Since we seem to be smack in the middle of "debate season," it's worth taking another look at the state of the Senate midterm races. Also, because it has been three weeks since we last took a look at the Senate's political landscape. Since that time, both Republicans and Democrats have seen some movement in their direction, but a large number of states remain simply too close to call, with less than two weeks to go before the election.
Over in the House, it is looking more and more like the Republicans are going to be in control next year. It is still possible for the Democrats to squeak out an upset here, but to do so they'd pretty much have to run the tables of all the races in which they even have a chance. And, if you believe the mainstream media, the momentum is not exactly headed in this direction. But there are so many individual House races that it is almost impossible to keep track of them all, so I leave that sort of thing for the professional poll-watchers.
In the Senate, since our last overview, eight states have changed category. The somewhat-arbitrary categories I use here are: Safe Republican, Safe Democrat, Lean Republican, Lean Democrat, and Too Close To Call. The movement was evenly split, with four states moving in a better direction for Democrats, and four moving towards Republicans.
To come up with a total, we have to start counting with the Senate seats that are not up for election this year. There are 63 seats that will not change hands -- 40 of them Democratic, and 23 of them Republican. Democrats start with a large advantage, in this respect.
But let's take a look at the other 37 races, and then make a guess as to how it'll all turn out.
Safe Republican (15)
[AL, AR, AZ, FL, GA, IA, ID, IN, KS, ND, OH, OK, SC, SD, UT]
These are all races where Republicans are running away with things, polling generally 10-15 points higher (or better) than their Democratic opponents. The majority of these states stayed the same, and have not changed categories -- meaning they are probably a lock for Republicans on Election Day.
Florida joined this group, as Marco Rubio seems to be pulling away from his closest challenger in the three-way contest, Charlie Crist. The Democrat is running far behind both of them, so it seems pretty likely that Rubio's going to wind up on top when the votes are counted.
Ohio also joined this group, as it seems more and more likely that Rob Portman is also going to walk away with his race over the Democrat, Lee Fisher.
The only good news for Democrats here is that North Carolina has shown enough late movement in the polls that the state cannot be counted as "safe" anymore for the Republican, Richard Burr. Elaine Marshall has shown a surge in her poll numbers, but is still significantly behind Burr, so North Carolina only moves down to Lean Republican.
Adding the Republican seats that aren't up for election to the 15 safe seats here, we come up with 38 seats that are very likely to be carried by Republicans.
Safe Democratic (7)
[DE, HI, MD, NY(a), NY(b), OR, VT]
There was nothing but good news for Democrats in this category this time around, as two states moved up to Safe Democratic, and none moved out of the category.
Because of a special election, both New York Senate seats are up for election this time around. Before now, we've put Charles Schumer's seat into the safe category for Democrats, but to this we now add Kirsten Gillibrand's seat, since she is absolutely trouncing her Republican opponent in the polls, and has been doing so consistently for a while now.
And, of course, the Delaware race would win the award for "race which has moved most dramatically, after the nominee was announced," if such an award existed. Every time Republican/Tea Partier Christine O'Donnell opens her mouth, it provides more and more merriment on the left, just on the comedic factor alone. O'Donnell has give Democrats a very bright spot in an otherwise rather grim election season for Democrats, and by doing so has all but guaranteed Chris Coons a victory that almost no one expected before the primary results were announced.
With these two pickups, Democrats can now count on seven safe seats. Adding these to the Democratic seats not up for election, and Democrats can seemingly count on at least 47 seats in the new Senate.
Lean Republican (5)
[AK, LA, MO, NC, NH]
There was a lot of movement both into and out of this category this time around, most of which was good news for Republicans. As previously mentioned, both Florida and Ohio moved out of Lean Republican up to Safe Republican. The one bit of bad news for the GOP here was that North Carolina moved in the opposite direction. But two other states moved up from Too Close To Call to this category, meaning that overall it was a net positive for Republicans.
