They are done.
At least for the Senate. For this election cycle. Tomorrow, US voters will be going to the polls, if they haven’t already voted, to choose their leaders. The House, comfortably in Republican hands, will stay that way. In fact, the GOP may even pick up a few seats. There are a few interesting Governors’ races, and the Democrats may get something about which to cheer, maybe, and they will gloat and pontificate if they do, because they will be looking for any positive news after losing the Senate. As I explained in detail in my column last week, the anemic “economic recovery,” if you can even call it that, along with other anxiety-causing issues and serious dissatisfaction with Obama, will push the president’s proxies out. Even incumbents, typically hard to beat whether or not their views match the majority of their constituents, will go by the wayside.
Currently, the breakdown is 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats, so in effect, the breakdown is 55 – 45. The Republicans need 6 seats to take control of the Senate and they will do it with one or two to spare. A number of races have been super tight in the polls, making even the most prolific and somewhat successful pundits wary of predicting these toss-ups.
Unlike the last two election cycles when the Republicans nominated a number of low gravitas, high mistake-prone, even ridiculous candidates, for races that would have easily been won probably putting the Senate in GOP hands by now, the candidates are mostly high quality from the start and not making too many lethal errors.
In the last two election cycles, some Republican nominees made themselves into comical caricatures, aspirants such as: Todd Akin of “legitimate rape” fame who lost the easily winnable seat in Missouri against unpopular incumbent Claire McCaskill in 2012; the not-ready-for-prime-time Sharron Angle of Nevada, who in 2010, blew a 50% to 39% advantage over a very unpopular (and still as obstructionist and unproductive as ever) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in less than a month, to eventually lose 50% – 45%; and, I could write a book on this one alone, “I dabbled into witchcraft” Christine O’Donnell whose Delaware Tea Party supporters, many not vetting or even caring to vet candidates as long as they hold their views, beat back the respected and popular overall, former Governor Mike Castle in the 2010 primary, only for her to lose by a whopping 17 points. What a waste.
Thankfully, this Senate election cycle, Tea Party or Tea Party-endorsed candidates who would have easily worn the “extremist” label the liberal party loves to use on any conservative, true or not, have been outmuscled for the most part by the Republican establishment. This time, there were more, “We need to win to counter Obama and get things done, even if our guy or gal is not exactly what we want” voters, than, “We would rather lose the race, and not even win the Senate, as long as our principles remain intact and our nominee is ideologically pure” voters.
The Washington Free Beacon’s headline in August said it all: “Shocking Development: For Once, Republican Candidates Aren’t the Ones Embarrassing Themselves.” Just google Montana’s Democratic primary and you will see the favorite had to withdraw because of plagiarism and the eventual nominee’s past and present has come to haunt her. To put it mildly. In a race that was considered a toss-up until about recently, the Democrats had high hopes for gun-toting Alison Lundergan Grimes to knock off Kentucky Republican and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Grimes’ at times’ incoherence, and her silly refusal to answer the simple question as to whether or not she voted for President Obama, has made her look foolish.
Earlier this year, Bruce Braley, the Democrat running for the open (currently Democratic) Iowa Senate seat, was caught slamming Republican Senator Charles Grassley at a fundraiser, saying he was simply, “a farmer who never went to law school.” Not only is Grassley very popular, and an institution in Iowa, but Bruce, HELLOOOO??? YOU ARE RUNNING IN IOWA. Alaska’s incumbent Democrat Mark Begitch stumbled poorly by airing an ad in late summer, implying his opponent, when he was the state’s Attorney General, was in some way responsible for a very heinous crime by his allowing a hardened criminal out of jail, a man who later killed an elderly couple and assaulted the couple’s 2-year-old granddaughter. The ad was proven false and the victims’ family as well as many of the state’s voters were appalled at such a low and insensitive tactic.
A couple Republican nominees have had their moronic moments, such as the normally smooth and clear-headed Scott Brown, candidate for New Hampshire’s seat saying, “We would not be worrying about Ebola right now,” if Mitt Romney had become President. In the summer, Kansas’ unpopular senator, Pat Roberts, who had already been thought of as being too Washington and not enough Jayhawk, said “Every time I get an opponent, uh, I mean, every time I get a chance, I’m home.” In super tight races, everything matters.
