Senate ratings changes: Dems catch a break in California, give it right back in West Virginia

6 rating changes at the Senate level - and all but one favors the GOP. Democrats have caught a major break as Barbara Boxer has created some breathing room in California, but that doesn’t mean they should feel much comfort since West Virginia has gone the opposite way, unexpectedly entering toss-up status.

Keep in mind that Governor Joe Manchin voluntarily scheduled this special election this November when it was supposed to be held in 2012; and he did this knowing just how rough the political environment would be for his party. He thought his popularity would get him through, but enough West Virginia voters seem to prioritize turning Congress Republican that all bets are now off in a state that has turned sharply against Democrats over the past decade.

Meanwhile, Democratic hopes of picking-up a GOP-held Senate seat continue to fade, with Missouri, Ohio and North Carolina all shifting one column towards Republicans.

And as if the landscape wasn’t bad enough for Democrats, I was tempted to downgrade their chances in several more races (Wisconsin, Connecticut, New Hampshire) rather than upgrading them anywhere.

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held ND AR IN

GOP-held AL

This gets us to the following breakdown:

  • Safe Democratic: 45 (-1)
  • Safe/Likely Democratic: 47 (-1)
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Democratic: 50
  • Toss-ups: 6 (-1)
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Republican: 44 (+1)
  • Safe/Likely Republican: 39 (+2)
  • Safe Republican: 34

California, toss-up to lean Democratic: This is one of the only statewide races in the country that has been trending towards Democrats over the past few weeks - and what a relief for Democrats. Sure, the whack-the-mole game that the Senate landscape has become (hat-tip to Swing State Project for suggesting that metaphor) means that Barbara Boxer’s improving fortunes don’t cement her party’s majority since the state has been replaced by West Virginia as the site of a potential upset, but Democrats will get any positive development they can get - and there is no doubt Boxer has been gaining: Rasmussen and SUSA have both shown her bouncing back from a deficit to take a substantial lead, while PPP, CNN/Time, the Field Poll and the Los Angeles Times have her up between 6% and 9%. CNN/Time even has her leading by 19% among registered voters!

Add to that the fact that the NRSC has canceled the time it had reserved on California airwaves in the final week before the election, and Carly Fiorina sure isn’t feeling the momentum. (On a more positive note for the GOP, that’s more airtime for Meg Whitman to saturate.) The race remains competitive, however; Boxer has been outspending Fiorina on the airwaves, so we’ll have to see what happens once (if?) the Republican manages to hit back. Also, the turnout gap seems less dramatic in California than elsewhere but any improvement in the GOP’s fortunes could be fatal to the 3-term incumbent.

Missouri, toss-up to lean Republican: I should have put this race in the lean Republican column weeks ago, but Robin Carnahan has looked like a strong enough candidate all year that I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt for a while longer. After all, Roy Blunt seems in many ways to be the type of candidate voters are looking to oust this year - longtime incumbent, party leadership, bailout architect, not to mention the father of an unpopular former Governor - but his party affiliation is enough to give him a narrow but consistent lead. Carnahan remains within striking distance, but she is acting too defensively for now.

New York, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Joe DioGuardi might be a former representative, but his entry wasn’t a recruitment coup for Republicans who were long hoping for Rudy Giuliani. Still, New York’s suburbs look so intent on punishing Democrats that statewide upsets can no longer be ruled out. Polls have shown conflicting results in this race; Marist and Siena have recently come out with big Gillibrand leads, Rasmussen has shown her advantage cut in half to a 10% lead; and Quinnipiac and SUSA claim she is only leading up 6% and 1%, respectively. Call it likely Democratic for now, but the race could still shift towards the GOP.

North Carolina, lean Republican to likely Republican: In 2008, Richard Burr would probably have been a goner. Few voters seem to feel affection for him and his poll numbers have long been remarkably low. But Democrats are having trouble enough winning even their safest seats of the year to have much hope of ousting an incumbent in a state that, even in the friendliest of years, is no better than swing. And if that’s not enough, the DSCC sent clear and loud signals it puts no trust in Elaine Marshall from the day she announced her candidacy. That attitude was unexplainable since Marshall was polling competitively and since she always looked like the party nominee (sure, don’t give her support but at least don’t make it clear you think she’ll lose) and it undermined her bid: Why would the press and party donors take Marshall seriously if her national party isn’t? Any chance Democrats had of taking advantage of Burr’s massive vulnerability was destroyed with the DSCC’s behavior.

Ohio, lean Republican to likely Republican: One of Democrats’ top pick-up opportunities just a year ago, Ohio’s Senate race long resisted the GOP trend we were seeing in other races; at a time Blanche Lincoln, Robin Carnahan and Harry Reid were already dipping, Lee Fisher remained on top of Rob Portman. But Ohio has turned hard against Democrats - and the party is bound to feel the consequences in an open seat race: Democrats were hoping to use Portman’s close association to George W. Bush to their advantage, but Portman looks and acts too much like a generic Republican for him not to benefit from the Midwest’s shift to the GOP. This contest is way over-polled; many surveys have been released over the past two weeks with Portman up double-digits.

West Virginia, likely Democratic to toss-up: In a week full of bad news for Democrats, the worst is undoubtedly West Virginia’s sudden entry in the ranks of competitive Senate races. Remember that the state party chose to hold this election this year rather than in 2012, under the belief that Governor Joe Manchin is popular now and would stand a good chance at being elected. With West Virginia voters clearly turned against Democrats, that is now looking like a disastrous calculation. It’s not just that PPP and Rasmussen suddenly released polls showing wealthy Republican nominee Joe Raese narrowly ahead leading, but there’s also clear indication that the party’s internal information points to a close race: The NRSC just poured in $1,2 million in a 2-week ad campaign, something they would not have done if they weren’t confident this is a winnable race.

1 Response to “Senate ratings changes: Dems catch a break in California, give it right back in West Virginia”

  1. 1 Ron

    It looks like Democrats will at least hold the Senate. I currently have Democrats losing ND, AR, CO, IN, IL, PA, WV, and WI for an eight seat loss and a 51-49 majority.

    It was dumb for Democrats to primary Arlen Specter, who knew how to win tough races in tough climates and dumb to waste a good House candidate like Sestak on a Senate race. Maybe Sestak would have lost his House seat anyway had he run for reelection, but now Democrats will lose a House seat AND a Senate seat.

    The situation is the same in Indiana where Democrats would have been better off letting Coats run unnopposed than wasting a good House candidate trying to beat him in such a Republican state and Republican year.

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