Home | Opinion | Juan Williams

Williams: Dems' hopes rise to keep Senate

Anne Wernikoff

The gossipy, amusing political narrative in the fight for majority control of the Senate is now all about the feuding between Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the Koch brothers.

Last week Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, attacked Reid as “so dirty and so unethical.” Meanwhile Democrats continued to attack the brothers, Charles and David Koch, as “oligarchs” trying to buy the Senate by spending zillions on advertising to defeat Democrats.

ADVERTISEMENT
It is all wonderfully entertaining political theater.

We pause now for real political news.

Until last week all the smart money favored Republicans to win control of the Senate while holding their House majority. That result would cement Capitol Hill into a totally frustrating, nothing-gets-done, gridlock hell for the last two years of the Obama presidency.

The sunlight breaking through that gloomy forecast for Democrats came last week from a New York Times/Kaiser Family Foundation poll. A Times analysis concluded that the Democrats now have a 51 percent chance of retaining their majority. The Times also noted, “The Republicans’ chances have been declining in recent weeks, falling from a recent high of 54 percent. This is mostly due to some unfavorable polls in Arkansas and Iowa.”

The most surprising poll in the Times’ data shows incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas with a 10-percentage-point lead over Rep. Tom Cotton (R) in a state ranked high by Republicans for takeover.

The same type of surprising news came from poll results in Louisiana. Another targeted incumbent Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu, is leading her likely Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy, by 24 points.

Less overwhelming, but still good, news for Democrats came in North Carolina. Sen. Kay Hagan, the incumbent Democrat, holds a 2-percentage point lead over Thom Tillis, her likely Republican opponent who is the state’s Speaker of the House. But Hagan’s prospects look much brighter when you see that she has raised $2.8 million in the first quarter, January to March, twice the amount raised by Tillis.

Fundraising is generally looking good for Democrats if they can avoid damage from outside big spenders, notably the Kochs. In Louisiana, Landrieu has raised more money than Cassidy.

Even in Kentucky, there is good money news for the Democrats. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is the Democrat running against a fundraising machine in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Yet she raised more money than McConnell in the first quarter.

In aggregate, these findings fuel a rising tide of hope for Democrats previously resigned to doom and gloom. The Times’s new blog, named the “Upshot,” predicts that Democrats have a 51 percent chance of holding the Senate. “The probability is essentially the same as a coin flip,” the experts noted.

A coin flip could put the Democrats fully back into a game where history is against them because the president’s party loses an average of six Senate seats in his second midterm elections.

Until recently the political professionals have been burying the Senate Democrats. They point to President Obama’s approval rating, which is below 50 percent, and the energized Republican voter base of older, white conservatives still angry over healthcare reform.

Just last week the popular and respected “Crystal Ball” website of political predictions, run by Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, had Republicans winning between four and eight Senate seats. The GOP needs six to take the majority. A few weeks ago, Nate Silver, the numbers guru who accurately predicted the 2012 presidential race, gave the GOP a 60 percent chance to win control of the Senate.

And until the last month, the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act was another negative depressing the Democrats.

Now the new polls give the people who form the spine of Democratic support — young people, especially younger, single women, as well as black and Hispanic voters — some reason to believe their vote might make all the difference.

Also, healthcare is now showing good sign-up results. More people are gaining Medicare coverage and the Congressional Budget Office reported last week that ObamaCare will sharply cut previous estimates of state spending on Medicaid.

Democrats can now say to their voters this is going to be another close race and they must get on board. The same goes for any donors wondering about the value of investing money in the Democrats’ Senate campaigns.

Even the Reid versus Koch brothers narrative is good news for Democrats. It signals a shift away from months of daily mud-slinging at Obama.

Remember, in 2012 the pollsters also favored the GOP to win control of the Senate. Ultimately the Democrats picked up two seats and got an independent winner to caucus with them. After last week, Democrats have reason to think they can beat the odds once again.

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