OK, let’s get to my predictions of the toss ups or “leans” one way or the other races that will decide who will run the Senate. Here are analyses on the tight races, which when all is said and done, I believe, will put the GOP over the top. RealClearPolitics.com (RCP) for poll results and the average of polls for Sunday, November 2nd, and Monday, November 3rd, was used for numbers reference.
The incumbent, Democrat Mark Begitch, son of a former Alaska Congressman, was comfortably ahead in the summer. Now after his stumbles (see above), he is trailing Republican Dan Sullivan, a medal-receiving infantry reserve officer in the US Marines Corps and former Attorney General, by the RCP average of 2.4%. Sullivan hasn’t been perfect, but it will be a very, very cold November Alaska night for the nasty-ad candidate Begitch. Sullivan wins.
For a long time, the Razorback State was a toss-up, but as of October 30, it has moved away from incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor and more and more toward Republican challenger Tom Cotton. One poll had him up by 2 points a week and a half ago; the last 2 have him up by 7 and most recently 13. President Obama’s unpopularity and justifiably-perceived weaknesses, contributing to an anxious electorate, are hurting his party, and the president is at a dismal 33% approval on average in the home state of Bill Clinton. And the state has gone from blue to purple to red this last generation.
While Cotton, a Harvard and Harvard Law grad and US Army veteran has run a pretty good campaign, Pryor whose father was a popular Arkansas Governor and US Senator, has hurt that legacy with an unnoticed tenure in office and by making campaign mistakes and verbal gaffes. The RCP poll average has Cotton up by 7.1%. This one will be called early by the networks, just after the polls close when they are allowed to do so. Pryor will be a crier, because they will be picking Cotton in this southern state on Tuesday night.
This race pits incumbent Senator Mark Udall, of the politically-famous Udall family (his father Morris Udall was an Arizona congressman who ran for President in 1976 against Jimmy Carter), against Congressman Cory Gardner. Udall was comfortably ahead in nearly every poll till just after Labor Day, after which for the most part Gardner has held a lead. The RCP average has Gardner up by 2.5 points. One big problem for the incumbent was his ridiculous and insensitive remark in a debate with Gardner in early September when he said, in arguing for restraint after the beheadings of two American journalists by ISIS (calling for restraint, a mistake in itself, once the president and most Democrats changed course for action within the next couple days), “I can tell you that Steve Sotloff and James Foley would tell us, ‘Don’t be impulsive.’”
To that point, Udall had led in six straight polls, and 13 out of 15, the last by the Denver Post where he was up 4 points. The very next poll only a few days later by USA Today had Gardner up by 8. Udall added more gaffes, and has so intensely focused on contraception and abortion, trying to use the “War on Women” scare tactic, he has been dubbed Mark “Uterus” and has become a bit of a laughing stock. There have been 18 polls since the debate. Udall has led in only two, one by 3 points and one by 1. 21% of Colorado’s population is Hispanic and Democrats hope their ground game will get out that part of its base in a significant way. Not gonna happen. Hispanics are angry at Obama for not pushing immigration reform as he had promised and they typically don’t over-represent when voting anyway. Some just might vote for the Republican. Colorado is a beautiful state and after Election Day, Mark Udall will have plenty of time to enjoy it. Gardner wins.
Democrat Michelle Nunn, former popular Senator Sam Nunn’s daughter, is 3.2 points behind the Republican David Perdue in the RCP average. There is a Libertarian running, garnering a few points, and in Georgia, where the winner must get more than 50%, neither major candidate will get the 50% plus one. Democrats are relying on the African American vote to come out as heavily as they did for Obama. Disgustingly, the Georgia Democratic Party sent out mailers to black voters saying, “If you want to prevent another Ferguson (the suburb of St. Louis, MO where a young black man was shot by a policeman, causing violent outbursts)…vote Democrat.” Blacks will vote higher than they normally do, but not like they did two and four years ago. And with Republicans possibly already taking the Senate on Tuesday, along with continued Obama dissatisfaction, many in Georgia’s Democratic base won’t care enough to participate in the runoff. The lights will go out in Georgia for the Democrats, as Purdue wins the runoff in January.
