For the final Race Ratings chart, click here.
It is now beyond any reasonable doubt that the Republican Party will win control of the United States Senate for the next two years. They will do so by taking seven Democratic-held seats outright in Tuesday’s elections, and by winning two runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia in December and January, respectively.
I have now decided to change my representation of the race in Colorado to “Leans Republican” because I expect current U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (R) to narrowly defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. While Democrats have outperformed their polling in Colorado over the last two cycles by 3.9% in each case, Gardner’s average polling lead is now at 3.8%, which means he is very close to having a clear lead. There are a couple other factors, possibly related, that lead me to believe the polling will prove accurate, at least as to the result if not the margin:
1) Republicans have submitted significantly more early ballots in Colorado than Democrats have, and while polling shows that those voters who are yet to vote favor Udall, it is also true that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Not everybody who tells a pollster that s/he plans to vote actually does so.
2) There have been numerous reports that many Hispanic voters, dismayed by President Obama’s continued record level of deportations, and furious with his recent postponement of an executive order addressing the immigration issue until after the elections, feel betrayed by the Democrats and may not vote at all this year. Colorado is one of the states where Hispanic turnout is key to Democratic support. The significant Republican edge in early voting in both Colorado and nearby Nevada seems to indicate that there may well be Hispanic erosion this year, and if that is true, the usual discrepancies in Colorado between polling and the actual results are less likely to occur. It is generally conceded that the polling failures in Colorado over the last two cycles resulted from an undercounting of Hispanic voters.
With these two considerations taken into account, I can no longer stick with Udall to win and I am changing that projection.
It is also clear that Republican Tom Cotton will decisively defeat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and yesterday’s highly respected Iowa Poll by Selzer and Co. gave a 7-point lead to Republican Joni Ernst in her open-seat race against Democrat Bruce Braley. It is beyond any reasonable doubt in my mind that these two seats will also flip to the Republicans.
It has been clear for months that Republicans Steve Daines and Shelley Moore Capito will win open Democratic seats in Montana and West Virginia, respectively. And after a brief scare, Republican Mike Rounds has once again pulled out to a double-digit lead to take the open Democratic seat in South Dakota.
These aforementioned five seats appear all but certain to flip to the Republicans on Tuesday night. Gardner’s anticipated victory in Colorado should move that number to six.
In Alaska, recent polling has shown incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich recovering somewhat against Republican challenger Dan Sullivan, but recent polling in Alaska has severely underestimated the ultimate Republican performance. I expect Sullivan to unseat Begich, which now puts Republican net gains at seven seats, enough to win clear control of the chamber on Election Night.
The one potential trouble spot for Republicans is in Kansas, where incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts looks like he may well lose to independent challenger Greg Orman in a very close one. However, if the Republicans do, in fact, achieve a clear majority in the Senate, Orman can be expected to caucus with the Republicans. I am picking Orman to win, but I do not anticipate it will change the number of seats controlled by the GOP in 2015.
In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu will not achieve the 50 percent she needs to avoid a December runoff, where all polling indicates she is going to be a clear underdog against her Republican challenger, Bill Cassidy. And in Georgia, despite a game effort, Democrat Michelle Nunn will not reach the needed 50 percent to avoid a January runoff against Republican David Perdue in a race for this open Republican seat. Perdue starts a runoff race as the favorite.
There now seems to be little hope that Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes will defeat unpopular incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, thereby setting McConnell up as the next majority leader in the Senate.
There are two other close Senate races in which Democrats are endangered, but in which I expect them to prevail narrowly. Sen. Kay Hagan looks positioned to barely hold on against Republican challenger Thom Tillis in North Carolina, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is likely to win a close one against her Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, in New Hampshire.
BOTTOM LINE: U.S. SENATE
I project the final result will be a Republican majority of 52 seats in the Senate, compared to 46 Democrats (including independent Bernie Sanders) and 2 independents. As I said before, I expect Orman, if he wins in Kansas, to caucus with the majority party. Also keep an eye on independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who currently caucuses with the majority Democrats, but may find it more advantageous to organize with the Republicans once they have taken control of the chamber.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, I now expect a number of late-breaking races to flip to the Republicans, and I am moving six races from “Leans Democratic” to “Leans Republican.” They include the following:
Arizona 2nd District
Due to what may be a dropoff in Hispanic voting, especially in the west, I now venture an educated guess that Republican Martha McSally, who lost narrowly to Democrat Ron Barber in 2012, will upend the incumbent here.
California 26th District
Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley has been in danger for some time, and in a district that is 43 percent Hispanic, if the Latino vote truly does not materialize, she is in trouble. I am now picking Republican challenger Jeff Gorell to win this seat.
California 52nd District
It looked like incumbent Democratic Rep. Scott Peters might just hang on here, but the polling still favors Republican challenger Carl DeMaio, who is now my pick to win this seat.
Illinois 10th District
I have gone back and forth on this one, but what I have seen in polling, and the history of the district, now causes me to reverse course and pick former Republican Rep. Bob Dold to unseat current Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider. This will be one of the closest races anywhere.
Iowa 1st District
Early voting has not given the Democrats the edge they need to win in Iowa, and this looks like the most vulnerable Democratic seat. Current Rep. Bruce Braley has run an abysmal race for the U.S. Senate, and his numbers look like they may be enough of a drag to defeat his anointed successor, Pat Murphy. I am now picking Republican Rod Blum to win this seat.
Nevada 4th District
I think this is going to be very close, and that’s something Democrats had not counted on. Incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford was on nobody’s radar until about two weeks ago. But nowhere in the country have the early voting numbers been more catastrophic for Democrats than in Nevada, and I am going to take a calculated gamble and pick Republican challenger Cresent Hardy to upset the incumbent.
BOTTOM LINE: U.S. HOUSE
With these ratings changes, I now expect Republicans to make a net gain of 11 seats in the House, even though I expect them to lose a couple of their own seats (an open seat in Arkansas 2, and Rep. Lee Terry’s seat in Nebraska 2). This would give the GOP a 245-190 majority, up from their current 234-201 advantage, and this would mark the largest Republican majority in the U.S. House since 1948.