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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Prediction of House and Senate Races

My best guess for the Capitol Hill races is that, while some individual seats will switch, there will be no net change in the party balance in either chamber.  Democrats will hold the Senate and Republicans will hold the House by the same margins that they have today.  Like the presidential prediction (see yesterday's post), this forecast depends on public data sources that are subject to various caveats.

The current Senate is 53 Democrats (including two nominal independents) and 47 Republicans.  Republicans seem likely to pick up three seats from Democrats:

  • Montana:  Incumbent Democrat Jon Tester narrowly defeated a weak GOP incumbent in 2006, and even then only because of a spoiler candidate.  In a year when Romney is likely to carry Montana by a big margin, Tester will probably lose to Republican Denny Rehberg, who represents the entire state in the US House.
  • North Dakota:  Democratic incumbent Kent Conrad is retiring.  Republican Rick Berg, (like Rehberg, his state's sole House member) will benefit from Romney's statewide showing to defeat Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.
  • Nebraska:  Incumbent Ben Nelson, one of the two most conservative Senate Democrats (the other being Joe Manchin of West Virginia) is retiring. In this heavily Republican state, Deb Fischer is the favorite over former Senator Bob Kerrey.  During his time as governor and senator, Kerrey was popular -- but he lost touch with the state during his long sojourn in New York City.

Republicans had hoped to win a majority in the Senate, but they will probably cancel out their gains by dropping three seats of their own:

  • Massachusetts: Republican Scott Brown won an upset victory in a 2010 special election, but overwhelming Democratic advantage in the state will probably tip the seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren.  One late poll showed Brown ahead, however. 
  • Indiana:  Republican Richard Mourdock is in danger of throwing away a seat that has been in GOP hands for decades.  He defeated longtime incumbent Richard Lugar in a primary.  Though not as strong as Lugar, he had a good chance to keep the seat for his party until he said that a pregnancy resulting from rape was God's will -- a garbled version of a strict pro-life position.  Moderate Democrat Joe Donnelly is the likely winner, though one late survey shows a close race.
  • Maine:  Moderate Republican Olympia Snowe is retiring, and independent former governor Angus King leads the race to succeed her.  King is likely to caucus with the Democrats -- unless a single seat could determine control of the chamber, in which case his allegiance might be up for grabs.

Republicans could easily have defeated Democrat Claire McCaskill in Missouri, but Republican Todd Akin severely damaged himself by saying that "legitimate rape" seldom resulted in pregnancy -- a bizarre comment with no scientific basis.  Still, some polls show that he may still have an outside chance.

Republicans have a 242-193 margin in the House (counting vacancies as belonging to the party of the most recent incumbent).  The numbers will change little.  Why?

One major reason is redistricting.  In a majority of states, legislatures draw the congressional lines, and the 2010 midterm put the GOP in its strongest position in decades. Republicans unilaterally controlled redistricting for 210 House seats (in 18 states) and 2,498 state legislative seats (in 21 states).  Democrats controlled the process for just 44 House seats (in six states) and 885 state legislative seats (in eight states).

Another reason is President Obama.  Though he has a slight lead in most national polls, he is very unpopular in a number of House districts.