Senate races

GOP on verge of taking Senate

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As a long campaign season draws to an end, Republicans are on the cusp of winning Senate control, while Democrats are girding for what could be a “bad, long night.”

“It seems like the late-breakers are not headed in the right direction,” admitted Democratic strategist Achim Bergmann, noting Iowa and Colorado in particular as troubling states for Democrats.

{mosads}Recent nationwide polling has shown Republicans taking young voters and eating into Democrats’ historical advantage with women. The party has invested more than $60 million in turnout efforts to try to offset expected drop-offs in key Democratic constituencies, but Republicans have made commensurate investments in their own get-out-the-vote operations.

What’s more, President Obama’s approval rating stands at just 42 percent nationwide, according to the most recent Gallup average. That’s enough, Bergmann said, to make the mood in his office of Democratic operatives “very dark.” 

The simple math is what’s making things so grim for Democrats. 

To hold onto the Senate, they’d have to enjoy a near-perfect night, with all of their toss-up races — and even some where they’re down in the polls — breaking in their direction. 

Republicans are all but certain to win open, Democratic-held seats in West Virginia and Montana. They’re also favored in South Dakota, where former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) has regained a solid lead despite a late play from Democrats to make it competitive.

The GOP also has the edge in Arkansas, where Sen. Mark Pryor (D), despite running a strong campaign, looks likely to fall victim to an unfavorable climate and challenger Rep. Tom Cotton (R). Polling has largely given Republican Dan Sullivan a lead over Sen. Mark Begich (D) in Alaska, though operatives from both parties warn the state is notoriously tough to poll.

From there, Republicans need only one more seat to take back the Senate. Public surveys and early vote numbers have them most optimistic in two blue-leaning swing states: Colorado and Iowa.

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall (D) has trailed his GOP challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, in every recent poll, and his campaign admits its own internals show him tied. Democrats insist their vaunted ground game will drive Udall to a win on Election Day, but the early vote suggests Republicans are keeping pace. As of Saturday, the GOP held an advantage of 8 percentage points in ballots cast. 

Colorado is a key test of whether one of Democrats’ primary attacks on Republicans — the accusation that the GOP is engaged in a “war on women,” which includes positions on contraception and equal pay — still holds water. Early evidence, including Udall’s slimmer-than-expected advantage among women, suggests the attack could be losing some of its potency.

In Iowa, state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) holds a slight lead over Rep. Bruce Braley (D) in most polls, though Braley has closed the gap in recent weeks. Republicans are enthusiastic about early voting numbers there, too: the party has narrowed Democrats’ lead from 2010, and is pledging a massive get-out-the-vote effort on Election Day.

“It’s been a strong showing from [national Republicans] organizationally, and Joni Ernst has been a great candidate,” said Iowa GOP spokesman Jahan Wilcox. 

The Hawkeye State is one where late-breaking news events could sway the electorate. Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D) comments that voters shouldn’t be fooled by the fact Ernst is “really attractive and she sounds nice,” which went public on Sunday night, further fueled the personality battle Republicans hope the race will be decided on.

Some Republicans are even cautiously hoping for their party to end the night, or at least the cycle, with 54 seats, as both New Hampshire and North Carolina, initially seen as likely Democratic holds, have tightened over the past week.

“We just kinda hit what we hit or we’re gonna hit a lot more,” said Republican pollster Glen Bolger.

Republican challengers have repeatedly hammered Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) on national security in the final months of the campaign, looking to harness a pervasive sense of fear that’s gripped the electorate due to the proliferation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the spread of Ebola.

North Carolina early voting, however, looks good for Democrats: they have a nearly 16-point advantage in ballots already cast. Republicans say they’re still well positioned to win, however, noting they faced a serious deficit in the early vote in 2012 but that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney ultimately won the state by 2 points.

A few remaining election night wild cards could make Senate control an open question well into Wednesday morning, or even months after that.

Louisiana is expected to head to a runoff, but Republicans say they are optimistic that the red lean of the state has become too much for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) to overcome, and are already counting it as a win for GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy.

Both parties admit Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes’s highly touted challenge to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) looks likely to fizzle on election night. 

National Democrats are insisting early vote totals paint a rosier picture for them than most prognosticators’ predictions, but they’ll only go so far as to predict the party will break even on election night.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky said the party “remains competitive in enough races that we are positioned to hold the majority.”

“Early vote statistics across the country are proving that D.C. conventional wisdom is wrong, and there’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for voting and voting for Democrats,” he said.

Republicans, meanwhile, are still sweating outcomes in two states they hold: Georgia and Kansas.

In the Peach State, Democrat Michelle Nunn has kept the race tight by hammering Republican David Perdue over his business career and outsourcing. Public polling suggests the race could be heading to a January runoff.

Still, Republicans say they’ve seen numbers moving in their direction over the past few days, and that Perdue could have a shot at winning on election night.

In Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts (R) trails independent Greg Orman, most recently by 2 percentage points in a Fox News poll released on Friday, which suggest he’s struggling to shore up his base and has never fully recovered from self-inflicted wounds. 

Despite the myriad surrogates that have gone to bat for Roberts and the millions Republicans have spent over the past month hammering Orman as a closet Democrat, private GOP polling has shown Roberts down about a point in the past week as well.

Pollster Bolger and others in both parties admit there may be surprises on election night, in part because this is a midterm with record-breaking levels of outside spending and wall-to-wall advertising that’s muddied the message for both parties.

“A lot of candidates don’t have a clear advantage,” Bolger said. “There’s so much being said on both sides that the voters are really kind of uncertain.”

Tags 2022 midterm elections Bruce Braley Cory Gardner Jeanne Shaheen Kay Hagan Mark Begich Mark Pryor Mark Udall Mary Landrieu Mitch McConnell Pat Roberts Race for the Senate Tom Cotton Tom Harkin

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