Monday, November 06, 2006

The Final Analysis: How The Senate Looks After Tuesday

I talked yesterday about the 20 races (of 33) for the United States Senate that have really already been decided, many of which were over before they even started. When you add the expected results from these races to the 67 seats that were not contested in 2006, we stand at 47 seats for the Republicans and 40 for Democrats, with 13 races outstanding.

The conventional wisdom for many months has been that Democrats would need to run the table of all toss-up races to have a net gain of six seats and take control of the Senate.

That's exactly what's going to happen -- here's how:

Arizona: Republican Senator Jon Kyl has a 47 percent approval rating and that's about where it's been for the last two years, so this has always looked like a good pick-up opportunity for the Democrats. And, while Democratic challenger Jim Pederson, the former Chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, has been picking up a lot of momentum in the last month, it's going to be too little, too late.

Kyl has held a steady lead in every major poll and, while Pederson has pulled to within the margin of error on a few isolated surveys, Kyl has consistently led and often by eight points or more. While Kyl was very vulnerable on all of his votes against a minimum wage increase and his extreme closeness to the pharmaceutical companies -- something that doesn’t sit well with Arizona's many seniors -- Pederson didn’t start capitalizing on that soon enough. Consequently, while Pederson has been closing the gap, Kyl remains in front in recent polling by an average of eight percentage points.

I would love nothing more than to call this for Pederson but there's one day left in this race, not one month, and I don't believe that his recent momentum will be enough to put him past Kyl tomorrow.

Who wins: Jon Kyl (R)

Maryland: Maryland is one of the bluest of the blue states and it takes one hell of a Republican candidate to get past any Democrat, much less one with 20 good years in the House and who has been a popular representative of the state's 3rd district. Democrat Ben Cardin has never been reelected with less than 64 percent of the vote and, despite a strong campaign from Republican Michael Steele, Cardin has led in most major polls over the last three months.

Cardin has also done a great job of never letting Maryland voters forget that Steele was hand-picked by Karl Rove and the White House and that his views on the Iraq war and abortion definitely make him one of Bush's guys.

I don’t care how close the polls have been in the last month. Maryland is one of the states least likely to elect a Republican Senator and it damn sure isn’t about to happen in a year like this.

Who wins: Ben Cardin (D)

Michigan: We shouldn’t even be talking about this race but, no matter how unfair it is, Democrat Debbie Stabenow has, to some extent, had to answer for the harsh effects of the Bush economy on Michigan. She has used television ads almost exclusively to put daylight between her actions as a Senator and an economy that only seems to be helping people who get the big Bush tax cuts.

Also, Stabenow did little in this campaign to point out the excellent work she's done in the Senate on behalf of police, firefighters and other first-responders, which would have given Michigan voters an even better reason to send her back. That said, she's gotten the endorsement of almost every newspaper in Michigan and leads GOP opponent Mike Bouchard by large, double-digit numbers in every recent poll and will win easily -- though not by double digits.

Who wins: Debbie Stabenow (D)

Minnesota: Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar leads her Republican challenger, Congressman Mark Kennedy, 54 percent to 37 percent in's average of the last five major polls. That's about how the entire race has gone no matter what types of attacks Kennedy has thrown at Klobuchar and you can look for Minnesota to send another strong Democrat to Washington on Tuesday.

Who wins: Amy Klobuchar (D)

Missouri: This has been the closest Senate race of the year and one that is, at this point, almost impossible to predict. Lackluster Republican incumbent Jim Talent and Democrat Claire McCaskill have swapped the polling lead more often than Ted Haggard calls his meth dealer and has McCaskill with a 48-46 percent edge over Talent in an average of the last five major polls. But averaging the last 10 polls shows it deadlocked at 47-47, which is likely the extreme nail-biter we will see on election night.

Voter turnout is going to rule the day here and I believe that will be driven by how Missourians feel about the state's controversial stem cell initiative, that's also on the ballot. McCaskill has done an excellent job of promoting this issue -- including the much-publicized ad done by Michael J. Fox -- and painting Talent as exactly in line with George W. Bush, who made the federal stem cell bill the target of his only presidential veto.

This race is too close to call, but I'm betting that more people in Missouri favor stem cell research than do not and that will be the factor to put McCaskill, just barely, over the top.

Who wins: Claire McCaskill (D)

Montana: Conrad Burns, who is the longest-serving Republican Senator in Montana history, comes off as a bit of a dolt and is simply not a very good candidate. Add that to one of the lowest approval ratings of any Senator and this seat looked ripe for the picking.

