William Galston

Attention, Democrats! The Senate Is Now in Play.

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As if things weren’t bad enough for Democrats, something I didn’t believe possible six months ago has happened: The Senate is now in play. You don’t believe it, dear reader? Let’s look at the numbers.

To retain control, Democrats need at least 50 seats. They start with 45 seats that are safe or not up for election this year, and there are three more races (NY, CT, and OR) that they are likely to win, for a total of 48. (The comparable number for Republicans is 41.) That leaves 11 seats in play. Here they are, along with the most recent survey results:

CA       Fiorina (R) 47, Boxer (D) 45

CO      Buck (R) 48, Bennet (D) 39

FL        Rubio (R) 36, Crist (I) 34, Meek (D) 15

IL         Giannoulias (D) 40, Kirk (R) 39

KY      Paul (R) 43, Conway (D) 43

MO      Blunt (R) 48, Carnahan (D) 43

NV      Angle (R) 48, Reid (D) 41

OH      Portman (R) 43, Fisher (D) 39

PA       Toomey (R) 45, Sestak (D) 39

WA      Murray (D) 47, Rossi (R) 47

WI       Feingold (D) 45, Johnson (R) 43

Apply whatever discount you want to individual surveys of varying quality and provenance; the overall picture is pretty clear. A few things stand out:

·        Barbara Boxer is really in trouble, and it’s part of a larger California story: The most recent survey had Meg Whitman up seven over Jerry Brown in the gubernatorial contest.

·        Patty Murray and Russ Feingold are fighting for their political lives.

·        Colorado has been moving away from the Democratic Party since early in the Obama administration, and intra-party squabbling over the Senate nomination has increased the odds against Bennet.

·        The surge some expected toward Harry Reid after the Republicans nominated an “out-of-the-mainstream” candidate has not yet materialized.

·        Illinois's “deep-blue” status may not be enough to counteract the effects of a weak Democratic nominee.

There are some elections years (1980, 1986, and 2006 come to mind) when most of the close races tip in the same direction, producing a shift of control. 2010 could be another.

It’s entirely possible that when the dust settles this November, Republicans will have hit the trifectaPresident Obama’s former seat, Vice President Biden’s former seat, plus the Senate majority leader’s seat.

For much of the past year the Tea Party has preoccupied pundits, who consider it to be the locus of energy in the conservative movement and the source of the “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats heading into the fall election. In this context, which might turn several blue states red in a low-turnout midterm, it would be a delicious irony if Democrats manage to hold on to the Senate by defeating the Tea Party’s iconic candidate in deep-red Kentucky. Stay tuned.

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