Five Days to Go

The Republican Party has had a good two days thanks to John Kerry's insulting remark about the intelligence and drive of our military in Iraq on Monday, and his ham—handed inability to apologize for it right away. Kerry gave the GOP a free day to bash him by refusing to directly apologize until Wednesday, and allowed Republicans to connect his ignorant comment (excuse me, botched joke) with a theme of Democratic weakness on national security, and lack of respect for the military. How much of an impact this will have on close Senate and House races is unknown, but it certainly tamped down a bit the talk of the tsunami wave that Charles Cook and other analysts seem to have bought into, hook ,line and sinker. In any case, yesterday marked the official date of death of any hope for John Kerry to appear again on a national ticket. Of course, only Kerry himself really held out any hope for this after November 2004, so the realist camp may have  grown by only one.

The Senate

Heading into the final weekend, the Democrats appear poised to pick up three GOP—held Senate seats: Pennsylvania (Santorum), Ohio (DeWine) and Rhode Island (Chafee). None of the three incumbents is totally dead in the water, but all are behind by 5 points or more according to virtually all polls taken in their states.  Zogby had DeWine within 2% this week, and the Pennsylvania GOP has a big GOTV effort. But the London betting line on all these races says the game is close to over.  Chafee may have the best shot of the three, given the family name, and a slight pickup in the polls this last week.  

Four GOP—held seats and two Democratic held seats are in play, and have to be considered tossups, with slight leans one way or the other. These are GOP—held seats in Montana (Burns), Tennessee (open), Virginia (Allen), and Missouri (Talent), and Democratic held seats in New Jersey (Menendez), and Maryland (open). If the GOP swept all six, they would wind up with 54 seats, just one down from their current total. This nightmare scenario for the Democrats might keep DSCC chair Chuck Schumer away from the TV cameras for a few hours if it happened. It is however a real long—shot.

On the other hand, if the Democrats swept all six close races, they would get to 52 and win control of the Senate.  This scenario is also unlikely, though it is slightly more likely than the GOP winning all six. In recent cycles, on several occasions, one or the other party has had a very hot hand and won virtually all the close races in that year. Democrats pulled this off in 2000, picking up 4 seats, plus one more when Paul Coverdell died and was replaced by Zell Miller, who easily won a race to complete the term, and another when Jim Jeffords played Benedict Arnold and walked over to the Democrats to protect his milk compact. Democrats also won virtually all the close senate races in 1986.  The Republicans, on the other hand, have had good years in 1980, 1994 and 2004, when it picked up 4 seats.

If I had to rate the GOP chances in the six races, I would rate them best to worst as follows:

1. Tennessee

2. Missouri

3. Virginia

4. Montana

5. Maryland

6. New Jersey

New Jersey is a perennial disappointment for the GOP, and seems to break to the Democrats late in close races.  Of course, given that it is New Jersey and Menendez, five days leaves lots of time for new corruption charges to hit the news.  Missouri tends to move towards the GOP late in recent races, but this race is very close, with perhaps a tiny lead for Talent. Bob Corker seems to have built up a decent lead of 3 to 4 points in Tennessee.  Nobody is calling this race finished yet.

Maryland could be the GOP's best surprise on election night. With a very heavy African American population, and a large number of federal government workers, Maryland is not generally fertile ground for the GOP. Kerry beat Bush by 13% in 2004.   However, Lt. Governor Michael Steele has run the best GOP race in the country this year, and he has the chance to cut deeply into Democrat Ben Cardin's support among black voters. 

Virginia has been slipping towards Democrat Jim Webb in most polls this week, but this is still a very close contest. In Montana, GOP Senator Conrad Burns has closed in on Democrat John Tester after a few debates in which Tester came off as quite a bit more liberal than most Montanans.  Tester retains a small lead in most polls, but the momentum appears to be with Burns.

The best Democratic shot at winning control of the Senate would be to win all the close races except Tennessee.  This is by no means a remote possibility, though I think unlikely. In Tennessee, Virginia, Missouri and Montana, the Kerry comments on the military might help the Republican Senate candidates by motivating the base.  Particularly in the South, the military is seen as a career choice, not just a three year enlistment option for losers (as Kerry was suggesting), and many families have generation after generation of military volunteers.  My best guess, to be updated once more before election day, is for the GOP to hold the Senate with 51 or more. 

