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Making a Run of Indiana

August 4, 2012

Control of the Senate remains up for grabs, but the odds are looking slightly better for Democrats these days.  For the first time in the campaign, I would put the odds at better than fifty-fifty.

In today’s Senate, Democrats and Democratic-caucusing Independents hold 53 seats.  Assuming Vice President Biden is back for a second term, able to break ties in the Democrats’ favor, Republicans need a net pick-up of four seats to take control.  Republicans are gunning for Nebraska, Montana, Missouri, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia.

Nebraska is a cinch for Republicans to pick up the seat of retiring Democrat Ben Nelson.  Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey is putting up a respectable fight in a very red state, but he won’t be able to beat Republican Deb Fischer.  Democratic incumbents in Montana and Missouri are running behind their Republican challengers.  Although both races have improved for the Democrats over the summer, as of now both would fall to Republicans.  And although the North Dakota race is closer than might have been expected, current polling shows the Republicans taking the seat being given up by retiring Democrat Kent Conrad.

That gets Republicans to their four seats, right?  Well, not really.

Polling in Maine says that Angus King, an Independent, will win the seat held by retiring Republican Olympia Snowe.  Conventional wisdom says that King will caucus with the Democrats.  And in Massachusetts, Democrat Elizabeth Warren has come from just a shade behind incumbent Republican Scott Brown this spring to just a shade ahead of him this summer.  If King wins and caucuses with the Democrats, and if Warren pulls off a win, Republicans need two more seats to offset.

Wisconsin is beginning to look better for Democrats, who are fighting to keep retiring Senator Herb Kohl’s seat.  Rasmussen’s late July polls showed Tammy Baldwin pulling slightly ahead of all four Republican primary candidates, and Rasmussen’s poll of the Republican primary showed former Governor Tommy Thompson slipping behind businessman Eric Hovde, who has polled less well against Baldwin than Thompson throughout the campaign.  At this point, Wisconsin remains in the Democratic column.

Florida and Virginia are toss-ups.  Republican challengers hold the smallest of edges in both states, but I’m skeptical that the Democrats will lose either one.  But if Republicans win both, they’ve got their two offsets, right?

Maybe not.

Democrats have two more cards to play:  Nevada and Indiana.  Although Democratic challenger Shirley Berkley will probably lose to Republican incumbent Dean Heller, she’s making a good go of it, and it’s no Republican gimme.

In Indiana, Republicans handed away a sure thing when they nominated Richard Mourdock over long-time incumbent Richard Lugar.  Lugar would have won in a snooze-fest.  Mourdock ran just two points ahead of Democrat Joe Donnelly in a poll taken this week – the first since the Republican primary.  It’s something of a long shot, but it’s just possible that Democrats could take the seat.

In other words, for every Republican possibility to take control, the Democrats have a possibility of at least equal likelihood to retain control.  At this point, for the first time in the campaign, the Democrats are the odds-on favorites to hold fifty seats or more, retaining control of the Senate.

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