Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Campaign for the Senate

Now that I've described each of the 35 U.S. Senate elections this year, it's time to look at the big picture.

The 65 U.S. Senate seats that are not being contested this year, break down as follows:

Democrats: 39 (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats)
Republicans: 26

According to polls reported in Real Clear Politics, as of this afternoon, the leaders in this year's 35 Senate races, are:

Democrats: 20
Republicans: 15

If those leads hold, the Democrats would have a 59-41 Senate majority in the 2009-10 Congress. That would be the Democratic Party's highest Senate total since the 1977-8 Congress, when there were 61 Democrats plus one independent (Harry Byrd, Jr. of Virginia) who caucused with the Democrats.

That would leave the Democrats one seat short of their goal of 60, which is the number of votes required to invoke cloture, and end a filibuster.

That 59-41 scenario assumes Democratic gains in: Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia.

Of those eight states, the closest races are in Oregon (Democrat Jeff Merkley 43.8%, Republican Gordon Smith 42.3%) and Minnesota (Democrat Al Franken 39.6%, Republican Norm Coleman 37.4%).

The Democrats' best chances to extend that lead, and reach 60, are in Georgia where Republican Saxby Chambliss leads Democrat Jim Martin by 46.6% to 44.0%, and Mississippi where, in the special election caused by Trent Lott's resignation, Republican Roger Wicker leads Democrat Ronnie Musgrove by 48.3% to 44.3%.

It currently looks as though the very best-case scenario for the Democrats, if all of the stars are aligned exactly right for them, will be 64-36. That would require them to overcome Republican leads in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi (special election), South Carolina, and Texas.

On the other hand, if the Republicans make a comeback in every state where that's conceivably possible, their best case is a 53-47 Democratic majority. They would need to make such comebacks in Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon, to produce that result.

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