A Look at the Senate Battlefield

By Paul Mirengoff, PowerLine - August 1, 2012

Ted Cruz’s victory in last night’s Texas run-off surely means that Cruz will serve in the Senate. The Democrats have essentially no hope of winning this race. But how are the more contested races going, and what are the prospects for the Republicans gaining control of the Senate?

Virginia, Massachusetts, and Montana continue to look like 50-50 propositions. In Virginia and Massachusetts, the polls consistently produce virtual dead heats (all polls referred to in this post can be found at Real Clear Politics). I don’t think there are any recent polls from Montana. A June Rasmussen poll had Democrat Jon Tester trailing Republican Denny Rehberg, but within the margin of error. A month earlier, Rasmussen had Rehberg clearly ahead, but Tester seems to have closed the gap. He also has a big monetary advantage right now. So I think it’s fair to rate this a “50-50,” though one in which the Republican may have a slight advantage.

Things look better for Republicans in Nevada, Missouri, and Florida. We’ve written plenty about the Nevada race, where Democratic challenger Shelly Berkley faces ethics charges. In Missouri, three main Republicans are battling for the nomination and all three are ahead of the Democratic incumbent, Claire McCaskill.

In Florida, a recent poll by Survey USA had Republican Connie Mack up by 6 points over incumbent Bill Nelson. An even more recent poll by Quinnipiac had Nelson up by 7. But this, I believe, is the much criticized poll that also has Obama well ahead in Florida.

Florida probably should be considered a toss-up. But the polls I consider most reliable, including one by Rasmussen in early July, have Mack ahead.

The news from Wisconsin is less favorable. Not long ago, former Republican governor Tommy Thompson was well ahead both in the primary polling and in the head-to-head polls against Democrat Tammy Baldwin. Now, it’s unclear who will win the primary and all of the Republicans trailed Baldwin in a recent poll. Thompson’s past positions on health care reform — he spoke favorably about an individual mandate, for example — may well sink him.

North Dakota should be a good state for Republicans. But the Democrats found an attractive, moderate sounding candidate, Heidi Heitkamp, to run against Republican Congressman Rick Berg. Although she trailed Berg by 9 points in the most recent poll I saw, Heitkamp has a shot at holding North Dakota for the Dems.

So let’s look at the big picture (and try to get the math right). The Republicans hold 47 seats. They figure to lose Olympia Snowe's seat in Maine, either to a Democrat or to independent Angus King, who probably will caucus with the Dems. But they figure to pick up Ben Nelson's seat in Nebraska. This would leave them at 47.

Let’s assume that all of the seats other than the ones I’ve discussed go as predicted (some probably won’t "“ keep an eye on Ohio, New Mexico, Hawaii, Indiana, and Arizona). Let’s further assume that the Republicans pick up North Dakota and Missouri, and hold Nevada, but do not pick up Wisconsin. Finally, let’s split the two borderline “50-50″ races — Montana and Florida — making one a Republican pickup and one a Democratic hold.

Now, the Republicans are at 50 seats. If Romney defeats Obama, 50 is enough; otherwise it leaves them one short.

But there are still the two pure "50-50" races "“ Massachusetts and Virginia "“ to consider. If Elizabeth Warren wins in Massachusetts, the Republicans are down to 49 seats. Under the many assumptions made above, they would need to win in Virginia to reach 50 and would not reach 51. If Scott Brown holds Massachusetts, the Republicans will (under the assumptions above) be at 50 regardless of what happens in Virginia and would reach 51 by winning in there.

In other words, this is too close to call now. However, considering that the "magic number" depends on who wins the presidency, and because the presidential and Senate races aren't entirely independent events, especially in states like Virginia and Florida, I'll suggest that the party that wins the Oval Office will also control the Senate come 2013.

"Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time." Winston Churchill

"Proclaim Liberty throughout All the land unto All the Inhabitants Thereof." Inscription on the Liberty Bell

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