Final forecast for the 2010 midterms
In September, Congressional Quarterly projected Republicans leading in 178 districts, no change from what they hold right now and just two more than they led in at the start of the year. With another 28 seats rated as tossups, Democrats were then in a position to maintain control of the House just by winning the seats where they are still ahead, even if Republicans swept every tossup contest.
But now, on the Friday before the election, Republicans lead in 199 districts, a gain of 21 seats. But Democrats only lead in 195. The remaining 41 seats (all but one of which are currently held by Democrats) are rated as tossups, and Democrats now need to win over half of them to keep control of the House. Moreover, 24 of the districts in which Democrats lead are only rated as "leaning" their way. At the start of the year, a Republican sweep of all seats in which they led, all tossup seats and all seats leaning Democrat would have produced a 33-seat gain, but left them five seats short of control. By September such a Republican "run of the table" would have given them a 57-seat pickup (bigger than the 1994 revolution) and control of the House. Such a feat now would pick up a staggering 86 seats.
While such a "run of the table" is unlikely, the final result is still bad news for Democrats. A more realistic forecast of a Republican “wave” would give that party all of the seats in which CQ now finds them ahead, a 2-1 advantage in tossup contests and 40% of the contests currently "leaning" Democrat. That would give them 52 new seats and control of the House, comparable to 1994. And that assumes Democrats keep every seat that CQ rates as either "safe" or "likely Democrat" (such as Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO)). Surprises could pad that total.
In Missouri, the seat of 34-year veteran Democrat Rep. Ike Skelton, which had been rated "safe" at the start of the year and which was "leaning Democrat" in September, is now rated as a tossup. And within the past week, CQ moved Carnahan from "safe" to "likely Democrat."
Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball now predicts that Republicans will pick up 55 net seats (up from 32 in September. The Rothenberg Political Report has 48 current Democrat seats either favoring, leaning or "tilting" Republican (offset by 3 GOP seats turning Democrat) and 17 more Democrat seats (and one Republican open seat) rated as "Pure Tossup."
The Oracle is pessimistic. Throughout the year, these nationally known forecasters have been behind the curve and slow to react, so the actual results will probably be worse. I'm expecting Republicans to pick up 75 seats. In Missouri, Skelton's 34-year career will come to an end, but Russ Carnahan will hold on with a mere plurality. Like I said, I'm a pessimist.
The real surprise from this area may not be Carnahan challenger Ed Martin, but Terri Newman. Who? The underfunded and largely unknown Republican opponent of entrenched Rep. Jerry Costello is running in a district that is 4 points less Democratic than Carnahan's. No national pundit thinks this seat is even in play. But the uninspiring top-of-the-ticket candidacies of Gov. Pat Quinn and Democratic senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias in the shadow of the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich will depress Democratic turnout while rural Republican turnout surges. A Green Party candidate is poised to take the votes of those who are unhappy with Costello's votes against health care reform and cap and trade. Other voters who like Costello but are angry about how things are going will think it's safe to cast a protest vote for Newman. If Newman had campaigned more visibly, those voters wouldn't take that chance. This is exactly the kind of contest in which a surprise can occur. It will be close.
Prospects for Democrats are a little brighter in the Senate. CQ projects Republicans leading in 22 contests, up 5 since September and 7 since January. Six other seats (all currently held by Democrats) are rated as tossups, and two Democrat seats are merely “leaning” that way. Formerly vulnerable Republican-held seats (including Missouri) have firmed up, even with weak Republican candidates. (The Republican nominee may lose in Alaska, but the winner would be the GOP incumbent, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, running as write-in candidate, who has said she would continue to caucus with Republicans.) A Republican sweep of every tossup contest and all in which they lead would give them control. But California is the Democrats' firewall, where the ballot measure to legalize marijuana will draw ordinarily poor-turnout pot smokers to the polls, and they will save arrogant Sen. Barbara ("Please call me 'Senator'") Boxer from defeating herself. Assuming Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal can close the deal against former pro-wrestling CEO Linda McMahon and GOP's controversial senate nominee in Delaware is unable to cast a spell over that state's reliably Democratic voters, Democrats can retain control by winning any one tossup contest. West Virginia, Illinois and Washington are the best candidates to hold off the GOP. But Democrats' hopes of regaining their former filibuster-proof margin are dead and gone.
Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball currently predicts a net Democrat loss of eight senate seats, while the Rothenberg Political Report pegs the expected senate loss at 6-8 seats. In both cases, that's up just one since September and short of the 10-seat swing necessary to change control. The Oracle sees Democrats keeping nominal control, but having to change its leadership, with Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) replacing the defeated Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) as majority leader.