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Morning Jay: Special "Penultimate Predictions" Edition!

Republicans will gain 61 House seats and 8 Senate seats.

6:30 AM, Oct 22, 2010 • By JAY COST
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1. The House.  The following chart reviews the independent vote in the polls in the RealClearPolitics average of the generic ballot:

If we assume that undecided independent voters break the way decided independent voters have already broken, then that would yield a 63-37 advantage for Republicans among independents.

What about the party spreads?  Let’s assume that the turnout in 2010 will resemble the turnout in 2004, a year in which both party bases were activated.  Let’s also assume that both sides do as well with their bases as they did in 2004.  Finally, let’s plug that 63-37 Republican advantage among independents into the equation.  What do we get?

Note that this scenario gives the Democrats 95 percent of their 2008 partisan strength.  In other words, the assumption here is that the Democrats fix most of their enthusiasm problem.  Democrats constituted 40 percent of the House electorate in 2008; we are assuming here that they still constitute 38 percent.  If the enthusiasm gap that many pollsters are predicting does indeed manifest itself, the GOP advantage would increase, perhaps substantially. 

Let’s assume for our purposes here that the Democrats do come home.  Even so, a 54-46 popular vote result would result in the largest GOP share of the House vote since 1946.  In 1994, the party won 53.5 percent of the two-party vote, and in 1946 it won 54.3 percent.  It’s hard to say how many seats this would result in, but it suggests gains in excess of the 1994 haul, when the party caucus expanded to 230 seats (prior to post-election party switchers). 

Does the condition of the two parties across the 435 congressional districts support such a conclusion?  It does.  The RealClearPolitics evaluation of the battle for the House currently lists 39 Democratic seats as tilting toward the Republicans, with another 40 Democrats in toss-up districts.  If we give both sides all of their leaners and split the undecideds evenly, that suggests a net pickup of 56 seats for the Republican party.

However, the trendline has been moving against the Democrats for some time.  A month ago, allocating all the leaners and half of the tossups to the GOP would have resulted in Republican pickups of 45 seats.  It seems unlikely that this movement will not continue. 

This, of course, is where political analysis becomes mostly art, so bear that in mind.  While matters are still uncertain, and a lot can change in the next week and a half, I am upgrading my estimate of net Republican gains to 61 seats.  This would produce a congressional caucus of 240 Republicans, larger than any since 1946. 

Democratic losses will be most severe in Arizona, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  Many Democratic casualties will be those Democrats first elected in 2006 and 2008, when the party presented itself as a moderate defender of the middle class.  This should serve as a lesson for President Obama, but it probably will not.  

2. The Senate.  Senate races have tightened in the last week, so there is less certainty when it comes to the upper chamber.  Even so, I think it is appropriate to give Republicans the advantage in all the states where President Obama’s net job approval is squarely in the negative.  This suggests Republican pickups in eight states: Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  I also think Republicans will hold all of their seats up for grabs this year, with Alaska being the most interesting intramural battle in some time. (Were it not for the uncertainty of write in bids, I would favor Murkowski to hold her seat.)

That leaves Republicans needing two victories in four states: California, Connecticut, Illinois, and Washington.

Connecticut seems the hardest for the GOP to pull off, even with Linda McMahon’s deep pockets.  In Illinois, Republican Bill Brady will probably be the next governor, thanks to the unpopularity of incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn.  This should help Republican Senate nominee Mark Kirk against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias. Kirk is also aided by a large advantage in cash on hand.  The most recent polls show him ahead by 2-4 points – and even in the Land of Lincoln, Obama’s job approval is basically split

As for California and Washington, both incumbent Democrats are under 50 percent, and their Republican challengers have closed the gap in recent days.  Barbara Boxer in particular looks to be in bad shape, pulling in just 46 percent of the vote in the RealClearPolitics average.  The Fox News poll finds her job approval at a terrible 42 percent. And Obama is probably of little help in either state.  Fox News finds his net job approval at a +0 in California and PPP finds it at -2 in Washington. 

I think there is a fair chance the Republicans will take 2 of these 3 seats.  That would be enough to take the Senate, assuming the other seats hold. 

But that’s where the problem is.  At this point, Republicans are in striking distance of the Senate majority, but there are still too many races on the bubble – California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia – to make that call.  The GOP has to go six for seven in these toss-up races.  Even though I would give them the edge in most of them, an 86 percent success rate would be no little feat; it would be easy to slip in at least two of these contests. 

Until these races firm up, I am sticking with my previous estimate of Republican gains of 8 seats in the Senate.

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