Senate Watch: May 12
The Senate races are starting to heat up as the primary election season winds down.
Here is this month’s map:
Now for the details.
“Continuing” refers to the seats in Senate Classes 2 and 3, which are not up for election this cycle.
The big story this time is Indiana, where Republican incumbent Senator Richard Lugar fell this week in the Republican primary election to Richard Mourdock, who will face off against Representative Joe Donnelly (D-Granger, IN), who currently represents Indiana’s Congressional District 2. This takes the seat from a virtually certain hold to a tossup. But how do we arrive at this conclusion? How does one handicap this race?
In my case, I’m starting by recognizing that this is a statewide office, which means we need to look at the statewide historical vote breakdown. This can be accomplished by looking at the Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI), which for Indiana is R+6. This is a moderately Republican number (compare it to, say, Texas at R+10, Oklahoma at R+17, or Utah at R+20). One can, in fact, convert the PVI to a roughly equivalent DW-NOMINATE score to compare the voting record of a member of Congress to the state’s voters’ position on the political spectrum. To do so, I treated PVI R+20 as equivalent to a DW-NOMINATE of +1.00, and a PVI of D+20 as equivalent to a DW-NOMINATE of –1.00, and scaled everything else linearly between the two.
Using this conversion factor, Indiana’s voters come to a DW-NOMINATE of +0.30. How does this stack up against the two leading candidates for Senate in November?
We can pretty directly gather Donnelly’s DW-NOMINATE, since he has served two complete terms in the House. His DW-NOMINATE is –0.05 (I’m rounding to the nearest twentieth, since the PVI scale is no finer than that), placing him 0.35 to the left of the state’s voters. (Incidentally, he’s 0.15 to the left of his district’s voters, but redistricting has made the district more conservative, which is one factor influencing his decision to run for the Senate seat.)
Figuring Mourdock’s DW-NOMINATE is more difficult, since he has never served in Washington. He has, however, given us several clues in his campaigning to date. The two most telling are his stance of zero compromise, and his stated intent to be most like Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). The latter is particularly valuable, since we do know DeMint’s DW-NOMINATE; it’s +0.85, higher than any Senator in the 111th Congress other than Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). Assuming Mourdock’s compaigning is accurate, that would put him 0.55 to the right of Indiana’s voters.
In other words, Mourdock appears to be further to the right than Donnelly is to the left of the state’s voters. And not just a little further — we’re talking about a 57 percent greater distance. This suggests that if Mourdock doesn’t moderate his tone in the next few months, he’s likely to find himself losing to Donnelly, though probably by only about three or four points.
I’m waiting for polling to support my analysis. In the meantime, I’m putting Indiana in the “Tossup” category. And, if you recall “The Ideology Gamble”, that’s probably just fine for many Republicans, particularly within the Tea Party faction.
Here are some other highlights of the past month:
- Nevada: Both Public Policy Polling and Rasmussen show incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller with a lead over his likely (the primary election is June 12) Democratic challenger, Representative Shelley Berkley (D-Las Vegas, NV). Accounting for Rasmussen’s house bias, it appears that Heller has about a five-point lead, moving Nevada from “Tossup” just a little into the “Leans Republican” column.
- Florida: The Sunshine State shifted pretty far left this month, with both Public Policy Polling and Rasmussen showing double-digit leads for Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson over his most likely Republican challenger, Representative Connie Mack, IV (R-Fort Myers, FL). This takes Florida from the “Tossup” column and puts it instead solidly in “Leans Democratic”.
- Wisconsin: A new Rasmussen poll shows a 12-point lead for former Governor Tommy Thompson, who is considered the most likely Republican nominee, over sole Democratic candidate Tammy Baldwin. Discounting Rasmussen’s house bias still ties the Tammy-Tommy tiff to Thompson territory, but the state remains rather lightly polled, so I’d call it just barely in “Leans Republican”…for now.
- Missouri: Rasmussen had another recent poll here, too, showing Republican former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman’s lead over Democratic incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill shrinking to seven points. With the house effect, this returns to “Tossup”.
- Maine: former Governor Angus King, running as an independent, showed a commanding lead in the one poll published by the Maine People’s Resource Center. It’s hard to imagine anyone else coming close.
- Massachusetts: Rasmussen shows Republican incumbent Senator Scott Brown tied with presumptive Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren. MassINC gives Warren a two-point edge. With those conflicting data, it’s still a “Tossup”.
- Arizona: Representative Jeff Flake (R-Mesa, AZ) seems most likely to secure the Republican nomination. Former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona is the only declared Democrat in the race. While Flake appeared to have a solid lead a month ago, more recent polling suggests that it may be narrowing. As with Mourdock in Indiana, Flake’s PVI-rounded DW-NOMINATE of +1.00 puts him far to the right of the state’s projected value of +0.3, based on the PVI of R+6. It’s distinctly possible that, as Arizonans gain additional understanding of the two candidates, Carmona’s more moderate views will lead to a Democratic pickup here. This is a race to continue to watch.
Four tossups, evenly split on both sides. Republicans need three of them to capture the Senate. Intrade is giving them a 56 percent chance of doing it. How credible do you think that is?
- Senate Watch: April (logarchism.com)
- Meet Richard Mourdock, Indiana’s affable ‘Hoosier Headache’ (humanevents.com)
- Mourdock’s Demeanor Masks Conservative Fervor (wnyc.org)
- Tea Party sees gains in Senate (thehill.com)
- Examining Democrat Spin On Mourdock Win (whitehouse12.com)
- Mourdock doesn’t anticipate Senate compromise (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)
- Bay Buchanan and George Will Celebrate The Potential Ousting of Dick Lugar by ‘Tea Partier’ Richard Mourdock (crooksandliars.com)
- Richard Mourdock Wants His Own Senate Race To Be Unconstitutional (thinkprogress.org)
- Richard Mourdock admits he’s bankrolled by ‘special interest group’ conservatives (dailykos.com)