Stuart Rothenberg is one of the “big” political prognosticators–big because his predictions have generally been accurate. In his “Roll Call” column Monday afternoon Rothenberg predicted at least a seven seat GOP senate gain in the upcoming midterm.
The political seer is quick to point out that his official ratings do not match these current predictions.
Right now, for example, the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call Senate ratings suggest Republican gains in the mid-single digits. My newsletter has the most likely outcome of the midterms at Republican gains of 5 to 8 seats, with the GOP slightly more likely than not to net the six seats it needs to win Senate control.
Of the seven Romney Democratic seats up this cycle, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia are gone, and Arkansas and Louisiana look difficult to hold. Alaska and North Carolina, on the other hand, remain very competitive, and Democrats rightly point out that they have a chance to hold both seats.
But I’ve witnessed 17 general elections from my perch in D.C., including eight midterms, and I sometimes develop a sense of where the cycle is going before survey data lead me there. Since my expectations constitute little more than an informed guess, I generally keep them to myself.
This year is different. I am sharing them with you.
After looking at recent national, state and congressional survey data and comparing this election cycle to previous ones, I am currently expecting a sizable Republican Senate wave.
The combination of an unpopular president and a midterm election (indeed, a second midterm) can produce disastrous results for the president’s party. President Barack Obama’s numbers could rally, of course, and that would change my expectations in the blink of an eye. But as long as his approval sits in the 40-percent range (the August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll), the signs are ominous for Democrats.
The generic congressional ballot currently is about even among registered voters. If that doesn’t change, it is likely to translate into a Republican advantage of a few points among “likely” voters. And recent elections when Republicans have even a small advantage have resulted in significant GOP years.
Based on Rothenberg’s experience plus a look at close races during midterms with an unpopular president at least two of the Democratic incumbents Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Kay Hagan of North Carolina will lose.
But if history is any guide, at least two of them, and quite possibly all four, will lose this year — even with all the huffing and puffing from journalists over how brilliant their campaigns have been and how weak the GOP challengers are.
Although there are exceptions, state-level polls generally show Pryor, Landrieu, Begich and Hagan stuck in the mid-40s against their Republican opponents. Sometimes the Democrat is ahead by a point or two, and sometimes he or she is even or a point behind. But that doesn’t really matter. Either way, all are in precarious positions, particularly given the national atmosphere against their party.
Right now, this cycle looks much like 2010, when Democrats with reasonable profiles got crushed in Republican-leaning and swing states. Rep. Brad Ellsworth lost his Senate bid by 18 points in Indiana, Sen. Blanche Lincoln lost re-election by 21 in Arkansas, and Rep. Paul Hodes lost his Senate race by more than 23 in New Hampshire. The much-ballyhooed Robin Carnahan of Missouri lost her Senate bid by almost 14 points, while Wisconsin incumbent Russ Feingold lost by 5 points.
None of them could overcome the national dynamic favoring the GOP.
Of course a lot could change between now and November so no one in the GOP should start partying. There is plenty more to do.