Tomorrow will be a good day for a political party all but written off as dead two years ago. To measure the significance of the gains the GOP will make, it is worth looking back a bit at the last few election cycles. It is also be important to look forward. If the GOP nominates a broadly acceptable candidate for president in 2012 -- meaning one who can win a majority of independent voters, as the GOP is doing this year -- we may be able to look forward to a one-term Obama presidency.
After the 2004 election, the GOP held 55 Senate seats. After 2008, and the party switch of Arlen Specter, that number dropped to 40, giving the Democrats for a few months (until Scott Brown's victory) a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. It was during those few months that the health care reform bill passed the Senate, and it was Brown's victory that forced the Democrats to use a "reconciliation" approach to get a revised health care reform bill into law.
The GOP candidates are now ahead in races for 8 Democrat-held seats this cycle, and that is the best estimate of the likely gain, on Tuesday. If the number is 8, that will get the Republicans back to where they were after the 2006 midterms and erase the Democrats' gains in 2008. The Democrats, as Nate Silver has argued, have been lucky that only 37 Senate seats are up this year. If the entire Senate were up, as is the case with the House, it is very likely the GOP would pick up many more than 8 seats in the very favorable environment that exists this year.
Would Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen, Mark Pryor, Tim Johnson, Kay Hagan, Al Franken, Mark Begich, Jeff Merkley, Mark Udall, Tom Udall, Max Baucus, Frank Lautenberg, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Herb Kohl, Robert Menendez, Debbie Stabenow, Jon Tester, Sherrod Brown, Bill Nelson, Kent Conrad, and Jim Webb survive if they ran in 2010? Some might, but I think most would not. The first twelve are not up until 2014, and the next ten on this list are targets for 2012. If the GOP can maintain its momentum into the next two cycles, there are significant pickup opportunities, since many Democrats will be defending their seats for the first time. If the GOP fails to gain control on Tuesday, it has a very good shot to finish the job in 2012.
The GOP will hold all 18 seats it now holds of the 37 being contested. The only close race in this bunch may be Alaska, where incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski, running as a write-in, seems to have grabbed the lead in the polls from Republican nominee Joe Miller. How many voters will complete a write-in ballot in a format acceptable to have the vote counted? I have no idea. I think due to the write-in factor, Murkowski is ahead by well less than the 10-point poll lead she is showing. But I think she is a slight favorite to win, and she has publicly stated that she will caucus with the GOP if she wins.
The most important GOP victory will be Marco Rubio in Florida. Rubio's victory and his youth, brains, and charisma make him an instant national star. The Democrats filibustered the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the Appeals Court, fearing that President Bush would name him the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court. Rubio is a much bigger nightmare for the Democrats. I expect to see him on a national ticket sooner rather than later.
Among Democrat-held seats, North Dakota (Hoeven), Arkanasas (Boozman), Indiana (Coats), and Wisconsin (Johnson) should all be easy calls for the networks on Tuesday night. Pennsylvania (Toomey), Illinois (Kirk), Nevada (Angle), and Colorado (Buck) are all close races with GOP leads. The Republican candidate has been ahead in all recent polls in all four states. If just one poll showed Toomey up by less than the margin of error, I would call it a tossup. But if he is up in every poll, and in one by 7%, he is the clear favorite.
There are more undecided voters in Illinois than in other close races -- a worrisome factor for Kirk, given the blue tint to the state in recent cycles. In Nevada and Colorado, the momentum seems to be with the GOP. It is notable that President Obama did not go to Colorado or Nevada but did travel to Illinois and Pennsylvania in the final days. I think Buck and Angle will both win. I also think Kirk and Toomey are slight favorites. If either loses, it will not be a shocking result. Can the GOP get beyond an 8-seat pickup? The best shot seems to be Washington State, where Dino Rossi has pulled even with Patty Murray. I think Murray is still a slight favorite, but no more than Kirk or Toomey. West Virginia looked like a strong pick-up opportunity for John Raese and the GOP two weeks back, but Joe Manchin has rallied. I think Manchin's chances are about the same as Buck's and Angle's (maybe a 3- to 4-point lead). Finally, there is California. I do not believe the Field Poll,, which is a bit stale, that showed Boxer up 8. But she is undoubtedly ahead, and I will be very surprised if Fiorina pulls this one out.
