Back in January and February, independent political handicappers — smart ones — said two things might happen to improve the chances of Democrats in holding the House and Senate. The first: economic growth, at some level that the average American couldn't ignore. The second: health care reform, having survived the legislative and public opinion meat-grinders, would start being a net positive.
Neither of these things have really happened. That leaves the Democrats defending their turf with no fortifications whatsoever. So when you look at
's map of the races
, I think you see the potential for Republicans to win the Senate. I'll group these races into the ones Democrats are likely to lose no matter what happens, likely to lose if the election were held today, and likely to lose if a wave crashes over them. For what it's worth, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Kentucky, and Florida are held by Republicans but are not yet seen as sure things, although Lee Fisher's incredible ability to botch a campaign in Ohio is taking that one off the radar soon. (We don't yet know about Alaska.)
North Dakota, Arkansas, and Indiana. In every case the GOP has the nominee it wants, and if you're at the DSCC you're not yet forgiving Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., for passing up tough races and throwing their seats to the GOP.
Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Colorado. I put Delaware on this list because we expect Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., to win his primary but can't be totally sure. If Democrats win any of these they are having as decent an election night as they could hope for, and definitely holding the Senate. They might even be picking up one of those Republican seats.
Wisconsin, Washington, Nevada, California, and Illinois. In every case, Republicans have the nominee they wanted — in the first case, I've seen more Democratic angst about rich, handsome, and extremely right-wing businessman Ron Johnson than I've seen about any race this cycle. In the first four cases Democrats have incumbents to defend, although only Boxer is seen as a weak campaigner. In Illinois, Democrats didn't get the candidate they wanted, but they're surprised by how Alexi Giannoulias has weathered scandals about his family's failed bank. I'd watch the Green Party in that state, though, which has the potential to drain Democratic votes if the campaign stays ugly.
GONE IF THERE'S A WAVE
Connecticut and West Virginia. In both cases Democrats got dream candidates, the sort of people who never lose statewide elections — mega-popular Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin. In both cases the GOP has nominated wealthy candidates who've never won an election but are ready to dump millions on TV ads. In a normal year, the Democrats would be up by 20-25 points; this year, they're up by the high single digits, according to Republicans I've spoken to who've seen internal polls. (Also, is there any better example of how Democrats play political softball than the fact that they had total control over the process in Massachusetts and West Virginia and in both cases chose snap elections?)
If you pushed me to say how many of these seats Republicans would win if the economy stayed lousy and Democrats emptied their war chests to survive, I'd say five to seven. Harry Reid has a massive ballot of spoilers who can pull votes from Sharron Angle, Barbara Boxer hasn't started spending money, Russ Feingold and Patty Murray have come from behind before, etc. But there's definitely the potential right now for Democrats to lose 13 seats. (I updated this number after realizing I initially didn't count Nevada.)
Conclusion: Martha Coakley probably should have shook some hands outside of Fenway.