Sunday, November 16, 2014

2016 Senate: A Democratic Take Back is Looking Good -- But It's a Tougher Map Than You Might Think

In the aftermath of the election debacle, Democrats generally comforted themselves with dreams of Hillary, visions of Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz waging a very public bloodbath for the soul of the GOP, and the easy map to reclaim the Senate in 2016.

But with the GOP likely to be holding 54 seats quite soon (pending the declaration of Republican Dan Sullivan the winner in Alaska, and Democrat incumbent Mary Landrieu’s defeat in the Louisiana run-off), that 2016 Senate election map, while favorable, is no lay down for the Dems.

The surface facts are indeed favorable.  There are 34 seats up for election in 2016, and only 10 of them are currently held by Democrats, while the GOP will have to defend a full 24.  And of the 10 Democrats, virtually all are “solid,” with the possible exceptions of Nevada and Colorado.

In addition, there is the basic turnout math.  These races represent, essentially, rematches of the 2010 elections, which were run 1) in the mid-term cycle with the traditional lower turnout among core Democrat constituencies, and 2) at the start of the Tea Party craze.  The GOP picked up 6 seats to get to 47, and could have come even closer to taking the Senate had they not run truly awful Tea Party favorites in Delaware and Nevada rather than establishment candidates who might have won.  But the Tea Party frenzy, driven by a backlash and Obamacare, the stimulus, etc., undoubtedly fueled GOP turnout. 

Good points, all.  But the details reveal a tough task nonetheless.  Let’s look at the chart and then explain:

Democrats Total
50

Dem Not Up
36

Dem Solid
8
  Ha, NY, Del, VT, Mary, Or, Cal, Wash
Dem Lean
2
  Nev, Col.
Dem Toss-up
4
  Ill, Pa, Wisc, Fla
Rep Toss-up
0

Rep Lean
8
  NC, NH, Ohio, Iowa, Alaska, Ky, Mo, Ind
Rep Solid
12
  Ga, La, Ark, Ariz, SC, Utah, Alab, Okl, Ks, Id, ND, SD
Rep Not Up
30

Republicans Total
50


The Democrats will start with 36 candidates not up for reelection, and 8 other “solid” races (Hawaii, Vermont, New York, Maryland, Oregon, Connecticut, California and Washington).  These states have gone for the Democrats in each of the last four Presidential elections and their incumbents won 10+ point margins (with the exception of Patty Murray in Washington).  Thus the Democrats start the swing state game with 44 seats, needing to win 6 assuming they win the Presidency in 2016, or 7 if they don’t.

There are, minimally, 12 solid GOP races:  Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.   There are some fantasies out there about Arizona (McCain steps down?) and a few others. But being realistic, taking these 12 off the strategic map leaves 14 competitive states. 

Here is how they break down:
Will he be #1 in Nevada in 2016?

·        Good Defense (2):  Any Democratic takeover plan begins with holding on to Nevada and Colorado.  Harry Reid was lucky to win in 2010 over wing nut Sharron Angle, and he won’t have as easy a draw as then, when he won by only 5 points.  But he will have the turnout advantage, and must take heart in Mitch McConnell’s win in Kentucky.  Reid is every bit as wily as the new Leader.  If the Dems win these two, they are up to 46.  Put both in the Democrat Lean camp.

·        Ripe for the Taking (3).  There are three races that represent juicy targets:  Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  Each state is classic blue, having voted for Obama, Kerry, Gore and Clinton.  Each features an incumbent who won by a narrow margin in 2010:  Mark Kirk in Illinois and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania each won by two points, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin won by five.  None are particularly popular in their state.  The Democrats challenge, of course, will be to identify the candidates that can take them down.  If they do and succeed, they are up to 49.  Call them Democrat Toss-ups for now.

Chad counting for the Senate in 2016?
·        The Nail Biter Once Again (1)?  Presidential elections always seem to come down to Florida, and in 2016 Senate control may as well.  The margin has been less than 5 points in each of the last four elections, and broke for Obama twice and Bush twice.  And it is complicated.  Marco Rubio is the incumbent, but he received only 49% of the vote in 2010; the rest – the majority -- was split between Democrat Kendrick Meek and Independent Charlie Crist (who just lost the governor race as a Democrat by 2 points to incumbent Rick Scott). 

Plus, Rubio may run for President (supposedly somewhat contingent on whether fellow Floridian and mentor Jeb Bush runs); if he runs, will he also run for his Senate seat, a la Rand Paul in Kentucky?  Ah, Florida, never easy.  But it could produce the 50th Democratic Senator, and that may be enough for Senate control.  Call it a Democrat Toss-up, too.

