Saturday, February 27, 2010

Senate Math

When it comes to Senate seats one important factor for a candidate is how red or blue it is. John McCain won 13 of the 14 states that have two Republican senators. A state’s electorate and a candidate’s popularity will give you an idea of how likely the party will hold onto a seat. If you put senators on a scale of 0 to 100 of being reelected a Republican senator in Utah and a Democratic senator in Vermont would be close to a sure thing.

Environment changes this probability. In 2008 Democrats edged Republicans in Alaska and New Hampshire and won decisively in Virginia and New Mexico. Democrats came close to wins in Kentucky and Georgia, two fairly red states. In a normal year Republicans would’ve won decisively in Kentucky and Georgia, won Alaska and New Hampshire, and been competitive in New Mexico and Virginia.

Republicans won 15 seats, mostly because their candidates were running in red states, were popular, and didn’t have strong competition. In a year when it’s a strong cycle for the other party you want to have as many safe seats up as possible. In a normal year a Republican scale would have the Democrats favored in races rated 0 to 50 and Republicans favored in races 51 to 100. In a Democratic year like 2008 Democrats moved the break from 50 to something like 63. In a Republican year like 2010 that break might be moved from 50 to 37.

In 2008 the Republicans needed as many seats as they could get that were above 63 or below 37 in order to minimize losses and not lose a seat they might have a shot at. They had too many seats in the middle that they lost 8 seats.

This year looks like a Republican year. That means that a safe seat like Oklahoma is no more valuable to the Republicans than a seat like Georgia or Louisiana that might be in danger otherwise. Scott Brown only beat Martha Coakley in a Republican year. If John Kerry were running for re-election he likely would’ve still won. Instead of 35 points he won in 2008 he might have won by 10. Likewise the Democrats are far better off having Daniel Inouye up for re-election than Jon Tester.

Unfortunately for the Democrats the races this year aren’t kind. There are 18 Democrats and 18 Republicans up up. The senatorial delegation is split in 13 states. Of those 11 are having elections. Nine Republican seats are up compared to two Democratic seats. In a normal year that split would favor the Democrats. The Republicans might win all 9 this year.

The break has also moved on the Democratic seats. That puts their red state seats in North Dakota and Arkansas almost certainly in the loss column, and may result in losses in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Indiana. Those would normally be toss-ups. Open seats in Illinois and Delaware would normally be shoe-ins, while blue state seats like California, New York, and Connecticut could be in play.

Even popular incumbents in purple states like Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin could also be competitive. Hawaii, Vermont, Maryland, and Chuck Schumer’s New York seat aren’t likely to become competitive no matter how good it looks for Republicans. Barack Obama may have cost the Democrats three seats by plucking Joe Biden, Ken Salazar, and Hillary Clinton from the Senate. Some Democrats were pushing for Frank Lautenberg to retire before Chris Christie became governor. In that scenario Jon Corzine would’ve appointed a younger Democrat. Now they have to be happy that there’s no New Jersey seat in this election.

Republicans are fortunate that in a Republican year there are so many Democratic seats that might otherwise be unreachable and Republican seats that they might have lost.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

House Ratings Update

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What the Democrats can’t change before November

There are plenty of reasons why this will be a Republican year. There’s the economy, the poor performance of the Democratic congress, angry mobilized Republicans and that a lot of Obama voters are likely to stay home. The Democrats may be able to fix some of this environment. There are two factors they can’t fix.

There are a number of districts, mostly in the south, that have been voting more Republican with each election but are represented by Democrats. These Democrats have often been in office since before the south went Republican. While their constituents are voting Republican everywhere else they’re still pulling the lever for someone they’ve liked for a long time, regardless of party.


Four of the 16 districts here are now open seats. Without the popular incumbent it’ll be very difficult for the Democrats to defend regardless of the environment. Those incumbents retired because they were down in the polls. These districts have reached the point where even a (once?) popular incumbent could lose.

The Republicans have only four districts which could fall in this category.

Two of these districts are open seats. Even in this environment the Republicans will win two, maybe three, of these.

The second district problem is that there were a number of Democrats elected to long time Republican seats in 2006 and 2008, mostly because people hated the Republicans and a large Democratic turn out, not because the district became more Democratic. Once the environment returned to normal the Democrats were likely to lose many of these seats. In a heavily pro-Republican environment these districts may switch back.


It’s possible that some of these districts are re-aligning with the Democrats but John McCain won 12 of the 21 here. Republicans only have one such seat, Louisiana – 2. All of these seats aren’t going to be competitive but there are so many Democratic districts, 37, compared to Republican districts, 5, that fall into these categories.

No matter how good the economy gets or how good a job the Democrats in congress do this year these two factors are unchangeable.

This isn’t as big a deal in the Senate, however. None of the Democrats who won in 2006 and 2008 are on the ballot this fall. So there aren’t many senators who won seats they shouldn’t have. North Dakota, Arkansas, and Indiana may fall into these categories, however. The Republicans have no such seats.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Senate

I keep thinking that the nation’s mood can’t stay so far Republican, but Republican momentum even seems to be increasing. On Tuesday Republicans won three of four special elections in the New York State Assembly. This was a gain of two seats in blue New York. Since I don’t see a hint of momentum going the other way I’ll make my first Senate predictions.

