It’s time (actually past time!) for the midterm forecast/”It’s the fundamentals, stupid” t-shirt contest. As always, please, no money wagering at home. This should only be done by professionals. All that’s at stake here is a t-shirt and, of course, my professional pride – oh, and control of the legislative agenda for the next two years.
Let me begin with the Senate. I should note that most political scientist forecast models focus on the House, not the Senate. (For example, among the five midterm forecast models presented in the recent issue of Political Science and Politics, only one includes a Senate forecast.) In previous years the Senate forecasts have not always been very accurate. I’m not sure why this is the case, although I can suggest explanations. Senate races are usually more competitive – they attract stronger challengers, who are often well funded (think Carly Fiorina or Linda McMahon). State populations – especially in large states – are more heterogeneous, making it difficult to assess how the population is reacting in the aggregate to the fundamentals. There are fewer Senate races in any cycle, so perhaps it’s easier simply to assess each race individually, a la Charlie Cook or Stuart Rothenberg.
For whatever reason, the science of forecasting Senate races is not as well developed. As a result, unlike the presidential forecast I’ve done in previous years (or the House one I will present later) this Senate forecast is not based on any specific model; there’s no underlying theory on which the projections are based. It’s all seats-of-the-pants, race-by-race assessments which, frankly, you can find on a dozen other websites. Nonetheless, we have a tradition to keep at the Presidential Power blog, so here goes. Just remember – if my predictions go horribly wrong, it’s not an indictment of political science forecast models – it’s simply a reflection of my own lack of political insight.
Drum roll please!
I’ve set the over/under for the Republican gain in the Senate next Tuesday at 8 seats. (Yes, for those of you who attended my talk last night, I’ve changed the prediction again. This is the real one. For now.) Note that this is almost twice the Republican gain than what Alan Abramowitz’s Senate forecast model indicates based on the current generic ballot results, although Alan is careful to note the large margin of uncertainty surrounding his Labor Day Senate prediction.
Because there are only about a dozen competitive Senate seats (of 37) during this cycle, I can list the predicted Republican pickups, in rough order of likelihood (from most likely to I’m basically guessing). They are:
1. North Dakota. Democrat Byron Dorgan stepping down. Republican John Hoeven to beat Tracy Potter.
2. Arkansas. Incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln to lose to John Boozman.
3. Indiana. Democrat Evan Bayh stepping down. Republican Dan Coats to beat Brad Ellsworth.
4. Wisconsin. Incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold to lose to Ron Johnson.
5. Pennsylvania. Incumbent Arlen Specter lost in the primary. Republican Pat Toomey to beat Joe Sestak.
6. Nevada. Incumbent Democrat Harry Reid to lose to Sharron Angle.
7. Illinois. Democrat (and Blagojevich appointee) Burris stepping down. Republican Mark Kirk to beat Alexi Giannoulias.
8. Colorado: Incumbent Michael Bennet to lose to Republican Ken Buck.
For what it’s worth, in the other closely contested Senate races, I think West Virginia stays Democrat with Manchin beating Raese, Murray retains her seat in Washington, Boxer holds on in California, Rubio keeps Florida’s Republican seat, Blumenthal holds Connecticut for the Democrats, Ayotte keeps New Hampshire’s seat Red, and Miller beats Murkowski in Alaska (with no party change in either case).
A word of caution with these Senate projections. For races numbered 5-8 (and for that matter the Washington state and West Virginia races), the uncertainty surrounding the outcomes make my estimates not much better than what you would get with a coin flip. The races are that close. In the end, I went Republican on most of them because I think the fundamentals are heavily in Republicans’ favor this cycle. It goes without saying (so why do I say it?) that much depends on who turns out, and in what numbers. Here the Democrat fundraising advantage may help at the margins although frankly I think that advantage – which is dwindling – will be worth more in the House races.
Ok, there you have it. If I’m right, the Democrats will retain control of the Senate, 51-49, although the working margin will be smaller than that on some issues. Let the betting begin. As always, the person who comes closest to predicting the actual outcome wins this t-shirt. In cases of ties, everyone wins or I’ll go with the first person who submits an entry.
Tomorrow, schedule permitting, I’ll present the House predictions. By way of preview, I think the situation is much worse for Democrats in this chamber.