some polls. This is very bad news for Feingold at this late hour, and the race would have qualified as a Probable Republican Pickup just a week ago. However, just last week week two polls came out showing Feingold closing the gap, so I err on the side of caution and include this as a Lean Republican seat.

Pennsylvania 

In another race where biography would seem to indicate a different result, former Congressman and Admiral Joe Sestak has consistently trailed former Congressman and free market libertarian derivatives trader Pat Toomey for almost the entire year. But in what seems to be a national trend of poll tightening in Senate Races,  Sestak has pulled even with Toomey or is showing a small lead. Having pulled even, Sestak hopes the Pennsylvania Democratic machine can carry him over the finish line. 

Colorado

Tea Party favorite Ken Buck has generally led appointed Senator Michael Bennett by 2-5 points since the primaries. This race has tightened in recent weeks as Bennett has surged slightly and Ken Buck has stepped on his message a few times. A new Denver Post poll out today has the race a dead heat, but Buck should still be considered a slight favorite here.

Tossups 

Nevada

The nastiest, most high profile race in the country has to be in Nevada, where the Least Charismatic Man in America continues to be locked in a tight race against the Crazy Cat Lady from your Old Neighborhood. The fact that Harry Reid hasn’t been able to put the Tea Party Fringe Candidate Sharron Angle out of her misery is a testament to how much Nevadans hate their sitting senator. This is probably the most polled race in the country and it seems like they alternate leads in every other poll. Angle’s up by a couple of points now, but all indications are that this race will go down to the wire.

In Illinois, the voters face another Faustian bargain as Mark Kirk, a former Republican Congressman who is most famous for lying about his military record during the Gulf War takes on Alexi Giannoulias, who is most famous for his family’s shady savings and loan which went belly up early this year. On Meet the Press, Kirk defended his exaggerations about his military experience while Giannoulias put himself in the running for the most cringeworthy political statements in history when he basically admitted that he knew he was loaning money to mobsters when he worked at his father’s bank 4 years ago. This race is another that is too close to call, with Kirk mostly maintaining a one to two point lead over Giannoulias for the past few months, but Giannoulias showing some signs of life in the past few weeks. Another race where turnout will be key.

West Virginia

The addition of West Virginia as a possible Republican pickup has kept the Republicans in the game. Here, popular governor Mike Manchin is taking on another perennial Republican loser, John Raese, in a Special Election for the seat of held by the late Robert Byrd. In another example of how ignorance sells in this country, Raese has made a point of pointing out that he can’t pronounce non Anglo names, recently calling Energy Secretary  Dr. Steven Chu, Dr. Chow Mein (Stay classy John Raese!).

 This seat was initially assumed a safe Democratic seat because of the popularity of Manchin, but in recent weeks, Raese surged into a lead over Manchin with a clever campaign which acknowledges Manchin’s popularity as Governor, but agues that he would become a rubber stamp for Obama and Pelosi if he were to go to Washington.  The polling in this race has been all over the map, with polls within days of each other exibiting violent swings.

Democratic Firewall Seats

If the Republicans were to sweep all of the above races, they would still need to take one more seat to get to 51. The two most obvious seats are the generally reliable blue states of Washington and California, where two Democratic women from the 1992 “Year of the Woman” class are facing tough challenges.

Washington

In Washington, Senator Patti Murray faces Dino Rossi, another perennial Republican challenger who narrowly lost a race for Governor in 2004 and then lost by a more substantial margin in 2008. This race has bounced around a bit, but Murray has held a small lead for the past few weeks. At this point, Nate Silver ranks this race as an 85% chance of a Murray win.

California

Liberal stalwart Barbara Boxer, another Year of the Woman Alumnus, has yet to put away former Hewlet Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, but she has led her in the polls by margins from 1% to 8% since early September. Although Boxer’s inability to poll about 50% has been cited as a bad sign for her, a Republican pickup here, while possible, seems unlikely.