Longtime Democrat Tom Harkin is retiring and the seat is being sought by Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley and Republican State Senator Joni Ernst. This one has been a tossup since early June with Ernst now holding a 1.4% lead in the RCP average. The tide started turning against Braley after his insulting comment about Grassley (see above) was revealed. He was well ahead in the polls to that point and since then it has been back and forth for the most part. Braley has made other insensitive, even elitist, remarks, and many Iowans just don’t think he’s an “America’s Heartland” kind of guy. During last year’s government shutdown, Braley said he was happy the House gym had stayed open, but complained, “There’s no towel service, we’re doing our own laundry down there.”
Ernst, a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, is considered by some to be too socially and otherwise, conservative, and so, is being blasted as too extreme. And it is not just independent women voters turned off by Ernst, some Republican women are as well. In any event, Ernst, a combat veteran who served in both Kuwait and Iraq has run a good campaign. She is an accomplished person and politician, and when all is said and done, poor Mr. Braley will once again have to do his own laundry, this time permanently.
The Independent, Greg Orman, is facing incumbent Republican Pat Roberts. The Democrat, Chad Taylor, who was trailing, pulled out in early September immediately giving his party a shot. Some accused the Democrats of shenanigans by quietly convincing Taylor to withdraw. If so, it worked. Hey, all is fair in love and politics. (To a degree; you will see my comments about certain tactics below.) I wish all Republicans were more concerned about what really was most important to be able to govern, i.e. “winning the race and not the argument.” (See Louisiana below.)
Orman was up by as much as 10 points but it has now been whittled down to 0.7 as he became more exposed to the electorate and Republican attacks, and has, at times, had problems defining his politics. Kansas is a red state though, not a purple one, and I did believe until recently, notwithstanding Roberts’ comeback, that the good people of Kansas would hold their noses and vote to send Roberts back to Washington. But Pat, you only go home to Kansas when you have an opponent? (See above.) I have a bad feeling your constituents will decide not to send you back to Washington, but to send you home. For good. We will see.
I never really thought Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes had a chance to beat 30-year incumbent and current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but as I mentioned above, she hasn’t done herself any favors of late, and has pretty much self-destructed. And either she is not the brightest bulb on the shelf, or is not as informed as a serious US Senatorial prospect should be. This, during the war between Israel and Hamas last summer: “The Iron Dome has been a big reason why Israel has been able to withstand the terrorists that have tried to tunnel their way in.” She is now 7.2% down in the RCP average. Were McConnell not so unpopular, even in his own state, it would be double digits.
Lundergan Grimes likes to tout her disagreements with President Obama who is at an astonishingly low 33% approval rating in the Bluegrass State. She also likes to remind Kentuckians of her membership in the National Rifle Association and her support for gun rights. No matter. Even her own party can see the writing on the wall. In mid-October, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee decided to pull its millions out of the race, abandoning any hope of ousting McConnell. Alison will be hunting for another chance to run for office once Mitch McConnell wins comfortably and becomes the next Senate Majority Leader.
Election Day is an open primary in Louisiana, another 50% plus one state, and incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is leading her two opponents, herself at 40%, with Republicans Bill Cassidy and Rob Maness at 35% and 11% respectively in the RCP average. She has consistently led in the 3-way race but has also consistently been behind in the 2-way between herself and Cassidy. Head-to-head, Cassidy is up over Landrieu 44.8% to 44.0% in the RCP average.
The 18-year incumbent, knowing she is doomed, has resorted to playing the race card and the sexism card. Obama is pretty unpopular in the Pelican State and Landrieu has been in lockstep with him. Supporting the unpopular Obamacare did not help her. Also, many New Orleans blacks, part of her base, never returned after they left because of Hurricane Katrina. Harry Reid, desperate not to lose his own leadership post, tried painting Republican opponent Cassidy as a racist, after the GOP candidate said the Majority Leader ran the Senate like a plantation. Very few fair-minded people take Reid seriously anymore, and this is one of the reasons why.
