The Final Trends
As we move into the final days of the 2010 election, Republicans appear to be on the periphery of reclaiming control of the House of Representatives, while Democrats are likely to retain the Senate majority. The GOP needs to convert 39 seats currently in Democratic hands in addition to winning one of the vacant seats that has traditionally been theirs (IN-3; Rep. Mark Souder resigned due to personal scandal) to obtain a one-seat majority in the House. (In actuality, the number is 41 because Democrats are almost assured of winning at least two seats currently in Republican hands.) Democrats have controlled the body by wide margins on the strength of two wave elections in 2006 and 2008, and looked to be in strong position to maintain their dominance at the beginning of this Congress. But the tide quickly turned as the public largely rejected most of the new leadership’s signature policy initiatives. Now the Democrats’ only hope of keeping their majority is to simply hang on by their fingernails.
Right now, it appears that 35 of the 41 conversion seats are within the Republicans’ grasp, with no less than an additional 30 being on the cusp of switching. The GOP would only have to win six of these latter campaigns to oust the Democrats, and forecasts call for many more Republican victories within this segment. It is more conceivable that their net gain is in the 45-50 range, thus giving them not only a bare majority but one with an ability to properly manage the House. Though 218 members are required for an absolute majority, operational control requires several more, in order to allow for party loyalty slippage. As the Democrats discovered, it is virtually impossible to keep 100% of party members loyal on all votes during an entire session. The recent past suggests that 225 is a number where a majority can firmly control the power levers and it does appear that the GOP can attain that number on November 2nd.
The Senate is unfolding in a much different manner. With 37 states hosting U.S. Senate contests this year, Republicans find themselves having to win 18 of these races just to keep the 41 members they have in the chamber. As you know, Senators have six-year terms, with a third of the body standing for election every two years. This particular cycle is better for Democrats because they are defending just as many seats as Republicans despite having almost filibuster-proof control. Thus, for the GOP actually to secure the Senate majority, meaning 51 seats, they will have to win 28 of the 37 states being contested in 2010. This is an obvious tall order and probably one in that they cannot fulfill.
Looking at the individual Senate campaigns, the GOP does look like they will succeed in their first stated goal: protecting all six of their competitive open seats. Now just days away from Election Day, the Republican candidates in Alaska (Joe Miller), Florida (Marco Rubio), Kentucky (Rand Paul), Missouri (Roy Blunt), New Hampshire (Kelly Ayotte), and Ohio (Rob Portman) are all leading their races and perceived to be the favorites in each campaign. Moving to the Democratic-controlled seats, Republicans appear to have three conversion states locked down—Arkansas, where Rep. John Boozman is trending far ahead of Democratic incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln; Indiana, an open seat that former Sen. Dan Coats looks to regain in his comeback bid against southern Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth; and North Dakota, where popular Republican Gov. John Hoeven will easily capture the seat that Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan leaves open to seek retirement. These three victories will bring the GOP total to 44.
In the next group, Republicans will have to win the toss-up races in Colorado: appointed Sen. Michael Bennet having difficulty in winning the seat in his own right against District Attorney Ken Buck; Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in a dogfight with former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle despite spending more than $10 million in disparaging negative ads against her; Wisconsin, a race that features three-term incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold trailing in his bid for a fourth term against plastics manufacturer Ron Johnson; and Pennsylvania, where former Rep. Pat Toomey now has fallen into a toss-up affair with Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak in their bid to fill the Keystone State open seat. Winning all of these states would give the GOP 48 seats. None, however, are fully secure at this writing.
To attain their majority, Republicans would have to win three more states from the next group, a segment that is already trending toward the Democrats. Those states are: California, Connecticut, Washington, and West Virginia. Basically, the Republicans will have to throw a political perfect game to score the barest of majorities. More than likely, they will make substantial gains, but will fall short of absolute control.
There’s less than a week left, but still much action remains.