Republicans may have a better chance of winning the Senate than the House in the midterm election in November. And their prospects for taking over the Senate appear to be getting better by the day. At least that’s what polls indicate. But politics can be fickle and poll numbers fleeting. So nothing is guaranteed.
The good news for Republicans comes in two parts. First, they’re ahead in four of the six open Republican seats and tied in two. That’s a great improvement from, say, late last year. Second, in the 11 Democratic seats in play, they’re ahead in five, tied in four, and within easy striking distance in the other two. Not bad for a party that was crushed in the past two national elections.
Republicans trail Democrats 59-41 in the Senate today. They need 10 pickups to take control. Nine won’t suffice, since Vice President Joe Biden would break the 50-50 tie by voting for Democratic control. To capture the House, Republicans would have to gain 40 seats, which is not out of the question but is still a steep climb.
Let’s start with the Republican Senate seats that once were viewed as highly vulnerable. For the record, I consider any race where the candidates are three percentage points or fewer apart in the latest poll as being essentially tied. In states where nominees haven’t been chosen, I apply the poll result for the leading candidates.
In Missouri, a swing state that went narrowly for McCain over Obama in 2008, Representative Roy Blunt, the former House Republican whip, is eight points ahead of Democrat Robin Carnahan, Missouri’s secretary of state, in a Rasmussen poll of likely voters. (Rasmussen, PPP, and Daily Kos polls always use likely voters.)
In Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul leads Democrat Jack Conway by six points in a Survey USA poll of likely voters, this despite Paul’s gaffe about the Civil Rights Act. Conway is state attorney general, Paul the son of Ron Paul, the Republican House member and 2008 presidential aspirant.
In New Hampshire, Republican Kelly Ayotte leads Democrat Paul Hodes by 12 points (Rasmussen). She’s the state attorney general. He’s a House member.
In Kansas, likely to be one of the strongest Republican states in November, Republican Jerry Moran is 35 points (Rasmussen) up on Democrat David Haley. Moran is a House member, Haley a state senator.
In Ohio, the Senate contest is tight, with Democrat Lee Fisher a single point ahead of Republican Rob Portman in a University of Cincinnati survey. Portman was budget director in the George W. Bush White House. Fisher is Ohio's lieutenant governor.
In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio is three points behind Charlie Crist, running as an independent, in the St. Petersburg Times poll of registered voters. Rubio is the former speaker of the state house of representatives.
Now, the Democratic seats. In Washington and Wisconsin, Republicans are in contention on the strength of candidates who only recently decided to run. Republican Dino Rossi, twice an unsuccessful candidate for governor, trails Democratic Senator Patty Murray by a single point (Rasmussen) in Washington. And Republican businessman Ron Johnson is two points behind (Rasmussen) Democratic Senator Russ Feingold. The tightness of these contests is especially worrisome to Democrats because once seemingly safe incumbents are now in deep trouble.
Two Democratic seats are all but conceded to Republicans – in North Dakota, where Republican Governor John Hoeven is miles ahead for the seat of retiring Democrat Byron Dorgan, and in Delaware, where Republican Congressman Mike Castle is far ahead of any Democrat.
Indiana and Arkansas also look like Republican pickups. In Indiana, former senator Dan Coats leads Democrat Brad Ellsworth, currently a House member, by 15 points (Rasmussen). And in Arkansas, Republican House member John Boozman is 20 points in front of Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln in a Daily Kos poll and 11 points up on her Democratic primary challenger, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
In Illinois, Republican Mark Kirk has a 3-point lead (Daily Kos) over Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer. Kirk is a House member. The opposite is true in Pennsylvania, where Democrat Joe Sestak is three points ahead (Daily Kos) of Republican Pat Toomey. Sestak is a House member, Toomey a former member.
Colorado, Nevada, and California are more complicated. In Colorado, the two leading Republicans, Jane Norton and Ken Buck, lag three to six points behind Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and two to three behind Bennet’s primary challenger Andrew Romanoff in PPP polls.
In Nevada, three Republican candidates – Sue Lowden, Danny Tarkanian, and Sharron Angle – are tightly clustered. They are either ahead of or behind Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, by three points or fewer, according to a Mason-Dixon poll of likely voters.
Finally, in California, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer trails Republican Tom Campbell by seven points but leads Republican Carly Fiorina by six in an LA Times poll of registered voters. Campbell is a former House member, Fiorina the ex-CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
That’s it. All Republicans need to sweep these races and grab control of Senate after four years of Democratic rule are two things. One, voter turnout in which enthusiastic Republicans show up in disproportionate numbers. Two, a political wave across the country that lifts Republican candidates everywhere. Either is quite possible, neither are givens. But the new Gallup generic ballot poll, giving Republicans a record six-point lead, suggests there’s a better chance than ever before that both will occur on election day in November.
Fred Barnes is the executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.