Selfish Tea Partiers who care more about ideological purity than the big picture, have encouraged and endorsed selfish Republican Maness who never had a shot in the first place, and who unlike the Kansas Democrat mentioned above, did not just withdraw to make it easier for the GOP to take the Senate. Had Maness withdrawn, the seat would have gone to Cassidy easily, without the need for a runoff. I am thinking it won’t matter. Landrieu will win the 3-way but lose the 2-way runoff in early December. The Senate may safely be in Republican hands before then, so there will be no runoff excitement, and there would have been no win for Landrieu anyway. Louisiana sexist, Mary? Let’s see. You, a woman, were elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives twice, serving 8 years, you were elected to be the State Treasurer twice for another 8, and you were elected three times to the US Senate. I guess that sexism thing has finally caught up to you.
One-term incumbent, and former governor and New Hampshire state senator Jeanne Shaheen is fairly popular in the Granite State. President Obama is not. To that effect, Shaheen’s opponent, Scott Brown, formerly the senator from Massachusetts, has been pounding her with her voting 99% of the time with the president. It has hurt. Shaheen had been up by plenty in nearly every poll from when Brown had just hinted he would oppose her. The polls are a bit all over the place these last couple months with most showing the Democrat generally comfortably ahead, or a few showing Brown slightly ahead. The two most recent polls show Brown up by 1 point, and Shaheen up by 1. The RCP average has Shaheen up by 0.9%. I think the incumbent holds and Scott looks for another state to put down senatorial-hopeful roots.
Democrat Kay Hagan defeated former Senator Bob Dole’s wife Elizabeth in 2008 to win this sort of purplish state. Obama won here in 2008 but not 2012, and the state government is run by Republicans, but somewhat because of redistricting. Hagan’s opponent Thom Tillis, gaffe-prone Speaker of the North Carolina House, said in 2012, “The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable.” Brilliant. Blacks make up 23% of the state and they weren’t thrilled. Tillis is also very socially conservative and that does not play well with some of the um, non-traditional voters of the Tar Heel State’s population.
On the other side of the coin, Democrats not directly connected to Hagan, but also not condemned by her, sent out despicable flyers in black communities with the words, “Kay Hagan doesn’t win! Obama’s impeachment will begin! Vote in 2014,” superimposed over a grainy picture of the lynching of a black man. A Harry Reid advisors-run Political Action Committee placed ads on black-oriented radio stations tying Tillis to the Trayvon Martin shooting because he supports the “stand your ground” law. In fact, in many states where Democrats are in danger of losing (as in Georgia mentioned above), the party itself or supporters continue to reach new race-baiting lows as they desperately try to retain power. Apparently, the get-out-the-vote “ground game” we keep hearing the Democrats extol, means beating fairness, morality and decency into the ground. And get this, as she has campaigned for Democrats, Hillary Clinton has been accusing Republicans of running campaigns of fear. All this just makes people on both sides more angry and only increases the racial divide.
Kay Hagan is 0.7 points ahead of Tillis in the RCP average (and there is a Libertarian garnering about 5 points, although it’s unclear which candidate he hurts the most), but Hagan has led in nearly every poll taken since May. Because of that, and because Tillis is not the best candidate, I have always felt Hagan would win, and I still do. I used to think Hagan was a more decent person than what she has proven to be of late, and I didn’t think she needed the assistance of shameful and reprehensible advertising to prevail. [Wasn’t Obama supposed to make us all feel better about ourselves? He and many of his supporters along with some Republicans, yes, have regrettably done the exact opposite. I love my country, but sometimes I feel very, very sad for it as well.]
RCP calls this a “leans Democrat” race. I don’t buy it. I think it’s a “safe Democrat” race even though former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie has shaved incumbent Mark Warner’s lead from about 20 points in July to 7 a few days ago. The RCP average has Warner up by 9.7%.
Having said all of the above, it is possible anything could happen, and I could be wrong about some or all. Kansas and New Hampshire, so very tight, and the hardest for me predict, could very well go Republican, and I hope I am wrong and they do. Right now I think the Republicans may win 51 – 53 seats when all is said and done. A mini-wave election could put that to 53 – 54. And if New Hampshire is called early for the Republican Brown, that would be a very bad sign for the Democrats in the other races. Or maybe the race card and sexism card scare tactics will work in each state and the Democrats will hold the Senate. It is truly a shame when the words, “Senate race” refer not only to a competition, but to running for Senate, and race. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day, we won’t be hearing about parties or candidates trying to get most blacks to vote one way and most whites another?
I will be back next week to either take a bow or take my lumps. Vote early and vote often!