Two months from Election Day, 5 GOP-held Senate seats are considered to be leaning Democratic (VA, NM, CO, NH and AK), and many more are highly competitive. How many seats Democrats pick up will depend on how many long-shot seats they can invest serious resources in, and where the GOP ends up building a firewall. So how many seats can Democrats take for granted?
As of last week, only Virginia was a done deal for Senate Democrats. But a new development has now added New Mexico to the list. Polls have long shown Tom Udall crushing Steve Pearce, but the NRSC had not given up hope and had reserved $2.7 million of air time in the state to help Pearce. But the NRSC canceled that reservation earlier this week, signaling that they were no longer planning to contest New Mexico and admitting that the odds of Pearce coming back are too low for the GOP to spent its meager resources on this race.
(Committee funding is always a good measure of a party’s chances. Two years ago, the NRSC pulled the plug on DeWine’s campaign at a time polls did not look that overwhelmingly against him and thus sealed Brown’s large victory; later, the committee sensed an opportunity in Montana and increased its spending, a move that almost paid off.)
The NRSC is facing big budgetary decisions because of its fundraising weakness. Asked whether he expected any help from the NRSC, Virginia’s Jim Gilmore replied “No. But that’s because they don’t have any money. They just don’t.” Not that anyone was wondering whether the committee would play in Virginia. Sen. Ensign has publicly said that his fall budgets were based on projections of bigger contributions from his Senate colleagues and that they had not pulled through.
The NRSC’s second problem is the seemingly endless list of GOP-held seats that Democrats are trying to contest. At least nine are highly vulnerable - even if it gives up on Virginia and New Mexico, can the NRSC stay in all the other seven? And what about Democratic ambitions (and spending!) in places like Maine, Texas, Kansas or Idaho? Is it worth making any move there to put out any potential fires? (Given how huge Mitch McConnell’s war-chest is, at least the NRSC would not need to invest in Kentucky.) The NRSC’s decisions will truly be fascinating to watch over the next few weeks.
For now, the NRSC has gone on air in two states: North Carolina, where it is airing a spot hitting Kay Hagan for her “fiscal irresponsibility,” and in New Hampshire:
This is a standard ad hitting Shaheen for increasing government spending while Governor. The GOP is trying to make this a rerun of the 2002 race, when Shaheen’s gubernatorial years became an issue. In the past six years, however, voters have soured on Bush’s and Sununu’s incumbency and the attacks on Shaheen’s record in an office she left six years ago will probably be less effective. And in case voters forget, Shaheen is airing a (here again rather standard) new ad to remind them of Bush and Sununu’s association.
The NRSC’s decision to invest in New Hampshire is fascinating. It signals that the GOP has not yet given up on re-electing Sununu despite the fact that he has trailed widely in most polling conducted over the past year. Sununu also has significant resources left, and NH will be in play at the presidential level. For now, Democrats cannot take New Hampshire for granted.
One state in which the NRSC will not be considering airing any ads is Alaska, as indicted Senator Ted Stevens is too radioactive for the national GOP to approach him. But that doesn’t mean that Democrats should triumph, as the latest poll released last night suggests that the electorate’s post-indictement indignation has faded and Stevens has stormed back:
- An Ivan Moore poll finds Begich leading 49% to 46%, in a poll that also finds McCain surging ahead against Obama post-Palin. Three weeks ago, Begich led by 17%.
Note that this is the third post-indictment Ivan Moore survey. The first was taken in the immediate aftershock and found Begich ahead by 21%, so the huge lead he opened has been fading. This could also be due to the Palin effect that is boosting the GOP, though the reasons people would be attracted to Palin and Stevens are so different that I am not convinced.
What this Alaska poll means is that Stevens still has a fighting chance, despite all the political obituaries, and that it is useless to predict the election until the verdict in Stevens’ trial is handed down sometime in October. If Stevens is found guilty, he will surely collapse back to his early August depths; if he is found innocent, all bets are off and the bounce he gets could very well carry him to victory.
In other Senate news, some developments in Idaho. LG Risch is favored to keep the seat for Republicans but the GOP has been nervous about the candidacy of conservative candidate Rex Rammell who they fear might siphon votes away from Risch. Their attempt to kick him off the ballot failed yesterday, as the state Supreme Court upheld his petition. The GOP remains clearly favored in the state, and Democrats need everything to break in their favor for LaRocco to have a shot - and for Rammell’s candidacy to take off is one of them.
To conclude: They might be favored in more, but as of today Democrats have two seats they can take for granted.