Enter Democrat Jon Tester, a crew cut-wearing rancher who has served for eight years in the Montana state senate and who, despite having almost no money compared to Burns, has been out-campaigning the incumbent for six months. Couple that with Burns' penchant for embarrassing gaffes, his closeness to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the trend of Montana as more of a purple, than red, state and things bode well for Tester.

The GOP has thrown the kitchen sink at Tester in the last few weeks, bringing in both Bush and Cheney to stump for Burns and running an avalanche of ads promising Montana voters that Tester will raise their taxes if elected.

But Montanans have grown tired of Burns' act, are drawn to Tester's regular-guy appeal and I'm confident that the 48-45 percent edge Tester enjoys in an average of the last 10 major polls will be what we will see on Tuesday night.

Who wins: Jon Tester (D)

New Jersey: This has been a mud-wrestling festival for months, even by New Jersey standards and a true showcase for the Republican slime machine. Democrat Robert Menendez is defending the Senate seat he has held for less than a year, since being appointed by Jon Corzine to fill the seat Corzine vacated when he became Governor.

Menendez's Republican opponent, Tom Kean Jr., has been putting out trashy television ads accusing Menendez of corruption for months and that has clearly hurt the Democrat. Menendez has countered with ads saying that Kean, a New Jersey State Senator, would become just another member of a rubber-stamping, Republican Senate if elected.

Republicans have considered this their best chance to grab a Democratic Senate seat and it has indeed appeared way closer than it should have in a state like New Jersey. But recent polls have Menendez up by four to eight points and that's far more what we expected all along.

My basic thoughts on this race are that, until recently, too many Garden State residents thought it was the respected, elder Thomas Kean running for Senate and not his dorky son. Between being clear on that now and the fact that all this polling does not reflect the true Democratic advantage in New Jersey, I believe that, as I've been saying all along, this will not be nearly as close as some have feared.

Who wins: Robert Menendez (D)

Ohio: Mike DeWine is the poster-boy for what a Congress looks like when it exercises absolutely no oversight on the executive branch of government and Ohio voters seem to know that DeWine is a part of the major problem they see in Washington. Challenger Sherrod Brown has run an excellent campaign, while DeWine has made many boneheaded moves, such as making a big deal of his membership on the Senate Intelligence Committee, while missing almost half of that committee's meetings -- this was documented, with devastating effect, in Brown's campaign ads.

Brown, who has been elected to the House of Representatives seven times by Ohioans and has strong Progressive credentials, must seem to voters like exactly what's needed in a year that being a Republican
is a badge of shame in anything but the reddest state.

Democrat Brown has been clobbering DeWine in the polls for months -- has him up by an average of 10 points in the five latest polls -- and, on Tuesday, he'll end DeWine's two-term Senate reign.

Who wins: Sherrod Brown (D)

Pennsylvania: It's a given that anti-choice Democrat Bob Casey is not the ideal candidate in the eyes of most Progressives, but he has proven to be good enough to keep Republican Rick Santorum on the ropes since the day he announced his candidacy. Santorum hasn't helped himself by doing insane stuff like announcing in June of 2006 that weapons of mass destruction had indeed been found in Iraq and then giving as proof weapons casings that were so old they might well have had hieroglyphics on them.

This one's been done for a long time and polling in the last two weeks shows Casey up by an average of 11 points and as much as 17 points in a Keystone poll done in late October. In short, Rick Santorum's about to have a lot more time to spend with his patrons in the Religious Right.

Who wins: Bob Casey (D)

Rhode Island: If we've had to live with any Republican from a blue state, we couldn't have done much better than Lincoln Chafee. I've said for a long time that I've often wished we could trade him straight-up for Ben Nelson as Chafee was the only Republican to vote against the use of force in Iraq, helped Democrats in blocking John Bolton from the United Nations and voted against Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court.

But, he's a Republican in one of the most Democratic states in the nation, at a time when disdain for his chosen party is at an all-time high. This has resulted in Democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse leading Chafee in all polls -- until very recently, when a Mason-Dixon poll gave Chafee a one-point lead -- and, with a large financial advantage that's rare for a Democrat, Whitehouse has established a lead that Chafee may not be able to overcome.

It will be much more narrow than the seven-point edge that Whitehouse, the former Rhode Island attorney general, has enjoyed in the five most recent polls, but George W. Bush has a 23 percent approval rating in Rhode Island -- the lowest in the country -- and that's the anchor that will ultimately drag Chafee down.

