GOP Senate hopes fade

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Photo by John Aroutiounian.


With this year’s election cycle coming to a close, Republicans hope to reclaim a Senate majority for the first time since 2006 are facing a spate of final polls showing GOP candidates leading in only four of the country’s 11 competitive Senate races. With 33 races taking place this year, the latest polling puts Democrats in position to hold at least 52 seats in the Senate after Election Day, maintaining their majority despite having many more seats up for re-election.

Republicans came into this election cycle defending 10 Senate seats, while Democrats were forced to defend 23, a situation that Yale political science professor John Bullock ’01 said could result in a perceived loss for Senate Republicans this November.

“If the Democrats keep control, it should be regarded as a big blow to the Republicans. The Democrats had a slim majority. They had to defend many more open seats. And they had a few highly vulnerable candidates,” Bullock said in a Wednesday email to the News. “A year ago, I don’t think that any informed, objective observer would have given them a 50-50 chance of keeping their majority. I certainly didn’t.”

But political science professor David Mayhew disagrees. Excluding the presidential race, Mayhew said 2012 was “a real bad year for challengers, regardless of party.”

“Ninety-five percent of incumbent senators who are running again, 95 percent of House members who are running again and 100 percent of governors running again are running ahead,” Mayhew said. “Despite the low [polling] standing of Congress, there is virtually no evidence of any voter kickback against House Republicans, Tea Partiers or otherwise.”

Pundits expect the Republican party to maintain its control in the House of Representatives.

In Connecticut’s open seat to replace retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, Democrat Rep. Chris Murphy has pulled ahead of Republican businesswoman Linda McMahon, maintaining a five-point average lead in polls after having run neck-and-neck with McMahon earlier in the campaign. In neighboring Massachusetts, incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown is trailing Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren by over four percentage points, though pundits still consider the race a toss-up.

Geoffrey Skelley, chief political analyst for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the race is Warren’s to lose.

“Unless Elizabeth Warren had turned out to be a complete zero of a candidate, it was always going to be tough for Brown to win re-election in a presidential year,” Skelley said. “The Democratic tide in Massachusetts is just too much.”

Democrats also lead narrowly in Virginia, where former Democratic Governor Tim Kaine currently bests former Republican Senator George Allen by a narrow one-point margin, and Wisconsin, in which former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson is running 0.3 points behind Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin. While these races are close, Democratic incumbents have seen significant polling leads ahead of Republican challengers in Florida and Ohio, even while both remain swing states in the presidential election, with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson ’65 and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown ’74 leading by five- to six-point margins in Florida and Ohio polling averages, respectively.

While Republicans began the 2012 Senate election cycle hopeful about retaking the Senate by running moderate candidates with bipartisan appeal in New Mexico, Hawaii and New Jersey, all three are behind Democrats in polls. In Missouri and Indiana, two races in which Republicans were long presumed to be favorites, the Democratic candidates are now once again competitive in light of comments made about abortion in the case of rape. Competitive Senate elections in which Republicans currently lead in polls are in Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska and Nevada.

Skelley said he recommends looking to the 2014 elections, when it will be “difficult” for Democrats to stay in control given the number of vulnerable seats they will be defending. RealClearPolitics political analyst Caitlin Huey-Burns, meanwhile, suggested watching Pennsylvania in the final days of the election, where Democrats are favored to win in both the Senate and presidential election but Republicans are showing signs of closing the gap in the final days of campaigning.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6

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