Lean Republican Hold

While Democrats are on defense in almost all of the swing seats, there is still faint hope that they could take one Republican seat. Democratic hopes are pinned on Kentucky, where son of the Tea Party icon Ron Paul, Rand Paul, is taking on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. Even in reliably red Kentucky, Paul has struggled due to the original intent constitutionalism and the radical free market ideology that he stands for. While this race has been closer than expected, Paul now leads by close to 5% and Conway’s attacks on Paul’s college associations and pranks look increasingly desperate. It looks like the Democrats will have to rely on defense to get them through this one.

Bottom line for the Republicans? They need to lock up the three seats they are favored in (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Colorado), run the table in the tossup elections of Nevada, Illinois and West Virginia, and take either California or Washington while holding on to their lead in Kentucky.

Stay frosty folks. The next week and a half will be interesting.

The Republican Wave is Building

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

With Labor Day being the traditional kickoff for election season, the prognosticators are out with their projections for the midterm elections. Two weeks ago, I linked to an interview with election expert Charlie Cook, this week Larry Sabato updated his Crystal Ball projections and Nate Silver has also recently updated his Senate Rankings. No one has any good news for the Democrats.

Both Cook and Sabato are predicting a Democratic takeover of the House this year. Silver has the Republicans picking up 6 to 7 seats in the Senate, but many have predicted that the losses could be greater and that the Senate is now in play.

While a complete analysis of why the Democrats are in such dire straits is beyond the scope of this post, here are the broad strokes and narratives I see. Let’s start with the structural issues: the party of the president almost invariably loses seats in the midterm elections and in bad economic times, voters tend to punish the incumbent party. Given that times are bad and Democrats are the incumbents, this isn’t good news for them. Also, somewhat ironically, the Democrats are a victim of the success that they had in the 2006 and 2008 elections: 53 out  of 253 Democratically held seats are in districts where Republicans were holding those seats five years ago. 48 Democratic representatives are running in districts that voted for John McCain (all but one of which voted for George Bush in 2004 as well). In addition, midterm election voters tend to be older, whiter and more Republican (none of which helps the Democrats).

Add to this mix a strong effort on the part of Democrats to push through their agenda, an agonizing long year in which coverage of the suasage making and payoff of every special interest that was involved in order to pass Health Care Reform was on full display while the country desperately wanted the Congress to focus on job creation, an economy that has stopped the bleeding but shows scant signs of creating enough jobs to make a dent in the unemployment numbers, the resurgence of the Republican right and the resulting  gap in enthusiasm that poll after poll has shown significantly favors the Republicans and you have a recipe for disaster.

Republicans need to pickup 39 net seats for a majority and Cook predicts a net gain of 35 to 45 seats by Republicans, “with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome.” His more recent comments indicate that the results could be significantly worse. Larry Sabato is predicting a 47 seat pickup.

With 435 House seats, it’s difficult to do a detailed analysis, but a look at the Senate forecasts gives a picture of where the country is right now. In what was once considered a prime opportunity for the Democrats in Pennsylvania, former Admiral and Congressman Joe Sestak has been running consistently behind financier and former Congressman Pat Toomey. As Al Hunt points out, while Specter was defending his country in the Iraq war, Toomey was selling derivatives, the complex instruments most responsible for the financial crash. Still, Toomey has led Sestak by a margin of over 5 points since mid-July and Nate Silver now rates this seat at an 88% chance that Toomey prevails.

In Colorado, similar dynamics are at play. When Tea Party candidate Ken Buck won the Republican primary, many people believed that he would be the next Sharron Angle, giving appointed Senator Michael Bennett a much better chance at the seat. Silver now ranks this seat at a 77% chance of Republican takeover.

In New Hampshire and Ohio, just a few months ago considered opportunities for Democrats to pick off Republican seats, Silver now rates the races  at 23% and 18% chances of Democratic pickups, respectively. Even Nevada is ranked by Silver as a 59% chance of an Angle win (which seems generous to Angle given the ability of Nevada voters to choose “None of the Above” for the seat).