Definite Republican Pick-ups: Nevada, Arkansas, North Dakota
When an incumbent is well-established the election is almost entirely about them. Harry Reid can do all the negative advertising he wants about his Republican opponent, but absent something horrendous it won’t save him. And he’s still polling in the low 40’s/high 30’s against all his opponents. Blanche Lincoln has dropped into the low 30’s against her opposition. People in these states know what their senators bring and that’s not going to change. They know who they are and have decided against them.

Many Democrats have also turned their back on these two. Lincoln is too conservative for their tastes, while Reid can’t run the senate well enough to pass significant legislation. Democratic sentiments are that they won’t be missed and in 2016 they’ll run someone more to their liking.

They did the same thing in North Dakota and Connecticut, forcing Byron Dorgan and Chris Dodd to retire. The Democrats have no one to offer in North Dakota, while the Republicans have popular Governor John Hoeven. In Connecticut they do have a strong candidate, attorney general Richard Blumenthal, someone without the Washington Democratic taint. His entry saves Connecticut for the Democrats.

Probable Republican Pick-ups: Delaware, Pennsylvania, Colorado
In Delaware the Republicans have popular congressman Mike Castle, while the Democrats lack a strong candidate. In Pennsylvania the likely Democratic nominee is Arlen Specter. Specter is an old white guy who used to be a Republican. He won’t excite the young Democratic voters. Bennet has failed to excite Colorado voters. Without a strong base he won’t win.

Republican Open Seats: New Hampshire, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky
Democrats unseated Republican incumbents in the first three states in 2006 and 2008, while coming within six points of beating Mitch McConnell. Yet polls have Democrats trailing Republicans by at least five points in New Hampshire, Ohio, and Kentucky. These seats will only go Democratic if the national mood on Democrats changes. Missouri is the best hope for a Democratic pick-up, mostly because the Republican, Roy Blunt, is a sitting congressman, while his opponent, Robin Carnahan, is not.

Possible Republican Pick-ups: Illinois, Indiana, California
Two of these are reliably blue states, while Indiana has an incumbent who has repeatedly won statewide races. Illinois looks like a toss-up right now, while Indiana and California still favor the Democrats. The polling in these states appears to be trending Republican, however.

In Any Other Year: North Carolina, Louisiana, Florida
As with the states above Democrats hold the other senate seat in each of these states. They have good candidates in each, while the Republicans have candidates with question marks. With the current Republican trend the Republican candidates in Louisiana and Florida are polling ahead in double digits while Richard Burr in North Carolina has been at least five points ahead in each poll. It’s hard to see momentum swinging far enough for these seats to be in real danger.

Awaiting a candidate: New York, Wisconsin, Washington
Democratic incumbents in these states either got 55% of the vote in 2004 or are running for the first time. The only reason these states aren’t in play is because the Republicans don’t have strong candidates yet. Of course Scott Brown wasn’t regarded as a strong candidate when he was nominated. These elections bear watching.

Safe States
In the 11 other Republican held states the Democrats have yet to field a viable candidate. Nine of these states currently have two Republican senators. Considering how safe Kansas, Utah, Idaho, et al usually are it’s hard to see them becoming competitive.

The remaining Democratic states (Vermont, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Oregon) are unlikely to come into play due to strong still popular incumbents, but at this point it’s hard to see any Democratic seat as completely safe.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mid-Term Losses

There are three big reasons a party wins a lot of House and/or Senate seats.

1) The other party’s President is unpopular.
2) The President has coat tails.
3) A correction of one of the first two.

A correction is often the result of one party winning seats in districts they normally wouldn’t, but, because of the environment, they have. The experts attempt to come up with all sorts of reasons why a President loses seats at a mid-term, but the reason is usually due to a correction.

When a new President has been elected (since 1912) his party has gained 20+ House seats 8 times, for an average gain of 43 seats. In the next election his party has lost an average of 40 seats. Five of the other new Presidents had an average of a 4 seat loss when elected. In the next election they averaged losing 6 seats. The lone exception to this is Bill Clinton. He had no coat tails in 1992 and lost a lot of seats in 1994. Seven of the eight largest seat losses have been after big gains.

The last two times when a party has made big gains in consecutive elections they lost 18 and 26 seats in the next one. This has happened to popular President like Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.

There are a significant number of Republican skewing seats currently held by Democrats. In a neutral or Republican skewing environment the Democrats would suffer big losses. It’s a Republican environment right now. So even if the Democrats can make the environment more neutral they’re unlikely to stave off the losses.

In 2006 the Republicans were suffering from ethical investigations, a war going badly, Hurricane Katrina, and deficits. Despite a big cash advantage and some distance from the ethics and Katrina problems they couldn’t reverse this.

In 2008 the Republicans were suffering from a faltering economy, an unpopular President, and a war going badly. The war turned around, but the economy got worse. We’ll never know how the Republicans would’ve done if the financial meltdown had occurred in November instead of September.

The Democrats are facing a poor economy and America’s anger over the way the Democrats are governing. The Democrats can address these situations, while there was nothing the Republicans could do about Katrina or the ethics violations. One thing the Democrats are unlikely to reverse is how they’ve energized Republican voters. In fact all of these factors seem to be skewing worse for the Democrats in the last several months.

The line in 2006 and 2008 was moved far enough that the Republicans took no Democratic Senate seats or any House seats in 2006. Four of the five seats the Republicans took in 2008 were long time seats they lost in 2006. The fifth was a congressman who is now spending 13 years in prison. The Republicans capture only one long time Democratic seat in 2008 and, as of now, no Republican is facing jail time.

A rout may be inevitable. And the Republicans might lose only a small handful of seats.