By Greg Smith
Ironically, Republicans should be hoping Al Gore was right about global warming. If the year’s sluggish cyclone season cooks up a storm for Nov. 4, a small hurricane Hanna or Isaias could possibly mean 54 Republican senators.
The Southeast, from Texas to Virginia, has 13 Senate races including five considered toss-ups in Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas and Louisiana. The election projections on RealClearPolitics.com on the 27 races considered leaning or solid toward either party appear to be on target, and these show the GOP with 45 likely seats, Democrats with 45, and 10 races that are statistically tied.
Of the 10 considered statistically even, seven are currently seats held by Democrats, and two of those look like certain GOP wins.
In Alaska, Republican challenger Dan Sullivan has been leading incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Begich in the polls for two months. Begich would have a fighting chance in any other election, but he doesn’t have much in the way of accomplishments and is heading into a gale force wind that is President Obama’s unpopularity. In 2008 Begich managed to win by just 1.2 percentage points over an incumbent just convicted on corruption charges, the now deceased Sen. Ted Stevens. And of Alaskans who voted for a presidential candidate in 2008, 2.3 percent didn’t bother to vote for a Senate candidate, meaning if all the votes for the Republican presidential candidate had translated into a vote for Stevens, he still would have won. Alaska should be a GOP slam dunk.
In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is facing two Republicans in what amounts to a primary. Polls have her at about 40 percent, with neither GOP opponent anywhere near 50 percent. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two would take place Dec. 6. Polls have Landrieu handily losing the likely runoff.
And in Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell has consistently led Democratic challenger Alison Grimes slightly in the polls and would likely be Senate majority leader in the event of a Republican Senate takeover. Kentuckians, who for years watched Sen. Robert Byrd of neighboring West Virginia turn the federal budget into an ATM for his state, are not going to throw that kind of political clout away. Just last year McConnell got a $3 billion earmark for a dam in Kentucky. It was a taste of things to come. Barring some major snafu, McConnell wins this race going away.
Of the other seven races considered a toss up, only New Hampshire seems a likely Democratic victory. Colorado Republican challenger Cory Gardner is slightly up in the polls against incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Udall. Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, has brought his poll numbers back from under 40 percent to just about tie with independent challenger Greg Orman. Orman’s poll numbers have been very consistent, but have dropped off very slightly. According to polls this race is considered a toss-up, but I seriously doubt on Election Day deeply Republican Kansas would possibly deny the GOP a majority in the Senate.
In Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst has consistently led Democrat Bruce Braley for the open seat being vacated by five-term Democrat Tom Harkin, as has Republican challenger Mark Cotton led Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas.
Only Georgia and North Carolina have had the Democrats slightly ahead in polls. In North Carolina, Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan has been ahead of Republican challenger Thom Tillis by about two percentage points while Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh is polling over five percent. Libertarians generally pull more votes from Republicans, and voters generally don’t like to vote for candidates who have no chance at winning. If Haugh supporters abandon him in the voting booth because it is such a close race, that could push Tillis over the top.
Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Purdue running for the seat of retiring Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss are in a dead heat. As in Louisiana, if neither candidate gets 50 percent, the two candidates with the most votes will have a runoff Jan. 6, 2015. Libertarian candidate Amanda Swafford is polling four percent. If the election looks razor thin, Swafford supporters will have an incentive to vote for one of the major candidates, which at least won’t hurt Purdue, though he will be better off if a runoff is needed.
The likelihood of no candidate winning either Georgia or Louisiana on Election Day also helps Republicans, as they are more likely to go to the polls for special elections.
These closest races will decide who controls the Senate, and these races will be decided by voter turnout. Turnout is projected to be quite low, and a Gallup forecast shows Republicans hold a massive edge over Democrats in voter motivation and enthusiasm, similar to the advantages they held in 2010 when the GOP picked up 63 seats in the House.
Consider Colorado. Incumbent Democrat Mark Udall last year moved in favor of further gun control, while challenger Cory Gardner is pro-gun rights. Second Amendment advocates will eat bacon and wear fur while crawling through a PETA rally to vote, and the network that helped recall two pro-gun control state senators and forced another to resign last year will be working to get voters to the polls. Low turnout will be a huge benefit to Gardner, as it should be to every other Republican.
As the races now stand any major weather event – even just a cold snap — that covers a decent portion of the country should further impinge voter turnout and seal 53 seats for the GOP. A day of heavy rain could allow the GOP to take nine of the 10 close races.
While not quite probable, 54 Republican Senate seats is very possible — and rather interesting. In any case, Republicans need 52 seats to prevent losing the Senate to a party switch. Considering its advantages at this point, anything less than 52 should be considered a disappointment. ©
Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political consultant who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at www.betterfatthanfascist.com.