As Al Hunt notes, the Democrats’ Senate firewall consists of the generally reliable Democratic states of California, Washington and Wisconsin, that are in play this year. Increasingly, it looks like the outcomes in these three states may determine whether the Democrats retain control of the Senate or whether we will be looking at Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Cook has commented that everything would have to go the Democrats way in order for the Republicans to gain 10 seats, but this has not been uncommon during wave elections. Also, if the Republicans come within a one vote margin, keep an eye on Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (who generally votes like a Republican anyway) and Joe Lieberman (who has historically delighted in sticking his finger in the eye of other Democrats). If either of these guys decide to switch parties after a tight margin, they could hand the Republicans the Senate.  

Ironically, although recent polls have shown the Republicans holding an unprecedented 10% lead in the generic polling for Congress, those same polls consistently show that the Republican party is less trusted than the Democratic party. Charlie Cook puts it well when he explains that it is possible for the Republicans to be winning even though they are not as trusted because the election “isn’t about them.” It’s about the Democrats. 

My take on the mood of the country is that many of the American people have seen what one party rule by the Democrats looks like and they’ve rejected it. Although they don’t like the Republicans any more than the Democrats, they figure, with Obama having veto power, the Republicans won’t be able to screw things up as badly as they might be able to with a Republican president. Given the level of disgust they have, they’re willing to take a chance.

This week the Democrats New York Times detailed Democratic plans to concentrate money in about two dozen vulnerable Democratic sates and let the remaining Democrats fend for themselves, effectively trying to create a firewall that would allow them to narrowly maintain power. Expect to see similar attempts in the California, Wisconsin, Washington and possibly Illinois Senate seats.

Certainly it’s possible for the Democrats fortunes to change in the next few months, but it’s hard to see what the catalyst for that change would be. The debate over the Bush Tax Cuts should be illuminating, but it’s hard to see it as a game changer. Campaigns generally help to focus people’s attention, clarify their viewpoints and make them remember why they voted for someone in the first place, but if the public has already written the Democrats off, then changing their minds will be a tall order.

This could get ugly.

Silver’s Likely Voter Model Bad News For Dems

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Nate Silver has updated his 2010 Senate election model.

The main change from the previous model is the addition of a likely voter screen. As I noted in my previous post on Silver’s rankings, turnout will be key in this election cycle and assumptions about turnout will impact any predictions significantly.

The addition of turnout assumptions are not good news for Democrats this year.

While Silver gives the Republicans only a 12% or 16% chance of taking the Senate (depending on whether Charlie Crist caucuses with them), for the first time you can see the outlines of what a Republican takeover would look like. With the exception of the Florida race, the top 10 potential pickups are all Democratic seats, with the 9th being a tossup in Illinios and the 10th being the race in Washington state where sitting Senator Patty Murray only leads presumptive Republican nominee Dino Rossi by a half a percentage point.

Silver ranks seven seats at more than a 60% chance that Republicans will take control.

Perhaps the biggest shift for the Democrats is in Colorado, where Michael Bennet’s hopes have seemed to dim in recent weeks as Ken Buck’s primary surge has translated into general election polling success.

To be sure, it’s not all bad news for the Democrats.  As has been reported extensively here, Sharron Angle’s campaign in Nevada continues to implode and three recent polls (two of which were published after Silver’s post) have now shown Reid with a small lead. In Delaware, what seemed like an easy victory earlier this year for moderate Republican Congressman Mike Castle is now rated at a 64% chance of Republican victory.

The new model also has Ohio and Missouri right behind Washington state as potential Democratic pickups. In what will certainly dissapoint Republicans, Barbara Boxer’s chances of losing her California race is ranked just below the chance that Rand Paul will lose in Kentucky.

One projection that pops out to me is the 62% chance that  Joe Sestak will lose to Club for Growth Candidate Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. Based only on my gut, I would have given Sestak a better chance here, but as James Carville famously said years ago, Pennsylvania is basically Philadelphia and Pittsburg with Alabama in between. This always makes it hard to predict, but Democratic successes in the past few cycles have been encouraging.

Once again, all the usual caveats apply here, but the Democrats are running out of time to turn this around. Even if there’s only a 16% chance of losing control, turning the largest Senate majority since Watergate into a one or two vote margin within two years would be a tumble of epic proportions for the party.