Senate Watch: March
Today marks the beginning of a new series: Senate Watch. We’ll be looking at the seats up for election this cycle, and which way it looks like they’re going.
I’ll start this month with a map, followed by an explanation. First, the map:
Now for the explanation.
- Gray states have no Senators being elected this year.
- The dark blue and red represent safe seats for the Democrats and Republicans, respectively, to hold.
- Light blue and red represent likely holds for the Democrats and Republicans, respectively.
- The lone green state (Vermont) is independent and likely to stay so; Senator Bernie Sanders is popular and expected to be reëlected.
Gradients indicate a possible shift. Read the color left to right.
- If it goes from blue to purple, it’s a seat held by a Democrat, but a tossup for the election.
- If it goes from red to purple, it’s a seat held by a Republican, but a tossup for the election.
- The two state that goes from dark blue to light red (North Dakota) are likely pickups for the Republicans.
- The one state that goes from green to light blue (Connecticut) is currently held by retiring Senator Joe Lieberman, who is expected to be replaced by whomever wins the state Democratic primary election on August 14.
- And the one state that goes from red to light blue (Maine) is currently held by Senator Olympia Snowe, who announced last week that she will not be seeking another term. At the moment, it appears that the state is leaning in the blue direction. Of course, Maine is a quirky state, so…
This gives the following post-election breakdown:
“Continuing” in this case refers to the seats in Senate Classes 2 and 3, which are not up for election this cycle.
Over the next few months, we’ll be looking mostly at the gradient states, though we’ll dip our toes into the light-colored states as well.
But, for now, I’ll note a few things about some states:
- Massachusetts: This is the most likely Democratic pickup. Senator Scott Brown is the first Republican Senator from Massachusetts since 1979*, in a state that now has a Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of D+12. Brown has the advantage of incumbency, but two conflicting recent polls suggest that the race between Brown and his challenger, Elizabeth Warren, is close.
- North Dakota: With Democrat Kent Conrad retiring, North Dakota should be a slam-dunk for Republicans. After all, the state has a PVI of R+10, almost as partisan as Massachusetts. But it’s not necessarily so clear-cut. Now that former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp has entered the race on the Democratic side, early polling suggests that this race may be closer than you’d think.
- Nevada: This one is a possible Democratic pickup. Dean Heller’s DW-NOMINATE is considerably to the right of the state’s PVI, leaving him open to being ousted by a moderate Democrat. Representative Shelley Berkley (D-Las Vegas, NV) isn’t the ideal candidate in that regard, but she is only half the distance from the center that Heller is. In a state with a PVI of D+1, that gives her a decent shot. That said, it’s hard to beat an incumbent, absent a scandal or a party wave election. There haven’t been any recent polls, so this is a state to watch for polling data as the year progresses.
- Virginia: Coattails may make the difference in this state, where the race has no incumbent. Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George “Macaca” Allen square off here. Allen lost his Senate seat in 2006, a Democratic wave year. Kaine, a former Virginia Governor (as is Allen), is a moderate Democrat, which is probably the only kind that can win a statewide election in Virginia. Polls have shown the two to be tied for nearly a year.
- Nebraska: With the entry of Bob Kerrey, what looked like a sure Republican pickup has turned into a real race. It remains to be seen how this one will turn out.
- Missouri: This is a very close race. Democrat Claire McCaskill has the advantage of incumbency, but Missouri is a PVI R+3 state. Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman is the most likely Republican candidate, and she polls the best of the leading Republican candidates against McCaskill. The two have been within the margin of error on all polls (both registered and likely voter models) for over a year, which suggests that this will be a nail-biter.
- Montana: This is a PVI R+7 state, so Democratic incumbent Jon Tester has an uphill battle to keep his seat, which he won in the Democratic wave election of 2006. Indeed, polling has consistently shown him two to three points behind Representative Denny Rehberg, whose DW-NOMINATE score is only slightly more conservative than the state’s PVI would suggest. I showed the gradient to purple, but it should perhaps have a bit of a red tinge to it.
- Florida: With a PVI of R+2, Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson has a much easier road ahead of him than does Jon Tester of Montana. That said, Nelson is a fairly mainstream Democratic Senator, which makes his voting record a bit out of step with the state as a whole. His opponent, Representative Connie Mack, IV, has a more Tea Party DW-NOMINATE record, though, which helps Nelson. Indeed, over the past six months Nelson has generally polled better than Mack. For now, at least, it’s a close race.
Over the next few months, I’ll give more detailed analyses on the states.
Meanwhile, what do you think is going to happen? How likely is it that the Republicans will take control of the Senate?
Note: In an earlier version of the article, I erroneously stated that Massachusetts hadn’t sent a Republican to the Senate since 1953. That was true for the Class 1 seat, but the last Republican Massachusetts sent to the Senate was replaced by a Democrat in 1979.
- Dems may cling to Senate majority (politico.com)
- Sen. Snowe Not Running for Re-election (myfoxphoenix.com)
- Democratic Senator Fights Back After Attacks In Key Race (huffingtonpost.com)
- A Snapshot of the Race for the Senate (fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Can Republicans Take Control of the Senate? (trommetter.com)
- With Kerrey coming and Snowe going, Senate Dems confident (thehill.com)