The House

Holding the House will be a big challenge for the GOP. With the Democrats needing only 15 seats to win control, even the most sober analysts (those not drowning in wave rhetoric), are generally predicting gains for the Democrats of between 15 and 20 seats, with some chance for that number to rise to 25 or a bit more on a very bad night for the GOP. This is about where the writers   are: Jay Cost, John McIntyre and Tom Bevan, and also Michael Barone. My race by race analysis gets me to the same place.

The wave riders' thesis this cycle — e.g. the DCCC and the James Carville/Stanley Greenberg polling operation  — seem to either have an interest in promoting the, or are relying on what seem to me to be unreliable polling by the firm RT Strategies.  I say "unreliable" in the sense that their results are not confirmed by other independent polling numbers in many races.

In one race RT had the Democrat challenger ahead by more than 10 points (e.g. New York 20), when other pollsters had the Republican incumbent John Sweeney ahead in the same race by more than 10% at the same time. In other races, their results have shown neck and neck races when other pollsters, including one hired by the Democrats, have given a big lead to the Republican incumbent (e.g. Mark Kirk in Il 10). In many races, the RT numbers are more favorable to the Democratic candidate than the poll results of pollsters hired by the Democrats, who often have an interest in promoting momentum for their candidates. Charles Cook has done some joint polling with RT on the generic Congressional ballot, and seems to buy into their race by race results, which currently show a Democratic pickup of around 40 seats. I do not see it.

I think the Democrats are currently ahead in 12 GOP held seats, 8 of which are open seats:

NY 24 (open), Iowa 1 (open), Arizona 8 (open), Colorado 7 (open), Texas 22 (open), Ohio 18 (open), Florida 16 (open) , Pennsylvania 10 (Sherwood), North Carolina 11 (Taylor), Indiana 8 (Hostettler), Indiana 2 (Chocola), andPennsylvania 7 (Weldon) . The GOP has its best shot in Indiana 2 from this list, and I would not write off Florida 16.

Another thirteen GOP held seats are tossups:

Pennsylvania 6 (Gerlach), Connecticut 2 (Simmons), Connecticut 4 (Shays), Connecticut 5 (Johnson), New York 20 (Sweeney), New York 26 (Reynolds), Indiana 9 (Sodrel), Ohio 15 (Pryce), Florida 13 (open), Ohio 1 (Chabot), Wisconsin 8 (open)  New Mexico 1 (Wilson), and Ohio 2 (Schmidt).

I think the GOP holds small leads in another 19 races: 

Il 6 (open), Minnesota 6 (open), Virginia 2 (Drake), Washington 8 (Reichert), Florida 22 (Shaw), Colorado 4 (Musgrave), Kentucky 4 (Davis), Pennsylvania 8 (Fitzpatrick), Pennsylvania 4 (Hart), Nevada 2 (open), New York 25 (Walsh), New York 29 (Kuhl), New Hampshire 2 (Bass), Kentucky 3 (Northrup), Nevada 3 (Porter), Minnesota 1 (Gutknecht), Arizona 5 (Hayworth), New York 19 (Kelly),  and California 11 (Pombo).

I think 2 Democratic held seats are now in the tossup category or have very slight Democratic leans:

Illinois 8 (Bean), and Georgia 12 (Barrow). Independent polls this week put the GOP candidates (McSweeney and Burns) within 3 points each in these races. Georgia 8 leans Democratic .

If the Democrats win all of the 12 races in which they are leading , it seems likely they will win at least a few of the tossups, and  a few of the leaning Republican seats, many of which are hardly safe GOP leads at the moment. I think the most likely outcome is a pickup of around 20, give or take a few.

If Joe Lieberman wins a big victory in Connecticut, and draws a big GOP turnout, he could help the Republicans in the three tight House races in that state. If the GOP loses 2 or 3 of these races, there is no doubt that the House will turn over.

The GOP seems weak at the top of the ticket this year in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Minnesota, and New York, and up and down the line in Indiana. It is not surprising that many GOP House seats are in jeopardy in these states: Pennsylvania 5, Ohio 4, Indiana 3, Minnesota 2, Colorado 2, New York 6.

I will look at this once more on Monday.

Richard Baehr is the chief political correspondent of American Thinker.