Election Forecast: Senate

This year’s Senate races have been closely contested–there are a number of retiring incumbents (or those defeated in primaries, as is the case for Mr. Lugar of Indiana) who leave behind vulnerable seats. While many of this year’s matchups will not be at all close, many seats–such as those in Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, and Nevada–will be extraordinarily close.

I find the race in Indiana to be the most fascinating, simply because of Republican candidate (and former favorite) Richard Mourdock’s abortion gaffe. In a debate with Democratic nominee Rep. Tom Donnelly (IN-02), Mr. Mourdock was answering a question regarding his position on abortion, and said “…Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.” In the days since this statement, Mr. Mourdock has been met with a firestorm of criticism–even from those in his own party.

The statement could very well cost Mourdock the seat–polls have already indicated a deadlocked race, a narrow lead for Rep. Donnelly, or a narrow lead for Mr. Mourdock. Losing a seat from Indiana (a generally Republican state) would represent a major blow to the GOP, whose hopes of taking control of the Senate would be squashed with such a loss.

Mr. Mourdock’s gaffe bears a striking resemblance to that of Rep. Todd Akin (MO-02), who in August said that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing [pregnancy] down.” These comments set off a firestorm in the media, the political sphere, and in the public. It’s likely that the “legitimate rape” debacle will cost Rep. Akin the election–in what was supposed to be one of the toughest reelection bids for a Democrat, Sen. Claire McAskill continues to lead in the polls.

Will Mourdock’s comments have such an effect in Indiana? It’s difficult to say for sure, since no major public polls have been released since the incident occurred. I’m going to be bold, however, and predict a Donnelly upset in this race. With the erosion of some Republican support for Mourdock–and with many Indiana papers now endorsing Donnelly–it looks as if conditions are prime for the GOP to lose this seat.

Below is a map outlining my predictions state-by-state for this year’s Senate elections. Note that there are three toss-up races for which I have not predicted a winner–the contests in Arizona, Montana, and Nevada are too close to call at this point. The latest polls indicate that these races are statistically tied. As another note, there are two races that I’m calling for Independent candidates: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont will be reelected easily, and former governor Angus King of Maine is leading by a large margin in polls. These states are marked in blue–both candidates will likely caucus with the Democrats.

At the start of the 113th Congress next January, a number of scenarios could occur. (Note: Democratic totals include the 2 Independent candidates)

  • If Democrats lose all three races that I’ve declined to call, but win in Indiana, the balance of power will stay exactly the same, with 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans.
  • If Democrats win one toss-up race and Indiana, the party split will be 54 Democrats to 46 Republicans.
  • If Democrats win two toss-up races and Indiana, the split will be 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans.
  • If Democrats win all three of these races, plus Indiana, there will be 56 Democrats and 44 Republicans.
  • And, if Democrats lose all toss-up races and Indiana, the split will be 52 Democrats to 48 Republicans.

Regardless of the outcome of these toss-up races, Democrats look poised to retain their majority in the chamber for another two years.

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