Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Senate Predictions Part One: The Races Already Over

Every two years, roughly one-third of the United States Senate comes up for reelection and in 2008 the number of seats up for grabs goes to 35 because of appointed Republican Senators in Wyoming and Mississippi who must now run to actually be elected by their constituents.

Emboldened by the fact that I somehow managed to call every Senate race and the Democratic takeover of the Senate correctly in 2006, I'm just foolish enough to try forecasting this year's outcome.

I'm splitting my predictions this year into two parts because of the sheer breadth of these contests. Today, I'll discuss the races that were almost over before they even started and those that looked to be close six months ago, but where the outcome will be no surprise on Tuesday.

Obviously, the Republicans are in deeply defensive mode this year. In addition to living with the fact that they followed in lockstep with the most despised president in U.S. history, the GOP is on the losing end of a numbers game, with Democrats facing reelection in only 12 of the 35 seats being decided.

The other 23 races represent Republican incumbency in the form of 18 running for reelection or to legitimize an appointment and five seats that have been left open by retiring GOP senators -- Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Wayne Allard of Colorado, John Warner of Virginia, Larry Craig of Idaho and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

First things first: Under no circumstances do Democrats lose control of the Senate -- it simply can't happen. OK, anything can happen but I'll explain today why Republicans stand as much chance of a Senate majority in the 111th Congress as I have of being named People magazine's Sexist Man Alive.

Democrats start the day on November 4th carrying 37 Senate seats into the new Congress -- those not up in 2008 -- and with all 12 contested Democratic seats being locks for reelection. Democrats like John Kerry (MA), Dick Durbin (IL), Carl Levin (MI) and Tom Harkin (IA) ain't losing. The only one that was even remotely in question was Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and she has led her Republican opponent, John Kennedy, in every major poll and has an average lead of almost 13 points over her GOP challenger.

According to, 10 of the other Democrats all have even larger leads over their opponents -- Jack Reed is ahead of his Rhode Island challenger by 52 points -- and those Democrats combined have an average polling lead of 27 percentage points over their hapless opponents. Oh, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas doesn’t even have a major-party opponent.

So this means that we start our drive to a filibuster-proof 60 seats with 49 purely Democratic seats effectively done already.

Similarly, the GOP has a lock on 10 of the 23 Republican seats either currently held or vacated by incumbents as follows:
  • Lamar Alexander (TN)
  • John Barrasso (WY)
  • Thad Cochran (MS)
  • Jim Risch (ID)
  • Michael Enzi (WY)
  • Lindsey Graham (SC)
  • Mike Johanns (NE)
  • James Inhofe (OK)
  • Pat Roberts (KS)
  • Jeff Sessions (AL)
And some of those Republican certainties are downright nauseating.

Pat Roberts sat idly by and did nothing for years as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee while George W. Bush shredded our Constitution and tortured in our name. The disgraceful Lindsey Graham has been one of John McCain's biggest mouthpieces in this election and has told so many lies about Barack Obama that the Democratic presidential nominee should just slap him next time they meet.

And nothing would please me more than to see Democrat Andrew Rice take out climate-change denier James "Ice-Age" Inhofe in Oklahoma but it doesn’t look like that's going to happen this time around. The listed Republicans have been leading wire-to-wire in the polls and election-day results will unfortunately bear that out.

So when you consider 37 uncontested Democratic seats, add 12 that there is no way Republicans can win and throw in excellent Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont and repulsive, faux Independent Joe Lieberman, the Democratic caucus is left right back where it started -- at 51 seats with the remaining 13 races deciding not whether Democrats retain control of the Senate but by how much their majority will be increased.

Tomorrow, I talk about those 13, how I think the Democratic caucus will indeed hit the magic number of 60 and -- ugh -- how that may leave Democrats still needing Joe Lieberman, on paper at least, allegedly in their corner.