60 Still A Longshot For Democrats

60 Still A Longshot For Democrats

By Reid Wilson - October 31, 2008

With just over 100 hours until polls close, Democrats are still smelling a filibuster-proof sixty-seat majority in the Senate. But as surveys across the country show races getting tighter, Republicans maintain a good chance of keeping the Democrats short of their magic number.

An analysis of Senate seats in play shows Democrats seriously competing in a whopping eleven Republican-held states, while the GOP only has an increasingly long shot at one seat.

Senators Roger Wicker and Mary Landrieu were the last two off our list. Wicker will face huge African American turnout in Mississippi, and he's gone on radio with ads featuring crossover voters who say they will back him and Barack Obama. But Democratic foe Ronnie Musgrove hasn't made a big move lately, and he trails in the polls.

As for Landrieu, the Louisiana senator's Republican opponent is trying to connect her with Obama in a negative way, and state Treasurer John Kennedy is touting a new poll that shows him trailing by just a single point. But public surveys have showed Landrieu leading comfortably, and Democratic strategists barely mention her as in trouble.

Here, just days before Election Day, is our latest list of the ten seats most likely to change hands in the 111th Congress:

10. Kentucky (R - McConnell): Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is in trouble for two reasons: First, as his party's leader in the Senate, Democrats have an easy task in associating him with President Bush, who is deeply unpopular even in Kentucky. Second, the economic bailout package is going to hurt in Kentucky, and fellow GOP Senator Jim Bunning's loud opposition to McConnell's position is not doing him any favors. If voters go into the booth with anything but a combination of McConnell, Bush and Wall Street on their minds, Democrat Bruce Lunsford has no chance. If voters are thinking of two of those three issues, Lunsford could be a senator. RCP Average: McConnell +3.6.

9. Georgia (R - Chambliss): Black turnout in Georgia is going to be through the roof. African Americans are already out-performing by as many as half a dozen points in early voting, and that, along with a third-party candidate, could push ex-State Rep. Jim Martin into a runoff with Republican Saxby Chambliss. Then again, reweighting a recent poll to account for increased black turnout pushes Martin too close to the 50% mark for Chambliss' liking. Republicans' best shot is for the race to head to a December runoff. RCP Average: Chambliss +3.0.

8. Minnesota (R - Coleman): The land of 10,000 lakes is also the dividing line between seats Democrats are likely to pick up and seats Republicans are likely to keep. The trouble is, thanks to Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley, it's hard to say on which side of the line Senator Norm Coleman falls. Recent polls have shown Coleman making a bit of a comeback, but the better Barkley does among right-leaning independents who just can't vote Republican this year, the better a chance Democrat Al Franken has. RCP Average: Coleman +1.5.

7. North Carolina (R - Dole): We generally think coattails are becoming less of a factor in an era of Senate campaigns that cost $10 million. But with Barack Obama expected to drive black turnout to record levels, and that increased turnout already showing up in early voting, coattails will help Democrat Kay Hagan in North Carolina. An advertisement out this week for Elizabeth Dole virtually accuses Hagan of being a God-denying atheist and reeks of a Hail Mary -- no pun intended. Hagan hit back hard, and strategists in both parties say the ad could seriously backfire. RCP Average: Hagan +2.0.

6. Oregon (R - Smith): Advertisements for Democrat Jeff Merkley and Republican incumbent Gordon Smith have featured a lot of the same people, but the biggest difference is that Barack Obama and Senator Ron Wyden have actually cut ads for Merkley, while Smith just uses their photos. That, along with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outspending their GOP rivals by a two-to-one margin, will likely push Merkley over the top. RCP Average: Merkley +3.5.

5. Alaska (R - Stevens): It will be hard for Alaska voters to pull the lever for a convicted felon, and whether he gets a new trial or not, even John McCain has called on Republican Ted Stevens to step down. Stevens' poll numbers tanked after he was indicted, but they improved in the following months. But those numbers likely don't have the time to rebound now. The only way Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich was ever going to win is if the race were about Stevens, and now that's a guarantee. RCP Average: Begich +3.7.

4. New Hampshire (R - Sununu): First-term Senator John Sununu actually closed his gap with ex-Governor Jeanne Shaheen, and a poor performance by the Democrat in a recent debate might have shaken loose a few votes. But tracking polls show Shaheen with a steady lead and Sununu mired in the low 40s. We've said it all along, the blowout current Gov. John Lynch is headed for will be a big help to Shaheen. RCP Average: Shaheen +6.7.

3. Colorado (R - Open): The National Republican Senatorial Committee had trouble making up its mind, but finally, last week, the party pulled its ad money out of the state. It speaks to a climate that favors Democrats so much that millions spent against Rep. Mark Udall failed to leave any significant bruises. With ex-Rep. Scott McInnis being the first Republican to voice dissatisfaction with conservative Bob Schaffer, the Colorado GOP might learn it needs a more moderate nominee. RCP Average: Udall +11.4.

2. New Mexico (R - Open): The NRSC hasn't been seen in New Mexico for months, and like Mark Warner in Virginia, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall's big win might help two congressional candidates in GOP-held open seats. RCP Average: Udall +17.6.

1. Virginia (R - Open): Polls show ex-Governor Mark Warner leading by thirty points and yet he's still spending money on television ads in the pricey Northern Virginia market. We've heard of not taking anything for granted, but that's a little ridiculous. The only question that remains is whether Warner's big win will help Barack Obama in a case of reverse coattails. RCP Average: Warner +29.2.

Reid Wilson is an associate editor and writer for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at

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