Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Will it be a 51-49 Democratic Senate?

Well, it's time to put my butt on the line again and give updated predictions for how the United States Senate will look after the election on November 7. Last month, I predicted a 50-50 split when all the ballots are counted -- or not counted, depending on whether or not the GOP is in charge in a given state -- and, while it seemed overly-optimistic to many, I'm sticking by that call. There's even a chance it could go to a 51-49 Democratic majority.

Here's my Reporter's Notebook (go here for all recent Senate polls):

In Arizona, Democrat Jim Pederson has consistently lagged nine to ten points behind the GOP's Jon Kyl and I don't see anything happening to change that between now and November 7. Fortunately, Democrats never really banked on this one because, at this point, Kyl will have to be caught exchanging sexy instant messages with Osama bin Laden to lose his Senate seat.

I've given up trying to figure out what's going on in Connecticut as too many polls show Ned Lamont significantly behind Joe Lieberman. My only hope is that what I keep hearing from off-the-record sources is true -- that Lieberman has more pressure to drop out being brought to bear by other Democrats than anyone realizes. But, at this point, why should he leave the race? He already knows most Democrats hate him and yet he still leads in all polls. Questions linger about whether people who say they'll vote for Lieberman when talking to pollsters will actually be moved to do that on election day and a massive get-out-the-vote effort is going to be required of Team Lamont.

Katherine Harris claims she's quietly sneaking up on Bill Nelson in Florida and will shock the world on election day. Yeah, that's the ticket. And I will soon shock all of my buddies by announcing a hot fling I'm having with Scarlett Johansson.

Republicans can give up hopes of snagging seats in Maryland and Michigan as Democrats Ben Cardin and Debbie Stabenow have opened up nine and 13-point leads, respectively, in's 10-poll average in each race.

Democrat Amy Klobuchar is kicking Republican Mark Kennedy's butt all over Minnesota and, by contrast, the Talent-McCaskill race in Missouri, remains tighter than Ken Mehlman's closet door.

I'm still predicting a big Jon Tester win in Montana and, despite the closeness of all polls in New Jersey, I just have a gut feeling that Garden State voters will wake up on November 7 and realize that the Republican candidate is Tom Kean Sr.'s dorky son and not the old man himself and Bob Menendez will win by much more than we think right now.

Ohio is very close and the next two weeks will be critical for the campaign of Sherrod Brown, but I'm convinced that's average of the last five major polls -- which shows Brown up by three points -- is about what we will see on election day.

Look out Hillary: The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Republican John Spencer pulling within 35 points. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum prepares to start his new job as an Opus Dei lobbyist in January.

If Senate Democrats have had to endure a Republican representing Rhode Island, they couldn’t have done much better than Lincoln Chafee, who votes with them more often than the likes of Democrats Ben Nelson and Ken Salazar. But it looks like Chafee's time has run out. Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse has been ahead in every major poll but one in the last three months and has a large amount of money to sustain that lead in the stretch run.

In Tennessee, whether Progressives can appreciate it or not, Harold Ford Jr. has run precisely the campaign he needs to win there -- very strong on defense and showing his conservative, blue-dog Democrat pedigree -- and the polls show it. Ford has run very effective television ads, is ahead in most polls and has a lot of cash to spend in the next three weeks.

Maria Cantwell has put the Washington state contest out of reach for Republican Mike McGavick -- she's up by an average of 11 points in the last 10 polls -- and, much to our regret, Virginia still remains a large question mark.

Democrat Jim Webb has not closed the deal with Virginia voters, despite George Felix Allen doing everything in his power to lose this race. In addition, Allen has over ten times as much money as Webb for the remaining month, which will buy a lot of nice television ads of Allen tossing a football to make voters forget that he's a Confederate flag-waving cracker.

Webb's big hope: A whopping turnout from the D.C. suburbs. Allen's wish: That educated suburban types stay home and backwoods voters turn out in droves.

My call from four weeks out: I may have seemed overly-caffeinated a month ago when I said the Senate balance would be 50-50 when this is all over, but I'm still predicting that -- and perhaps a Democratic takeover. Before counting the 10 biggest question-mark races, I have it at 48 Republican and 42 Democrat. I now strongly believe Democrats will take Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Tennessee. This brings it to 50-48 for the Democrats with the two biggest mysteries looming -- Missouri and Virginia.

If I had to bet a month of Mark Foley's teen-porn budget, I'd say that, painful as it is, Allen wins in Virginia and it becomes 50-49.

At that point, all eyes fall to Claire McCaskill in Missouri, where the race is as close as it can possibly be. Oddly enough, the passions of people either in favor of, or opposed to Missouri's stem-cell initiative may decide whether or not Democrats take back the Senate. If Democrats, steamed that Jim Talent upheld George W. Bush's veto of the national stem-cell bill, come out in large numbers, McCaskill wins. If not, Talent may squeak through for a second term.

No guts, no glory, right? I'm calling it for McCaskill and a 51-49 Democratic Senate when the 110th Congress meets in January.

If that comes true, watch for a new and improved Republican work ethic when the Senate reconvenes on November 9, as they try to pass a flurry of neocon bills before they lose power.