So what will it take in this country to get Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to sit down? Do Republicans stand a chance of winning a majority in the US Senate?
We are 4 months away from election day when we will find out. And a lot will happen between now and then. Some good (for Republicans) some not so good.
My current score is at the bottom of the page if you want to look at my “prediction” for Senate Control in November as things stand now.
We have a lot of polling data going back a while. For the purposes of my initial analysis, I always like to look at the mood of the country in the past and how it effected – or at least seemed to effect – the elections. And presidential popularity, job approval and the “generic” Congressional ballot are fairly good indicators, and somewhat consistant in predicting or at least understanding why people voted like they did. And how they may vote in November.
In 2002, George W. Bush was president, of course. Following Bush’s election in 2000, the US Senate was deadlocked in a 50-50 tie giving VP Dick Cheney the tie-breaking vote and this allowed the Republicans to maintain control after losing 4 seats in the 2000 election. The slim majority disappeared, however, when Republican Jim Jeffords of Vermont decided to become an Independent and caucus with the Democrats. So on election day 2002, the Democrats held a one seat majority.
2002 being a midterm election, the normal expectation is that the party that holds the White House will lose a few seats. So Democrats were hoping for a larger majority. But they were disappointed when the election yielded a net gain of 2 seats for the Republicans, giving them control of the Senate once again and bucking a 100 year trend in midterm elections.
So what happened?
Let’s examine the factors I previously mentioned under “Historic Trends”. In 2002, Bush was enjoying a 65% approval rating with only 32% disapproving. The aftermath of 9/11 was the reason. He was riding the wave his response to the terrorist act created. However, the “Generic Congressional Ballot” survey showed Republicans only at +2. Which indicates that Bush was very popular – something that was about to change – but the country gave most of the credit to Bush, not his party.
By the 2004 election, in which Bush defeated John Kerry, his approval rating was down to 50% with a disapproval of 47%, about the margin he won by. There were a lot of people still fond of Bush for his efforts to bring America back from 9/11 and they voted for him. The Generic Congressional ballot was a tie. But somehow the Republicans managed to pick up 4 seats in the US Senate. But this was a Presidential election and Bush still had coattails.
Democrats were apoplectic that Bush had won reelection. And the media joined the Democrats to tear down Bush on any and every front. And they did so with great effectiveness as the wars dragged on and discontent rose. And the 2006 midterms were a disaster for the Republicans. But looking at Bush’s approval numbers, they were down to 39% and his disapproval was at 55%. Even worse, the Generic Congressional ballot showed the nation favoring Democrats by 11.5%. And the combination of a high disapproval of the president coupled with very favorable generic polling data, the Democrats took a net of 6 Senate seats from the Republicans. So not only was Bush unpopular, the Democrats had managed to state the case to the voters that the Democrats were a better alternative.
Presidential election year 2008 was the perfect storm for Democrats. Bush was down to a 29% approval rating with a 68% disapproval rating. And the generic ballot had Democrats at a +9. Not as high as 2 years earlier, but still high. And with the phenomenon that was Barack Obama, this trilogy of factors combined to see Democrats gain 8 more Senate seats. The Republicans were down to only 41 seats. Again, a presidential election year.
Another midterm election where we would expect Democrats – the party holding the White House – to lose a seat or two. Obama’s popularity had dropped like a rock from almost no disapproval and near 100% approval at his election in 2008 to 46% approval and 49% disapproval. But even more important was the Congressional Generic ballot. Republicans stood at a +9. And these factors, a negative net approval for the president and a large generic lead for Republicans – indicating that they have made their case to the people as a viable option combined to see the Republicans gain 6 seats. Obamacare and other overreaching on Obama’s part played a major role.
The last election showed Obama’s approval at 50% and his disapproval at 47%. The generic ballot was a tie. This was, of course, a presidential election year and the Democrats turned out to vote. But with a net positive approval and at least a tie on the generic ballot, the Democrats managed to get back 2 of the seats they lost in 2010.
Looking back at the midterm indicators for 2002, 2006 and 2010 we see that despite Bush having a 65% approval rating in 2002, Republicans only gained 2 seats. But the generic Congressional ballot was only +2 for Republicans. So a high approval rating alone did not translate into major Senate seat pickups. Still, it was a gain and the midterm trend says Republicans should have lost seats. And in 2006, Bush had a 39%-55% negative approval and the generic ballot was +11.5 for the Democrats, and the net result was a 6 seat gain for Democrats. And in 2010 Obama had a slight negative approval rating at 46% approval to 49% disapproval. But the Generic ballot had Republicans up +9. And the Republicans won 6 seats in 2010. And in the presidential election years it shows that the party that wins the White House gets a coat tail boost in the Senate races.
