Friday, August 24, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: U.S. Senate Races and Surprises

Although I have stated early and often that the Republicans are very
likely to win control of the U.S. senate in the 2012 election cycle, I
have also consistently pointed out that early predictions about individual
races are often risky because these races frequently are subject to
unanticipated events, circumstances, and changes in voter attitudes.

Now, with only a bit more than two months to go, some of these surprises
are beginning to appear. The outcomes of Democratic and Republican
candidates are both subject to to these surprises. The gaffe of GOP
nominee Akin in Missouri has already been in the headlines for days,
and initial post-gaffe polls are predictably very bad news for the Mr.
Akin and his party in Missouri. Mr. Akin still has until September 25
to withdraw, although his defiant attitude so far indicates he is planning
to remain in the race (and suffer a bad defeat for himself and possibly
for the GOP ticket in that state).

Two races I have been actually predicting could be big surprises, in Hawaii
and Ohio, are indeed becoming more and more competitive. Republican
Linda Lingle is perhaps the most underestimated nominee in the nation
(mainly because Hawaii usually votes overwhelmingly Democratic).
GOP challenger Josh Mandel in Ohio is so young (and looks it) that it has
seemed unlikely that he could defeat long-time Ohio politician Sherrod
Brown. Yet latest poll numbers in both states are signalling the final results
might be a surprise.

I did not predict that the Connecticut senate race was going to be close,
but now one major poll has the Republican Linda McMahon leading
Democrat Chris Murphy by 4 points. This is the seat currently held by
Joe Lieberman, an independent who votes primarily with the Democrats.
It's only one poll, but if McMahon should win (she ran and lost a senate
race in 2010), it would be a surprise to all.

Another races that could be a shocker on Election Night is in Michigan
where incumbent Democrat Debbbie Stabenow has been considered "safe."
Her GOP opponent Peter Hoekstra still trails her, but she has been under
50% in most polls, a danger sign this late in the campaign season.

Even incumbent Democrat Robert Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania, hitherto
considered very safe, especially after Republicans failed to nominate a
"big name" against him, remains consistently under 50%. A new voter
ID law in the Keystone State could cost Casey vital inner-city votes, although
he remains clearly ahead at this point.

It was assumed from the outset, once Republican Senator Olympia Snowe
made her surprise retirement announcement, that she would be replaced by
independent Angus King, a former governor, who was expected to caucus
with the Democrats (who nominated a candidate of their own). Early polls
had King way ahead of both his Republican and Democratic opponents in a
three-way race. But tough ads about King's economic record as governor
have reduced his lead. He is still well ahead, but the absolute certainty about
the final result has been replaced with some doubts.

On the other side, the favored Republican senate nominee in North Dakota,
Rick Berg, leads his Democratic opponent Heidi Heitkamp in the contest to
replace retiring Democatic Senator Kent Conrad, but his current margin is
not that impressive, and his opponent is mounting a serious campaign.

Two first-term Republican incumbents, Senators Dean Heller (Nevada) and
Scott Brown (Massachusetts), were expected to face serious challenges, but
so far, they seem to be holding their own (although their re-elections are not

Senate races to replace retiring senators in New Mexico and Arizona, the
first a Democrat and the second a Republican, remain up in the air, but any
outcome in these races would not be a surprise.

Nor would any outcome in Virginia and Florida where polls have the races
going back and forth. These were always expected to be very close races.

I want to stress that any surprises mentioned above are only potential
surprises. There are ten weeks to go, and the presidential race itself is up
in the air (and might influence these senate races). The numbers (23
Democratic seats up and only 10 Republican seats) favor the GOP, but
congressional election surprises always seem to happen, and this election
year will probably prove to be no different.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

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