Democrats Look Strong in Senate Races, and That's Terrible for Them

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 26 2012 11:10 AM

Democrats Look Strong in Senate Races, and That's Terrible for Them

On October 15, the Allentown Morning Call released a poll with "stunning" news: Sen. Bob Casey had slipped to a 2-point lead over coal magnate and Tea Party activist Tom Smith.

One week later, the same poll has Casey up by 8 points. All that changed was some new Casey hustle and the deployment of his wait-wait-wait-NOW TV ad strategy. Casey's actually improved more than Obama has -- he's up from +4 to +5.

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You're seeing this in most states with competitive Senate races. In Massachusetts, pollsters who've stayed in the field have found swings toward Elizabeth Warren of 2 points (Rasmussen), 4 points (PPP), and 9 points (WBUR). In Maine, the other Republican seat that's looked vulnerable, the NRSC is stopping its ad campaign against Independent candidate Angus King, whom Democrats expect to caucus with them. In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill has built a lead over Todd Akin despite a series of financial stories that, in another dynamic, could hurt her. In Connecticut, local pollsters see Democrat Chris Murphy, one of the party's weaker candidates in a safe seat, retaining a lead over Linda McMahon. Josh Mandel continues to show up at debates and be Josh Mandel, which is making Democrats more confident about Sen. Sherrod Brown's re-election.

After North Dakota and Nebraska, which were always heavy vulnerabilities when their incumbent Democrats skipped down, I look at the map and see three potential Democratic losses. They are: Virginia, Wisconsin, and Montana. Republicans would need to win all of them to get the Senate to a 50-50 split; they obviously could not afford a fluke loss in Arizona or Indiana. And they're currently only ahead in Montana, where the GOP's gubernatorial candidate just got blocked by a court from using $500,000 in campaign funds.

I suppose that this should cheer up Democrats. Very, very few people would have given them a chance at Senate control just one year ago. But think about this: What would Democrats be able to do if Romney won the presidency, Republicans held the House, and they narrowly held the Senate? That looks to me like a horrible arrangement. January 2013 starts with yet another Obamacare repeal fight, which Harry Reid tries to keep off the floor, which requires coddling Joe Manchin and Mark Pryor. A rump of vulnerable Democrats, facing down a brutal 2014 map (Alaska, North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana -- all up for election), are tempted to cut deals with President Romney. Reid, who despises Romney, is constantly under pressure to avoid the inevitable defections, as President Romney uses his honeymoon and PR control to tell voters that the only obstacle to recovery is a Democratic Senate.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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