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11/02/2008

The 7-10's Senate Predictions

When looking at the electoral map, it is clear that Democrats are on offense this cycle. The lone Republican pickup opportunity, Senator Mary Landrieu's seat in Louisiana, seems to have slipped away or gotten buried in the upcoming Democratic wave. The 7-10 is predicting a pickup of 8 or 9 Democratic seats. Even if the Democrats don't win a 60-seat senate majority, there are still enough moderate Republican senators (particularly in the Northeast) who would side with the Democrats on some issues and cut off Republican filibusters.

Most Democratic pickups this election season are in blue states or in red states that are very likely to turn blue: Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, and Virginia. Some of these are open seats, and some of these seats are occupied by strong senators who are vulnerable not because of their own gaffes or ineffectiveness, but rather because of a big blue wave (e.g., New Hampshire and Oregon).

That's five automatic Democratic pickups.

There are two more likely Democratic pickups because of self-inflicted Republican wounds: Alaska (Ted Stevens was recently convicted of a felony) and North Carolina (Elizabeth Dole launched a controversial ad implying that her rival was an atheist).

That brings Democrats to +7.

The Minnesota race is difficult to predict because even though the state is almost certainly going to stay blue, there is a strong independent candidate on the ballot and Norm Coleman is suing Al Franken for defamation. Coleman has the advantage of incumbency, but Franken has the advantage of being a Democrat in a Democratic state. For Coleman to win, he will have to rely on ticket-splitters. If Democrats vote straight-party, Coleman will go down to defeat. If Democrats split their votes between Franken and independent candidate Dean Barkley, Coleman will survive.

This is probably the least likely of the "likely" Democratic pickups, but it would get the Democrats to +8 (and 59 seats overall).

Then there is a gulf separating this first tier of likely pickups and the next tier of long shot pickups: Mississippi, Kentucky, and Georgia. All three of these are Southern states that are generally not in danger of going blue (though Georgia could get swept up in a large blue wave). All three senators (Roger Wicker, Mitch McConnell, and Saxby Chambliss) have some sort of weakness that threatens to bring one of them (but probably not more than that) down.

Mississippi: Wicker is the interim replacement for former Senator Trent Lott. He is running against former Governor Ronnie Musgrove. Polls show Wicker with a fairly comfortable lead, but there is a large percentage of Black voters in Mississippi. Even if Mississippi doesn't turn blue, tens of thousands of new Black voters will turn out to proudly support Obama. Musgrove might be able to ride Obama's coattails and defeat Wicker if the Black vote is large enough.

Kentucky: Unlike Mississippi, this state does not have a large percentage of Black voters. However, McConnell is not just Senator McConnell. He's Senate Minority Leader McConnell. Many Republicans are unhappy with their party because of their party's support for the $700 economic bailout plan earlier this fall. Free market and small government conservatives did not support this government intervention and are upset with the members of their party who did. As the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, McConnell may pay a price from Republicans who want to steer their party more to the right. Also, the battleground states of Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, and Virginia border Kentucky. Some media markets in these states might bleed into Kentucky, so Obama may be getting free media coverage in Kentucky every time Obama campaigns in southwestern Virginia, southern Ohio, or southern Indiana. That could boost turnout among Democrats.

Georgia: Because of the burgeoning city of Atlanta, this state seems poised to be the first Deep South state to turn blue (I do not put North Carolina and Florida in the "Deep South" category). There is a huge number of Black voters here who will turn out to support Obama. But in addition to that, Chambliss has the problem of having come into power in 2002 by running a nasty campaign against former Senator Max Cleland, a triple-amputee Vietnam War veteran. Many Democrats have not forgotten this and vengeance is on their minds. And to further complicate matters, candidates must win with more than 50% of the vote. If no candidate reaches 50%, the top two finishers will have to compete in a runoff. There is a Libertarian candidate in the race who presumably hurts Chambliss more than Jim Martin, his Democratic challenger. Libertarian and former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr is also running at the top of the ticket.

The Democrats will not win all three of these seats, and they probably won't win two of them. But they do have an outside chance of winning one. And if they do, that would give Democrats their 60th senate seat.

Here's one final point to remember: Even if the Democrats don't make it to 60 this year, they will have another chance to do so in 2010 if Obama (should he win next week) is popular. Like this year, Republicans will be defending more seats in 2010 than Democrats. Many of the Republicans who won seats in 2002 and 2004 did so because of President Bush and national security concerns, rather than because of their own merits. As these concerns fade, however, some of these politicians who otherwise would not have won in the first place might be defeated as they go up for reelection. Saxby Chambliss in particular has to battle this scenario now.

1 comment(s):

DB said...

A Georgia run-off ending in the 60th Senate seat for Dems would be more than historic. It would show how powerful every single district is in this country. It would demonstrate just how powerful each individual voter is in an election. What a great story coming out of Georgia, huh? That adds another month of excitement if this seat happens to be number 60. While this may leave many conservatives on edge for a month, I think this is a sweet end to a super long election. Red-zone politics with just seconds on the clock!

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