The Senate Picture – Re-cap


By Jim Ellis

Nov. 28, 2017 — During the Thanksgiving holiday week, we previewed all 34 current Senate races. Today, we wrap-up with the often-described 30,000-foot national overview perspective.

The Alabama special Senate election scheduled for Dec. 12 will tell us a great deal about the coming regular cycle. While the Roy Moore-Doug Jones race is not likely to provide a voting trend preview since the contest has been tainted with scandal, it will signal whether or not the Democrats own a path to the Senate majority.

If Democrat Jones wins the Alabama special, it would give his party 49 seats, thus making their two primary Republican conversion targets in Arizona and Nevada enough to claim majority status, assuming all 25 of their defense seats are held, which, of course, is no easy task. If Republican Moore can hold Alabama, despite being jettisoned by the national GOP leadership, that would secure the Republican majority because such an outcome relegates Democrats’ chances of netting the three GOP seats they need within the regular cycle as highly unlikely.

While polling was breaking in Jones’ favor at what appears to be the crux of Moore’s sex scandal, the latest two large-sample polls from WT&S Consulting and the Strategy Research firm for the Raycom News Network both give the embattled Republican small single-digit leads. If these polls, which feature more than 11,000 and 3,000 interviews, respectively, prove within an acceptable range of accuracy, then this race is trending back toward toss-up status as we enter the closing period, thus erasing Jones’ recent mid-point advantage.

Alabama notwithstanding, the pure toss-up campaigns are found in Arizona (open seat; Sen. Jeff Flake retiring), Florida (Sen. Bill Nelson-D), Indiana (Sen. Joe Donnelly-D), Missouri (Sen. Claire McCaskill-D), and Nevada (Sen. Dean Heller-R), meaning that three seats from each party adorn this category.

Looking at all the races, the safe Democratic seats are found in California (likely a double-Democratic general election between Sen. Dianne Feinstein and state Senate President Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles), Connecticut (Sen. Christopher Murphy), Delaware (Sen. Tom Carper), Hawaii (Sen. Mazie Hirono), Maine (Independent Sen. Angus King), Maryland (Sen. Ben Cardin), Massachusetts (Sen. Elizabeth Warren), Minnesota (Sen. Amy Klobuchar), New York (Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand), Rhode Island (Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse), Vermont (Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders), and Washington (Sen. Maria Cantwell).

The safe Republicans are in Nebraska (Sen. Deb Fischer), Utah (Sen. Orrin Hatch, even if he ultimately decides to retire), and Wyoming (Sen. John Barrasso). The open Tennessee seat becomes safe R if former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) decides not to run, which is the likely course. Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker likely becomes safe once the Republican primary picture is better defined. The other likely-to-safe GOP situation involves Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. He should win by a substantial margin, but faces a credible opponent in Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), who will attract a large amount of outside money and support.

Four Democratic states are in the likely D category: Michigan (Sen. Debbie Stabenow), New Jersey (Sen. Bob Menendez), New Mexico (Sen. Martin Heinrich), Pennsylvania (Sen. Bob Casey Jr.) – but at least the Keystone State race could quickly move into the lean category – and Virginia (Sen. Tim Kaine), though this seat moves to safe D if the Republicans do not draw a stronger candidate(s).

Along with the six toss-up races, the Senate majority will be determined in the lean Dem states, where an additional five political contests reside. They are: Montana (Sen. Jon Tester), North Dakota (Sen. Heidi Heitkamp), Ohio (Sen. Sherrod Brown), West Virginia (Sen. Joe Manchin), and Wisconsin (Sen. Tammy Baldwin). There are no lean Republican seats at this time.

The Democrats’ challenge is to take the three GOP toss-ups while protecting all of their own, and then sweeping the five lean Democratic states. Even if Alabama goes their way on Dec. 12, their path to the majority is still one difficult to traverse. Should Jones lose Alabama, the Democratic majority door closes, but the tight Senate margin between the two parties still could lapse into a 50-50 tie once the rest of the cycle concludes.

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