Who wins: Sheldon Whitehouse (D)

Tennessee: This race has been pure ugliness, with Republican Bob Corker running the scummiest Senate campaign of the year against a Democrat with little real Progressive support because of his downright Republican stances on things like gay marriage and his support of Joe Lieberman over the legitimate Democratic nominee in Connecticut,
Ned Lamont.

But Harold Ford Jr. has a 'D' next to his name and -- giving full credit where it's due -- his spirited in-your-face style and smart, well-run campaign make us want more than anything for him to win against a Republican party that has resorted to obvious race-baiting to keep the seat being vacated by the retiring Bill Frist.

Former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker had been running in a dead heat with Ford, until the last couple of weeks, when he has pulled away with an average seven-to-eight point lead in the polls. Not coincidentally, this occurred right after the Republican party began running an overtly racist ad featuring a half-naked blond woman and invoking the worst Old-South bigotry on mixed-race liaisons.

The South has not had an elected African-American in the Senate since Reconstruction and the GOP has done their best to see that Ford is rejected precisely because of his race -- and recent polling would suggest it might work. Ford is going to need massive turnout among African Americans to win this race and an encouraging rebuttal to recent polling may be the assertion by a Ford campaign spokesman that, with almost one million votes cast, Ford leads 55-41 percent in early voting.

That's well and good but we're still in the South and, with a gay marriage proposition on the Tennessee ballot, the wedge-issue vote may be just enough to push Corker over the top -- despite both candidates having identical stances on the issue. I hate it, but I think Corker prevails.

Who wins: Bob Corker (R)

Virginia: The last month has brought a nice combination of Democrat Jim Webb's campaign building a nice head of steam, while Republican George "Macaca" Allen has done his best to self-destruct and lose this race. Despite the presence of a gay-marriage initiative on the Virginia ballot and the Allen camp doing everything but accusing Webb of having a male lover, the race that was suppose to propel Allen into a 2008 presidential bid isn’t going to turn out that way.

Webb, who used to be a Republican and was Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, can lay claim to opposing the Iraq war from the very beginning, which gets him major credibility with mainstream Democrats. Virginia also has a large percentage of Veterans in its population and Webb's status as a highly-decorated, Marine combat Veteran helps seal the deal with many of them as well.

Allan's image has also been badly damaged by the "Macaca" incident and revelations of his racist past -- all added to the fact that he's seen even my some Republicans as being a slave to George W. Bush and a rubber-stamp for anything the White House wants, which includes the massive deficits abhorred by pure conservatives.

Webb's poll numbers are peaking at just the right time and, while the race is a statistical dead heat, the momentum is all Webb's and that will carry him to a close victory.

Who wins: Jim Webb (D)

Washington: One year ago, the Republican National Committee had big dreams of unseating Democrat Maria Cantwell, but they happened to pick a lousy GOP candidate at a time when Republicans are even more unpopular than usual in a blue state like Washington. But Cantwell, who knocked off Republican incumbent Slade Gorton in 2000 by the most miniscule of margins, has long been out-polling GOP challenger Mike McGavick by double digits.

McGavick did not help himself when it was disclosed that he had a 1993 drunk-driving arrest and he seemed to mislead on the details once that became public. It takes a lot to beat an incumbent Senator -- and especially one like Cantwell who, while not a liberal favorite, hasn’t had any major screw-ups either -- and her opponent never even came close.

Who wins: Maria Cantwell (D)

And, in the interest of not copping out on this one, I'm including a bit about Connecticut, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with how the balance of power sits in the Senate when this is all over. While some have speculated that Joe Lieberman will bolt the party and caucus with the Republicans if he wins, I simply do not believe it will happen. He's too stubborn, has made a million claims about remaining a loyal Democrat since losing in the primary and announcing his Independent candidacy and he won’t want to prove his critics right by
changing parties and becoming the ultimate turncoat.

So how's Connecticut going to turn out? I have no freaking idea. Ned Lamont supporters are so motivated, they would crawl through three feet of snow to vote for their guy, while Lieberman's supporters -- those putting him in the lead in all polling -- may be largely Republicans and Independents who will stay home on election day at the drop of a hat.

I suspect Lieberman will find himself in a position that should disgust him: An alleged Democrat who wins because he gets more votes from Republicans than Democrats.

If I'm wrong about anything when this is all over, I hope so much that it's this.

So here's the bottom line: Of the 13 hotly-contested races, Democrats win 11 of them with Cardin, Stabenow, Klobuchar, McCaskill, Tester, Menendez, Brown, Casey, Whitehouse, Webb and Cantwell. The GOP gets victories out of Kyl and Corker.

And the Democrats take the Senate 51-49.