Opinion: Republicans facing longer odds in bid to gain Senate control

As the old Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige once told reporters after his team faded in September and lost the pennant: “The future isn’t what it used to be.”


What’s true in baseball is also true in politics.

At the start of this political cycle, basic math favored Republicans claiming the Senate majority in November and joining the Republican House majority to turn all of Capitol Hill into GOP territory.

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Back then, the math showed 33 seats being contested — with Democrats defending 23 of those seats. Republicans only had to protect 10 incumbents. The odds indicated the GOP was likely to win the four seats they need to become the majority of the Senate.

But with a month to go before the election, that math is upside down.

The new math in the Senate indicates that Democrats and Republicans basically have an even shot at winning the majority.

The GOP advantage began to disappear when Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) decided there was no place for a centrist in today’s Republican Party.

That once-sure Republican seat is now up for grabs, with an Independent, former Gov. Angus King, holding the lead.

The new math is also the result of fading GOP prospects in states such as Hawaii.

Popular Republican Gov. Linda Lingle has not been able to overcome her state’s deep blue politics in her Senate campaign.

Similarly, centrist former Rep. Heather Wilson (R) has not been able to appeal to Hispanic and independent voters through her Senate campaign in New Mexico.

In Missouri, Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has a good chance to win reelection because her Republican opponent is Rep. Todd Akin, now famous for his comment on “legitimate rape.”

In Arizona, Dr. Richard Carmona, a doctor and a Democrat, is the surprise leader in the Senate contest ahead of GOP Rep. Jeff Flake.

Meanwhile, former Virginia Gov. George Allen (R) has seen his prospects for reclaiming his old Senate seat go from a sure bet to — at best — a toss up. He is running against fellow former Gov. Tim Kaine (D).

The new numbers are also informed by problems facing former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson — who is by far the most popular Republican in the state.

He was thought to be a shoo-in to take the seat of retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D), but the polls now show him locked in a dead heat with Democrat Rep. Tammy Baldwin.

As the numbers keep changing, political analysts now say it is a toss-up as to which party claims the Senate.

Charlie Cook of National Journal recently wrote that “the Senate outlook couldn’t be more volatile.”

He predicts control of the Senate will come down to 10 races, with the GOP keeping a nervous eye on seats they currently hold in Indiana, Nevada, and Arizona.

Cook has Democrats holding their breath over the open seats in Connecticut and North Dakota.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato ranks the Senate races this way in his famous Crystal Ball analysis: 19 of the 33 seats being contested are now likely safe for the Democrats while 8 are safe GOP seats.

Sabato has the remaining six seats as toss-ups: Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota, Connecticut, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The website, Real Clear Politics, offers hope to Republicans.

Outside of their list of 10 toss-up races, they have the GOP with 47 safe seats and Democrats with 43.

That means the Democrats need to win 8 of the 10 toss-up states to remain in the majority while the GOP only needs to win 4 for a take-over.

And there is more solace for anxious Republicans.

The latest generic congressional ballot poll from Rasmussen Reports — asking voters which party they would prefer for the House and the Senate (not mentioning any candidate’s names) — shows 45 percent prefer the GOP and 41 percent prefer the Democrats.

Here is a quick look at three Senate races that reveal why the GOP is surprisingly nervous as the election approaches.

• In Indiana, Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock shocked the political world by defeating 35-year incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in the GOP primary. His far-right politics, however, have some Hoosiers uneasy. Polls show him neck-and-neck with popular Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly.

• In Massachusetts, incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown is trailing in the latest Boston Globe poll by five points.

His opponent Elizabeth Warren (D) is running on a message of economic populism in a state that is mostly Democrat and certain to go for President Obama.

• In Nevada, the Republican incumbent, Sen. Dean Heller, is struggling with the state’s growing Latino vote.

The census showed that 27 percent of the state’s residents are now Latinos.

Heller’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, is hitting Heller hard for opposing the DREAM Act, which grants the children of undocumented workers a path to citizenship if they enlist in the military or enroll in college.

This coupled with strong support for the unions, especially the SEIU, has the race too close to call.

The same can be said for political control of the Senate.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.


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