The GOP held 232 seats after the 2004 elections. That number dropped to 202 after the 2006 midterms, and then below 180 after 2008. If the GOP gains 53 seats on Tuesday (which is where Nate Silver currently has the projected pickup), then the Republicans will be back to the 2004 level of 232 seats, reversing both the 2006 and 2008 gains made by the Democrats. Some analysts are forecasting bigger gains, as high as 65-70 seats, which would take the GOP to 244-249 seats if these forecasts proved prescient. As a result of the 2010 census and the redistricting processes within the states after House seats are reallocated among them, the GOP should be well-positioned for the next decade. The Republicans are likely to have governors in place in most of the sunbelt states that will gain seats (Texas, Georgia , Florida (close race), Arizona, and many northern states that will lose seats (Michigan, Illinois [close race], Pennsylvania, Ohio [close race]) as a result of the new census numbers. The GOP also looks like it will pick up state legislative seats in many of the same states, enough in several of them to take control of a few chambers. The shifts could aid a GOP presidential candidate by 6-8 Electoral College votes (the equivalent of winning Iowa or Oregon) and help the GOP in twice as many House races.
Silver's computer model, and his 100,000 simulations, currently have 4 GOP-held seats where the model shows GOP candidates behind and 64 Democratic seats where the GOP candidate is ahead. In 38 of those 64 Democrat-held seats, the projected lead for the Republican is 5% or more. Among the other 26, there are 16 where the lead is 2% or less.
In addition to the 4 GOP-held seats where the Democrats are ahead, one by 2% and one by 4%, there are another 18 Democrat-held seats, where the Democrats lead but by less than 5%, 9 by 2% or less. If the polls are 5% too favorable to the GOP, they would gain mid-30 seats and not take control. That seems highly unlikely. On the other hand, if the actual results are 5% more favorable to the GOP than suggested by the polls, their gain could be in the high 70s.
I think it highly unlikely that polls are off that much at this point. Silver is critical of the automated polls and those that do not call cell phones. He thinks both bias the numbers slightly towards the GOP. But in House races, few of the polls he or other analysts rely on are robo-polls.
My pick: a 57-seat gain for the GOP (midpoint of a range of 50-65).
The Republicans held 28 governor's chairs after 2004 and 22 after the 2008 elections. The GOP won two off-year races in Virginia and New Jersey in 2009 to get to 24. This cycle could result in further pickups of 6 or more State Houses, including, as indicated above, in several significant states for the redistricting effort.
I think the GOP will take over the governor's chair in Maine, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming. The only two close races in this dozen are Illinois and Ohio. Republican Rick Scott is narrowly ahead in a very important governor's race in Florida. The position is now held by Charlie Crist, nominally still a Republican. Obama campaigned in both Ohio and Illinois the last two days to help his party's governors retain their position.
I think the Democrats will win some governor's races where Republicans now hold the office: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Vermont, with all but California and Hawaii very close races. Obama visited Connecticut this past weekend as polls showed the GOP candidate, Tom Foley, gaining. Democrat Governor John Kitzhaber has a very narrow lead in his race in Oregon. The GOP should hold thirty or more governors' offices after Tuesday's vote, including in most of the big states. In Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee seems headed for victory as an independent. It is worth noting, that as a result of Tuesday's contests, the only Hispanic governors in America will be Republicans: Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Brian Sandoval in Nevada.
The White House
In their 2008 campaign, the Obama team targeted ten states that George Bush won in 2004. They won all of them except Missouri, which McCain won by 4,000 votes. As a result, a narrow 286-252 win for George Bush over John Kerry in the Electoral College became a landslide 365-173 victory for Obama over McCain. It is risky to speculate about 2012, since we do not know who the GOP candidate will be.
What we do know is that it is virtually certain that the mix within the electorate among the various racial/ethnic groups in 2012 will be more favorable to Obama than it was for Democrats running in 2010. The combined share of the total vote by African-Americans and Hispanics may be 4%-5% higher in 2012 than 2010. That said, let us take a quick look at the nine states Obama won that Kerry did not: North Carolina (less than 1% Obama margin), Indiana (1% Obama margin), Florida (3% Obama margin), Ohio (5% Obama margin), and Virginia (7% Obama margin) will be very strong GOP states in 2010, and Virginia was solid for the Republicans in 2009 as well. A strong GOP candidate would begin as a favorite in all of these states in 2012.
Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and New Mexico were the other four Obama pickups. Republicans will do better in Colorado in 2010 than in 2008 (Obama won by 9%), but the shift since 2008 is a bit smaller than in some of the first five states. Nevada, Iowa, and New Mexico have all moved strongly to the GOP. But Obama won these three states by 12%, 9%, and 15%. All four states, as well as Virginia, Ohio, and Florida are likely to be hard-fought in 2012, as they have been in the recent presidential races.
What will also be different in 2012 from in 2008 is that Obama may have to defend some Kerry states -- Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire in particular. Obama won these states by 17%, 10%, and 9% in 2008, but all three have shifted dramatically in 2010. If a GOP candidate can hold Indiana, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, he or she would start with a base just a few Electoral College votes short of the 270 needed as a result of redistricting gains in red states. That would mean the GOP would be in the driver's seat, needing to win only one or at most two of the remaining competitive states.
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent for American Thinker.