With just a few days until the midterm elections, one of the most accurate political forecasting groups says the Republicans are poised to win the majority in the U.S. Senate and strengthen their existing majority in the House of Representatives.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball is the product of University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato and his team at the school’s Center for Politics. On Friday, the Crystal Ball headline told readers to bet on a Republican majority in the Senate. Forecasters believe seven to eight seats held by Democrats will fall into GOP hands in the next Congress.
According to Crystal Ball Managing Editor Kyle Kondik, there are a trio of factors working against Democrats this year.
“It’s a combination of the terrain and the president’s unpopularity. I guess the third factor is just the very consistent trend in American history that the midterm is generally not good for the president’s party,” said Kondik.
When it comes to Obama’s impact on the race, Kondik says there’s no question he’s an albatross around the necks of Democrats in competitive races.
“Midterms are often a backlash against the president’s party. This year is no exception, particularly when the president is unpopular as Obama is. You sort of put those two together and the Republicans are poised for a pretty decent night,” said Kondik.
The map is also a major advantage for Republicans. The huge Democratic wave of 2008 flipped several red state Senate seats into the Democratic column. Kondik says those states appear to be reverting to form this time around.
“The Democrats are very much overextended on the Senate map. It was last contested in 2008, which of course was a very good Democratic year. It’s pretty natural in American politics for there to be kind of a surge. That was the Democrats in 2008 and then it declined, particularly six years later in the second midterm of a two-term president. Just structurally, the Republicans were set up well,” said Kondik, noting seven states defended by Democrats are usually deep red.
“Most of those states were deeply Republican states that went for Romney in 2012. It looks like Republicans are going to win most of them eventually. Louisiana, they’re probably favored in, but that state is going to a run-off in December.
Crystal Ball projects the GOP to score easy wins in open seats in West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana, where Democrats are retiring. It also projects Republican pick-ups in Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado and Alaska. Louisiana and Georgia also lean to the GOP, but no projections are being made since both races are expected to see run-offs since no candidate is expected to claim a majority of the vote. Polls suggest Republicans are narrowly but consistently ahead in Iowa, Colorado and Alaska and Kondik says when one party is badly outperforming the other, the close races have a tendency of turning out the same way.
“Generally speaking, if your party’s doing poorly nationally, a lot of the seats get wiped away,” he said.
Kondik says Democrats could still pull out wins in one or more of those states. On the other hand, he says the Crystal Ball is predicting Democratic wins in tight races in North Carolina and New Hampshire but one or both could easily end up won by the Republicans. The sole toss-up to be decided on Tuesday is in traditionally-Republican Kansas, which is also one of the few races where an incumbent Republican is in trouble.
Kondik says it could be a huge night for Republicans, but believes they’ll ultimately lose some winnable races and take a narrow majority into the new Congress in January.
“I don’t think the Republicans are going to have as big of a night as is possible. I think the maximum number of seats they could come out with is 55, which is (a pickup of) 10. I don’t think they’re going to get that. I think it’s going to be closer to 51, 52, 53 seats. Obviously, Republicans came in hoping to win the Senate back. A few days out, I think they look in pretty good shape to do that,” he said.
Very little attention has been paid to the battle for the House of Representatives since virtually all analysts expect the Republicans to keep their majority and probably add to it. Kondik says the vast majority of House districts tilt heavily towards one party or the other. Out of 435 seats, only 22 are deemed competitive. The Crystal Ball expects the GOP to gain nine seats, which would give it 243 seats to the Democrats’ 192.
“I think that’d be a pretty decent night for Republicans. I think Democrats are worried it could go higher. Republicans, on the other hand, are worried it could go lower,” he said.
The one area where the Crystal Ball suggests Democrats have a chance to gain seats is in the governor’s races but even those gain would be modest. Kondik says the Democrats look better in many of these races for the same reason Republicans are poised for success in the Senate contests.
“When we go back six years in the Senate, Democrats have a good year and now they’re overextended. Well, you go back four years in the governor’s races and of course that was 2010. The Republicans won a lot of new governorships and now they have to defend those governorships,” said Kondik.