Alaska is tough to call at the point, for many reasons. Polling on a write-in candidate is notoriously hard to do accurately, for starters. And the three-way nature of the race is another challenge to pollsters. But, at this point, it is looking like no matter who wins the race, they will be caucusing with the Republican Party. Joe Miller and write-in candidate (and incumbent) Lisa Murkowski are neck-and-neck, with the Democrat bringing up the rear. It is still conceivable that the Democrat could pull an upset here, but it isn't all that likely at this point. So while I can't predict exactly who will actually win the race, I think it's safe to put Alaska into at least Lean Republican at this stage.
I had been holding Louisiana in the Too Close To Call category, in the hopes of David Vitter being humbled by his past scandals and transgressions, but it just doesn't seem to be happening. And if the voters haven't turned from Vitter at this point, it doesn't seem likely that they're going to in the next two weeks. So Louisiana also moves up from a tossup to at least Lean Republican this time around.
Adding in the five Lean Republican states to their running total, we come up with 43 Republican seats.
Lean Democratic (2)
There was also a fair amount of movement in this category for Democrats as well, all of it good news for their side. Both Delaware and the second New York Senate seat moved up to Safe Democratic this time around.
And Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal seems to be consistently polling a comfortable margin above his challenger, wrestling maven Linda McMahon. Connecticut is a pretty stolid state, so this was entirely expected. By the actual election, Connecticut may even move up to Safe Democratic, but for now stays as just Lean Democratic. But, either way, it has moved out of the Too Close To Call category, likely for the rest of the race.
California, some might argue, really does belong in the Too Close To Call category, but this is one of those races where I am trusting my gut feeling more than actual polling data, and I think it's going to be a lock for Barbara Boxer. Especially since she could benefit from a larger-than-normal youth vote, seeing as how Proposition 19 is on the ballot (which would legalize recreational marijuana). Boxer (and Jerry Brown, in his governor's race) may "ride the coattails" of a surge of youths voting on Proposition 19, in other words -- which won't show up in opinion polls beforehand, most likely.
Adding these two leaners to the running total of Democratic seats, we come up with 49 seats, a six-seat advantage over the Republican numbers, but just shy of guaranteeing continued Democratic control of the chamber.
Too Close To Call (8)
[CO, IL, KY, NV, PA, WA, WI, WV]
The Too Close To Call category actually shrank from last time, as three states moved into one party's column or the other. Alaska and Louisiana moved Republican, and Connecticut moved Democratic. No other states were added to this list, either.
In each of these races, the polls are very, very tight. Neither candidate has emerged as the favorite, and unless there is very late movement in the polls, these are the eight states we'll be watching closest on election night, as the returns come in.
Nevada has some awfully amusing rules for how they settle ties in elections (such as "dealing a hand of poker, best hand wins" -- you just can't make this stuff up), so there's even the prospect of some high drama after the votes are counted.
An argument could be made that Wisconsin should really move to at least Lean Republican at this point, but I am holding out some hope for this race, so call this one another "gut feeling" decision, if you will.
Democrats have shown some late poll movement in their favor in a number of these states (Pennsylvania and Kentucky, to name two), and they only need to win two of these eight races to retain control of the Senate. Those are pretty good odds, even in a Republican "wave" year, I have to say.
OK, this is the part where I just toss a dart at the wall and take a guess on all of the tossup races. I should warn everyone that I'm in a fairly optimistic mood today, too.
Democrats easily pick up Washington and West Virginia, and pull off very close upsets in Colorado and Pennsylvania. Republicans easily pick up Wisconsin, and manage a close victory in Illinois. Harry Reid loses his seat by a handful of votes in Nevada, but Democrats manage a real shocker by winning over Rand Paul in Kentucky, as all that Aqua Buddha stuff resonates with the religious voters in the state.
This gives Republicans three states (IL, NV, WI) and Democrats five (CO, KY, PA, WA, WV). Final total in the Senate: 46 Republicans, 54 Democrats.
As I said, I realize that this is pretty optimistic. By the time the election rolls around, I may be a lot more realistic about the Democrats' chances in these tossup races.
The final installment of this "2010 Senate Midterm Overview" column series will be published the Monday before the election, where I'll be giving my final "picks" for this year's races, just to let everyone know.
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Follow Chris Weigant on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChrisWeigant