11/01/2010 08:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My Final Midterm Election Picks

We're down to the wire with the midterm elections, so it's time to put all the cards on the table and pick the winners of tomorrow's Senate races.

So far, I've shied away from taking a stand on the House races, mostly because keeping track of 435 races is beyond my humble abilities, but I'll even throw a marker down for this one since Election Day is tomorrow. Democrats pick up five Republican-held seats, but Republicans pick up a enormous wave of seats and win the House majority. Final score: 236 Republicans, 199 Democrats.

Since the last time we took an overview of the Senate races, things have tightened up in many of these contests. Mostly, this has been bad news for Democrats, although there are some states firming up in the "D" column. But in our somewhat-arbitrary categories (Safe Republican, Lean Republican, Too Close To Call, Lean Democratic, and Safe Democratic), of the six states who jumped categories this time around, five of them moved towards the Republicans.

The Senate only elects one-third of its membership every two years, plus special elections for vacancies. This year, there are 63 senators who are not up for reelection, and 37 Senate races. Of the senators not up for election, Democrats hold 40 seats and Republicans 23. That's a pretty big advantage to start with, but it's still going to be a close election for Democrats to hold the majority in the chamber. Let's take a look at the individual races, by category.


Safe Republican (18)

[AL, AR, AZ, FL, GA, IA, ID, IN, KS, LA, NC, ND, NH, OH, OK, SC, SD, UT]

Florida was seen as competitive early on this election cycle, due to the three-way race with Charlie Crist running as an Independent. But Marco Rubio now looks poised to win this race, with both Crist and the Democrat polling far behind.

Likewise out of reach for Democrats are Indiana, North Dakota, and Ohio (as well as all the states which have been seen as a Republican "lock" from the very beginning). Three states were added to the list of safe seats for Republicans this time around.

Louisiana's David Vitter seems to have weathered his various prostitute (and other) scandals, and seems likely to walk away with his reelection bid. North Carolina also seemed like a remote possibility for Democrats, but not any longer. New Hampshire also looks solidly Republican, as well.

This gives a total of 18 seats the Republicans seem sure to pick up. Added to the total of the seats they hold which aren't up for election, Republicans are up to 41 seats overall.


Safe Democratic (7)

[DE, HI, MD, NY(a), NY(b), OR, VT]

No movement at all in this category from a few weeks ago. Both New York seats look solidly in the bag for Democrats. Republicans had a dream of picking up Oregon, but it will remain deep blue this time around.

Delaware, of course, will be the most enjoyable race for Democrats to watch tomorrow night, as the only question left to answer is "How much will Christine O'Donnell lose by?" This is one state where nominating a Tea Party candidate in the primaries is going to cost Republicans the general election (there may be others, but this one's a sure bet). If the Delaware Republican voters had gone with Mike Castle, they would likely have won this seat. They didn't, and they're going to pay the price.

With a total of seven safe seats for Democrats, this gives a running total of 47 Democratic seats in the new Senate so far.


Lean Republican (4)

[AK, KY, MO, WI]

There was a lot of movement in this category this time around, all of it good news for Republicans. As previously mentioned, Louisiana, North Carolina, and New Hampshire all moved up to Safe Republican. Even better news for Republicans is the two states that moved up from Too Close To Call to show a real lean towards Republicans late in the game.

Wisconsin, sadly, will not be sending Russ Feingold back to the Senate. This may be the single most stunning race for Democrats to lose tomorrow, as Feingold is beloved by the left (for the most part) and Democrats really didn't see this coming. Wisconsin was considered fairly safe by Democrats early on in this race, but Feingold's challenger has opened up a pretty consistent lead in the range of five to ten percentage points and held it right up to the end.

Kentucky is the other state that moved up from Too Close To Call, although an upset is still possible here for the Democrat. Republican/Tea Partier/Libertarian Rand Paul really should, by all rights, be running away with this state by 10 or 20 points. He's not, and he never has shown that kind of lead for the entire race. But even with all his gaffes and scandals on the campaign trail, Paul has doggedly held onto a small lead for weeks now. There are still a high percentage of "undecided" voters in the polls here, which could give the Democrats a surprise victory tomorrow night (which would be a second Tea Partier to blow a race for Republicans), but right now it looks like Paul will edge this one out.

Alaska is somewhat up in the air, and any of the three candidates running has a real chance to forge a victory. Polling with a write-in candidate in the race is notoriously difficult to do, but at this point it looks like either Lisa Murkowski or the Republican/Tea Partier Joe Miller will likely win the race. A come-from-behind victory for the Democrat is still possible, and would be just as stunning as a Rand Paul loss in Kentucky. But, again, the safe bet is that the Democrat will come in second place, at best, and one of the two other candidates (either one of which will be caucusing with the Republicans) is going to win it.

If Republicans pick up these four lean states, they will have a total of 45 seats overall.


Lean Democratic (3)

[CA, CT, WV]

This is the only place Democrats got some good news this time around, as West Virginia is looking safer and safer for the Democrat in the race. Joe Manchin was a well-loved governor here, and it is looking more and more like he's going to beat out his Republican challenger. This race was another surprise for Democrats (like Wisconsin) because in the early days of the election cycle, West Virginia was seen as a solid lock for Democrats. The race was declared a tossup after some polls came out showing the Republican had pulled even, but in the past few weeks he has faded behind Manchin, who should pull off a victory tomorrow night.

Connecticut is proving to be too serious a state to send a wrestling queen to the United States Senate, as pretty much everyone in Connecticut knew all along. Pundits from outside the Nutmeg State (especially those of the righty persuasion) had held out hope for an upset here, but it is looking more and more like this was nothing but wishful thinking. The "crazy" factor which has shown up elsewhere this year was just a bit too prominent for Connecticut voters, and Mark Blumenthal should win handily.

California will, before the night is over tomorrow, be labeled the "floodwall" that turned back the "Republican wave" this year. For Californians, the overshadowing race has been the governor's race, with Republican Meg Whitman spending more than 140 million dollars of her own money trying to buy Arnold Schwarzenegger's office. But money doesn't always win races out in the Golden State, which Meggles (as I like to call her) is going to find out tomorrow night. This race has put the Senate race in the backseat out here, but Barbara Boxer is quite likely going to return to Washington as California's junior senator. Carly Fiorina's biggest problem was her record at the Silicon Valley company she ran, which included shipping 30,000 jobs to China (not exactly a strong thing for her to run on). Boxer's race may be the closest she's ever had, but she is very likely to emerge victorious tomorrow night.

With these three races, Democrats will have the 50 seats they need to retain control of the Senate, no matter what happens in the tossup races. West Virginia is the only one of these three where a Republican upset is even a possibility.


Too Close To Call (5)

[CO, IL, NV, PA, WA]

This category has shrunk by three states, as Wisconsin and Kentucky moved up to Lean Republican and West Virginia moved to Lean Democratic. All three of the states that moved could indeed surprise poll-watchers tomorrow night, meaning perhaps I should have kept them here after all.

The five races that remain are going to be the knuckle-biters tomorrow night. All of them could truly go either way. Colorado's polls are split right down the middle, meaning turnout will be the key to winning. Illinois has somewhat-flawed candidates on both sides, meaning a lot of people will be "holding their nose and voting" and could also be very close (there are still a high number of undecideds in the polling).

Nevada, though, may be the closest race in the entire country. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is fighting for his political life, and he may well lose this battle. But Sharron Angle still hasn't closed the deal, and Harry has put together a formidable ground operation over the years, renowned for its get-out-the-vote abilities. Turnout, again, will be the key to victory here.

I almost moved Pennsylvania up to Lean Republican, since the Republican in the race has been showing some decent poll numbers as we get down to the wire, but there is a wild card in this race -- and her name is Christine O'Donnell. Because Delaware is such a small state, to run ads in its media market means you have to run ads on Philadelphia television stations. Which means all the Philly (and suburban Philly) voters have been seeing her face as the face of not just the Tea Party but also of the Republican Party. And although Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey is also up on the airwaves, this could make them (especially in the suburbs) think twice about who they're sending to Washington. If Democrat Joe Sestak ekes out a win here, he will likely do so on the strength of the Philadelphia vote. Which is why I left the state in Too Close To Call.

Washington state is the good news for Democrats in this category, as Patty Murray shows a good chance of winning in this very blue state. But she's never really locked it up in the polling, and a few late polls show the race to be neck-and-neck once again. But if the trend holds, Murray will return to the Senate.



Assuming all the states leaning one way or the other are correct (which is, I will fully admit, a big assumption at this point), we now stand at 50 Democrats and 45 Republicans, with five races left to call.

This is where "gut feelings" come into play, I should point out. But I'm a strong believer that political pundits (who are worth their salt) should follow the path set by sports reporters, and publicly name their picks before the Big Game. So while I wouldn't bet the farm on any of these, let's throw a few darts at the wall and see where they land.

Illinois goes Republican, as does Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania shows a wider margin than Illinois, which will be close. Colorado, to many people's surprise, goes Democratic, as does Washington state. Washington will have a wider margin than Colorado, which will be very close.

In Nevada, Harry Reid's ground game wins the day -- but not right away. I predict this race will be so close that it will go into a recount, and may even wind up in the courts (as Al Franken's race did). But when all the shouting's done, Harry Reid returns to the Senate.

The big surprise will be that because Harry's busy with the recount/court case, he will step down as Majority Leader and throw the field wide open for the Democratic caucus to consider. The two top runners, Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois, wage a fierce (but mostly behind-the-scenes) battle for votes, and Durbin narrowly wins to become the next Senate Majority Leader. He will preside over a Senate split between 47 Republicans, two independents (who caucus with Democrats), and 51 Democrats. The effective split will thus be 53 to 47, in Democrats' favor.

Of course, as they say, "your mileage may vary." Feel free to disagree with any or all of my picks in the comments, and tell me what I got wrong. But you've got to do so before the election returns start coming in (about 24 hours from now)!


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