·        Decent Possibilities (4)New Hampshire, Iowa and Ohio have become reliable blue states, but each have GOP Senators who won handily in 2010, Kelly Ayotte (NH +23 margin), Chuck Grassley (IW, +31) and Rob Portman (OH, +18).  If the top of the ticket is running strong, and the opponent is good, they could come into play and one could be picked off.  North Carolina can also fall into this camp (even though they went for Romney in 2012) if Kay Hagan, who just lost by 2 points in a mid-term year, runs again with the benefit of Presidential year turnout.  If the Dems want to dream about getting back to a healthy majority, this is where it will have to come from.  These are Republican Leans as of now.
For the Senate or the White House?

·        Longer shots (4):  That leaves a few most distant possibilities, Kentucky, Alaska, Indiana and Missouri.  These are all red states, but each has a potential weakness.  Rand Paul may fail spectacularly in his bid to run for both the Presidency and the Senate at the same time;  Alaska could toss a Tea Party candidate into the mix, as in 2010, when Linda Murkowsky had to win as an independent; Indiana shockingly went for Obama in 2008; and Missouri came darn close to doing the same.  Also Republican Leans.

All in all, the math is not terrifically easy.  There is not much margin for error in holding Nevada and Colorado and retaking Illinois, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – and then having to pick off one or two more.  If I was running odds this early, it would probably come out to only a 55-60% probability.


Incum.
Incum-
Last Election
    Presidential Election Margin D-R
BTRTN

Party
bent
Margin
2000
2004
2008
2012
Rating
Hawaii
D
Schatz
42
18
9
45
43
D Solid
Vermont
D
Leahy
33
10
20
37
36
D Solid
New York
D
Schumer
32
25
18
27
28
D Solid
Maryland
D
Mikulski
26
17
13
26
26
D Solid
Oregon
D
Wyden
18
0.4
4
17
12
D Solid
Connecticut
D
Blumenthal
12
18
10
23
17
D Solid
California
D
Boxer
10
11
10
24
23
D Solid
Washington
D
Murray
4
5
7
18
15
D Solid
Nevada
D
Reid
5
-4
-2
12
16
D Lean
Colorado
D
Bennet
1
-9
-5
9
5
D Lean
Florida
R
Rubio
0
-0.01
-5
3
1
D TU
Illinois
R
Kirk
-2
12
11
26
17
D TU
Pennsylvania
R
Toomey
-2
5
3
10
5
D TU
Wisconsin
R
Johnson
-5
0.2
1
14
7
D TU
North Carolina
R
Burr
-12
-14
-12
1
-2
R Lean
New Hampshire
R
Ayotte
-23
-1
1
9
6
R Lean
Ohio
R
Portman
-18
-4
-2
5
3
R Lean
Iowa
R
Grassley
-31
0.3
-1
10
6
R Lean
Alaska
R
Murkowski
-4
-31
-25
-21
-14
R Lean
Kentucky
R
Paul
-12
-16
-20
-16
-22
R Lean
Missouri
R
Blunt
-14
-3
-7
-0.1
-10
R Lean
Indiana
R
Coates
-18
-16
-21
1
-10
R Lean
Georgia
R
Isakson
-19
-12
-17
-5
-7
R Solid
Louisiana
R
Vitter
-19
-8
-15
-19
-17
R Solid
Arkansas
R
Boozman
-22
-5
-9
-20
-24
R Solid
Arizona
R
McCain
-24
-6
-11
-9
-9
R Solid
South Carolina
R
Scott
-24
-16
-17
-9
-11
R Solid
Utah
R
Lee
-29
-41
-46
-29
-47
R Solid
Alabama
R
Shelby
-30
-14
-25
-22
-23
R Solid
Oklahoma
R
Lankford
-39
-22
-32
-32
-34
R Solid
Kansas
R
Moran
-44
-21
-25
-15
-22
R Solid
Idaho
R
Crapo
-46
-39
-38
-26
-32
R Solid
North Dakota
R
Hoeven
-54
-13
-26
-8
-19
R Solid
South Dakota
R
Thune
-100
-22
-22
-8
-18
R Solid


3 comments:

  1. Ultimately we got exactly two races wrong, both of which were extremely tight races. So instead of 50/50 (our final prediction) it was 52 (assuming La goes red in December) to 48.

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