Senate Playing Field

I've felt for a while as though many media members and forecasting models are overhyping the odds of a GOP takeover of the Senate. Today's news that Democrat Chad Taylor is dropping out of the Kansas Senate race highlights the reason that I disagree with the rosy estimates offered by the various forecasting models out there. In a recent Public Policy Polls poll, incumbent Senator Pat Roberts was trailing independent Greg Orman by 10 points in a 2-way race. 

Roberts has some unique weaknesses (which are outlined in this Rothenberg Political Report piece). Nonetheless, the polling data reflects what I view as an anti-incumbent mood among the electorate (as opposed to the anti-Democratic mood we saw in 2010). President Obama undoubtedly has weak approval ratings and the playing field is definitely tilted towards Republicans. 

Yet, all along I've pointed to the number of Republican governors struggling (at least 6-7 by my count) to argue that the electorate is angry at whoever the incumbent party is. It's harder to see in Senate races because there are so few closely held GOP seats and many closely contested Democratic seats are in red states. But the Kansas Senate race now offers more evidence to support this theory. 

Additionally, while the GOP holds very clear edges in the Montana and South Dakota Senate races, both have the potential to be sleeper races, especially the four way contest in South Dakota (former Republican Senator Larry Pressler and state Senator Gordon Howie are running as independents). Both states have long histories of supporting Democrats, especially populist Democrats.

Both races provide an interesting test of the power of the progressive blogosphere. Both Democratic candidates need massive infusions of funds to compete and the national party has written off the races. But if the blogosphere harnessed its power to fund those candidates (in the way that the conservative grassroots propelled candidates like Ted Cruz (R-TX), upsets are not impossible. 

In sum, none of this is to say that Democrats definitely hold the Senate. The chance that they lose at least 6 seats is real. They'll almost definitely lose at least a few states. But saying the GOP is favored to take at least 6 seats strikes me as a bit extreme. Democrats have a real chance to take 3 Republican seats (Georgia, Kentucky, and now Kansas) and they have incumbents with strong brands in Alaska, Louisiana, and Arkansas who are better situated to survive than some of the Democratic incumbents who lost in 2010.