But 2014 is a bit of an oddity looking at these indicators. Obama is down 42% to 54% in his approval ratings, yet Democrats hold a slight lead in the generic ballot polls of +1.4%. So historically, at least going back to 2002, in order to gain 6 or more seats a party needs both a negative approval rating for the occupant of the White House and a near double digit advantage in the generic ballot polls.
Obama has the negative approval rating that Republicans want to see, but the generic ballot numbers are an indication that the public may not like Obama’s job performance, but Republicans have not made a case like they did in 2010 (+9) this year. So while we have the approval numbers where they need to be – the will to vote Republican is missing.
Why Were Republicans +9 in 2010?
So how do we get to a +9 or +10 in generic ballot polls we need to get the 6 seats we need to take back the Senate?
Well, let’s look at 2010 and try to understand what got Republicans to that +9 mark in the generic polls.
Obamacare was very unpopular and the TEA Party mobilized to speak out against the takeover of Health Care. Republicans worked with the TEA Party and Conservatives and united a lot of independent voters that believed that this was wrong for America. That Republicans had a better idea. So Republicans were given 6 Senate seats. Not a majority, but their efforts and promises were rewarded.
But since then, Republicans have turned on the conservatives that were responsible for the 2010 boost. And the grassroots have become disillusioned with the Republicans they helped put in office. The generic ballot would be +9 or higher for the Republicans if we had the same dynamics and cooperation we did in 2010. When we have Republicans urging Democrats to vote in primaries like Mississippi and efforts to slate Delegates and toss out Conservatives as well as encouraging Democrats to vote in Republican Primaries in Virginia, the drop in the generic ballot is not due to Independents staying away, it is due to the Conservatives being driven away. Republicans have lost the support of their conservative base. Absent the attempts to purge Conservatives – who are responsible for the majority in the House – the Republicans would easily take back the Senate in 2014. Without Conservative support, it will not happen.
So lets look at each state and see where the polls stand as of today.
Democrats Will Win the Following States:
It’s Hawaii. They vote Democrat. Democrats hold.
Al Franken is leading by 10 points in this heavily Democrat state. Unfortunately, Democrats will hold this seat.
A Left Coast Democrat stronghold. Incumbent Merkley is up by 10.
A well funded Republican money man Ed Gillespie is fighting a well funded and well liked Mark Warner. Some polls have Warner up by as much as 30 points. This race will see Gillespie set a record for the most money spent in a landslide loss. Safe Democrat seat.
If the Republicans manage to get their generic polling numbers up to 9 or 10 this could be a close race, but as it stands now it will be a Democrat victory.
Former MA Senator Scott Brown has moved to New Hampshire in hopes of winning a seat. Brown, you may recall, won the seat Ted Kennedy had occupied for so many years. The world was shocked when a Republican won that seat. Brown ran as the 41st vote against Obamacare, promising to vote to filibuster the bill. He never got the chance to cast that vote because the Democrats used the bill that was passed before Brown arrived and never sent it into a conference committee for changes. And the remainder of votes Brown cast were mostly the same as Harry Reid after that until his defeat. Like Michigan, this race might be competitive if Republicans could convince their base to vote for this guy, but his record is well known. Folks in New Hampshire are also not too fond of outsiders that want to come in and run for office. The Democrats will win this race.
Toss Up States:
The primary in Alaska is not until August 19th. This one has a good chance of going Republican, but we will have to see what happens.
The voters will all be stoned, no doubt. Right now this one is very close and will probably move to the Republican win category.
Georgia has a runoff election later this month. so, like Alaska, we don’t have a candidate set yet.
For now, a toss up. This is one Republicans can take if they get their act together.
Republicans will Win the Following States:
A Southern state that is leaning Republican. Republicans should win this one.
Another close one but at this point it is leaning to the Republicans.
Some rank this a toss-up. McConnell is not going anywhere. He will do whatever it takes to win. He’s friends with Thad Cochran after all.
This one is close. But I think the war on oil, coal and energy will doom Mary Landrieu.
The Republican Daines is up by 15 points.
Easy Republican hold.
It is still not 100% certain that Thad Cochran will be the nominee. Most likely, but Democrats voted in the primary runoff and it is likely going to court. But whichever Republican is on the ballot will win.
The Republican would win outright, but a former Democrat has decided to run in this 3 way race which will split the Democrat votes. Republican win.
A Republican win here.
The Tally Please!
Republicans Win 9
Democrats win 6
Toss UPs – 4
So my first analysis shows that the Republicans will add 9 seats to their 41 safe seats for a total of 50.
Democrats will win 6 seats to add to their 40 safe seats for a total of 46 seats.
There are 4 seats that are going to be very important. Democrats will need to pick up all 4 of the toss up seats and will have a lot of trouble doing so. They will likely end up splitting the 4 toss ups with Republicans. So the likely scenario has the GOP with a 52-48 Senate majority.
And the faster the Republicans come together and stop fighting amongst themselves the better.