One week out and there is a distinctly bifurcated look to this 2010 midterm election. On the House side, the Republican wave still looks large and powerful while in the Senate, the situation appears much cloudier and more uncertain.
My cautious side argues for Republicans to gain seats comparable to the 1994 tidal wave, when Republicans picked up eight Senate seats and 52 House seats on election night — more added with subsequent party switches.
But there is a potential, particularly in the House, for that to go much larger.
In the House, the range of outcomes does not look like a bell curve with 52 in the apex. Indeed, it is not at all symmetrical. The Republican side of the curve is taller and longer than the Democratic side, meaning the chances of this election resulting in 60-plus seats are greater than it being in the 30s or less.
In the Senate, the die is not even close to cast. It is more like a Jell-O mold. With the open Kentucky seat now looking better for Republicans, the GOP looks very likely to hold all their own seats, and they seem almost certain to score very large net gains of at least seven or eight. The question is how many of the remaining four or five competitive Democratic seats will drop their way. Another two or three would get them a nine- or 10-seat gain.
Republicans have encountered a level of resistance in the Senate that is greater than in the House. The West Coast states are easiest to explain: President Obama’s job approval ratings are pretty fair overall in that region, in stark contrast with many of the Southern and Midwestern districts where Democrats are in trouble.
The Republican brand has more residual damage on the West Coast, making it harder for their candidates to ring up a sale.
Meanwhile, in other non-West Coast states Democrats have effectively targeted the shortcomings of the GOP candidates.
They haven’t always completely discredited them. But in many cases, voters are thinking long and hard about whether they want to support what appears to be a deeply flawed candidate.
In Connecticut, wrestling mogul and Republican nominee Linda McMahon seems to have hit a ceiling and now dropped downward.
It’s not so much that Democratic state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has helped himself. It just seems that voters are turning away from McMahon.
In West Virginia, Republican John Raese has also lost ground to Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin.
Both of these races looked far more promising for the GOP a couple of weeks ago than they do now.
Republicans still look certain to pick up Democratic open seats in North Dakota and Indiana, and to defeat Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
And the Wisconsin Senate contest is showing signs of being over. Plastics manufacturer and GOP nominee Ron Johnson seems to be holding a steady lead over Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, with Johnson’s polling numbers frequently hitting the 50-percent mark many nights.
In Nevada, it’s still a seesaw affair, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Sharron Angle trading leads in polling. The “none of the above” option and several fringe candidates on the ballot have the potential to sway the race in a state that leads the nation in foreclosures and unemployment.
In Illinois, the race between Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and GOP Rep. Mark Kirk remains close but the Republican seems to have pulled up some and now has a narrow edge.
Voters seem to distinctly dislike both candidates, equating tawdry dealings at the bank formerly owned by the Giannoulias family with Kirk’s exaggerations about his military record. One strategist said of voters, “They seem to hate both of them equally.”
Former GOP Rep. Pat Toomey held, lost, and seems to have regained a slight lead over Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania.
Similarly, the open Republican seat in Kentucky tightened for awhile and seems to have widened back out with Republican Rand Paul holding a lead over Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway.
Finally, out West, Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Patty Murray of Washington have opened up leads, but these two races are going down to the wire.
Assuming Republicans don’t win either Connecticut or West Virginia, they would have to win 10 out of the 10 other plausible pick-up opportunities to nail the majority. In the event of a 50-50 tie, Vice President Biden would be the tiebreaker, allowing Democrats to retain the majority.
To a certain extent, GOP Senate expectations probably got out of hand. They were beyond the events happening in the states and many folks latched onto House momentum in arguing that the Senate would flip.
All along, top GOP strategists downplayed talk of a nine- or 10-seat gain.
They haven’t given up yet but they always said it would be very hard to hit numbers that high. Senate Democrats have done a very good job of damaging Republican candidates, giving their side a fighting chance of keeping their losses from being as catastrophic as they appear likely to be in the House.
This article appears in the Oct. 26, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily.