We’re only 38 days away from Election Day. Isn’t that nuts? With such little time left before the conclusion of the 2012 election cycle, I decided to re-examine my earlier Senate race predictions. I looked at eight Senate races on Thursday, and although I only changed my mind on one of them, almost all of the campaigns had changed in unexpected ways. Today, I’ll take a look at nine more races, tally up the seats, and see if my prediction of a Republican Senate majority stands.
- Republican Candidate: Representative Todd Akin
- Democratic Candidate: Senator Claire McCaskill (incumbent)
- Previous Prediction: Todd Akin wins, Republicans take the seat
- Thoughts: Ugh. That’s pretty much all I have to say with regard to this race. Of all of the possible Senate pick-ups for conservatives, this should’ve been the easiest. The fact that Akin is still polling competitively even after his gaffe is ridiculous. Frankly, I’m pretty sure that he has a nearly 50/50 shot at winning anyway, but it’s hard for me to believe that he’ll manage to pull out a victory in the end. You just don’t get over race-altering gaffes and the complete abandonment of your party and outside help. Grassroots support wins elections, but you also need money to win a statewide race. Akin doesn’t have it.
- Prediction: Claire McCaskill wins, Democrats hold on to the seat.
- Republican Candidate: Representative Denny Rehberg
- Democratic Candidate: Senator Jon Tester (incumbent)
- Previous Prediction: Denny Rehberg wins, Republicans take the seat
- Thoughts: This remains a very competitive race, but Rehberg has managed to maintain his slight polling edge since early August. Exceptional turnout for President Barack Obama in red Montana could easily lead Tester to victory in this tight campaign, but I don’t see that happening. Without a gaffe by either candidate tilting the scales, my inclination is to stick with my original prediction.
- Prediction: Denny Rehberg wins, Republicans take the seat.
- Republican Candidate: Senator Dean Heller (incumbent)
- Democratic Candidate: Representative Shelley Berkley
- Previous Prediction: Dean Heller wins, Republicans hold on to the seat
- Thoughts: Despite an intense ad war, the needle on this race simply hasn’t shifted to Berkley yet. There’s no question that the race has tightened substantially, as Heller now only holds a 2 point average edge in the polls, but he remains the favorite to win. As I mentioned before, a turnout boost from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s political machine could make the difference in this race. I didn’t think that it would be enough to overcome Heller’s polling advantage, but it could be enough in a close finish. Ultimately, I still expect Berkley to lose.
- Prediction: Dean Heller wins, Republicans hold on to the seat.
- Republican Candidate: Former Representative Heather Wilson
- Democratic Candidate: Representative Martin Heinrich
- Previous Prediction: Martin Heinrich wins, Democrats hold on to the seat
- Thoughts: This is one of few races in which a polling lead grew instead of shrank. Wilson’s momentum in early August simply evaporated, and Heinrich’s edge is now nearing double-digits. Conservative national organizations and Super PACs have all but abandoned the race, and I feel comfortable in predicting that a Wilson upset won’t happen, despite my earlier gut feeling to the contrary.
- Prediction: Martin Heinrich wins, Democrats hold on to the seat.
- Republican Candidate: Representative Rick Berg
- Democratic Candidate: Former State Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp
- Previous Prediction: Rick Berg wins, Democrats hold on to the seat
- Thoughts: By all accounts, Heitkamp has run an excellent and effective underdog race. This is in contrast to Berg’s painfully ineffectual campaign, but you know what? It doesn’t seem to matter. Berg’s consistent, if moderate, lead in the polls suggests that Heitkamp will avoid the once-expected blowout, but will still fail to triumph in November. It’s impossible to rule out a competent campaign facing a weak favorite, but if Heitkamp hasn’t taken the lead by now, I doubt she ever will. The fundamentals of the state might just be too difficult to overcome.
- Prediction: Rick Berg wins, Republicans take the seat.
- Republican Candidate: State Treasurer Josh Mandel
- Democratic Candidate: Senator Sherrod Brown (incumbent)
- Previous Prediction: Sherrod Brown wins, Democrats hold on to the seat
- Thoughts: It seems that Mandel’s momentum has finally faded. Despite pulling within the margin of error in several polls a few weeks ago, Mandel never surpassed Brown, and now he appears to be losing ground. While I attribute most of the lost ground to Romney’s struggles at the top of the ticket in Ohio, it might be too late in the race for Mandel to mount a substantial second push. I still consider this a feasible pick-up opportunity for Republicans, but Mandel needs to start closing some of the gap before mid-October if he wants to pull off a win.
- Prediction: Sherrod Brown wins, Democrats hold on to the seat.
- Republican Candidate: Businessman Tom Smith
- Democratic Candidate: Senator Bob Casey, Jr. (incumbent)
- Previous Prediction: Bob Casey wins, Democrats hold on to the seat
- Thoughts: Here’s a true “surprise” race. I certainly didn’t expect to be looking at this campaign again, but four recent polls claim that Smith has pulled within single digits of Casey. One even puts the difference at just five points, which is barely more than the margin of error. I doubt that the race is really that close, but it’s hard to argue with four polls taken in such quick succession. A self-funding CEO, Smith has made this a race to watch in the closing weeks of the cycle. I would be shocked if he actually defeated the incumbent, but hey, he’s surprised me once.
- Prediction: Bob Casey wins, Democrats hold on to the seat.
- Republican Candidate(s): Former Senator George Allen
- Democratic Candidate(s): Former Governor Tim Kaine
- Previous Prediction: George Allen wins, Republicans take the seat
- Thoughts: Has the Virginia Senate race deadlock finally broken? According to recent polls, Kaine has created a small but visible lead over Allen. My guess is that this is reflective of President Obama’s recent polling gains. I still believe that the Senate candidate whose party wins Virginia’s electoral college votes will most likely win. That makes it somewhat difficult for me to maintain my prediction of an Allen victory, but I remain optimistic about Mitt’s chances.
- Prediction: George Allen wins, Republicans take the seat.
- Republican Candidate: Former Governor Tommy Thompson
- Democratic Candidate: Representative Tammy Baldwin
- Previous Prediction: Tammy Baldwin wins, Democrats hold on to the seat
- Thoughts: In light of recent polling conducted since the Democratic National Convention, most national pundits are predicting a Baldwin victory. Oddly enough, despite that being my original prediction, I’m feeling otherwise. The size of her lead varies wildly from poll to poll, and more nonpartisan organizations still have have the race hovering around the margin of error. Do I believe that Baldwin’s momentum is real? Sure, but I don’t think it will last through October. I expect this race to swing back toward Thompson in the next few weeks, aided by a rebound from Romney (and running mate Paul Ryan, whose presence is particularly helpful in Wisconsin). Perhaps this is another case of over-optimism, but for now, I’m switching my prediction.
- Prediction: Tommy Thompson wins, Republicans take the seat.
Final Senate tally: 50 Democrats*, 50 Republicans.
Counting independent candidates Angus King from Maine and Bernie Sanders from Vermont, both of whom are expected to caucus with the Democratic Party
There’s no question that the last few weeks haven’t gone well for Republicans. The gaps in many races are closing, and the needle is swinging in favor of Democratic candidates in multiple races. Despite changing three of my predictions, the final Senate tally only moved by one vote. A perfectly even split in the Senate isn’t likely to please anyone, but I believe that that’s where we are right now.
Admittedly, a lot could still change with more than a month left before Election Day. I expect a moderate rebound for Republican candidates across the board, and I still believe that a Republican majority is more likely than a Democratic majority in the Senate. Right now, however, I’m predicting that the 2013 Senate will feature 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans.
What do you think?