There are less than 100 days left before the American people decide which party will control the U.S. Senate for the remainder of President Barack Obama’s second term, potentially more considering the very real possibility of a run off in at least the state of Louisiana. We thought we’d wait to release updated analysis for PPD’s 2014 Senate Predictions Map until readers had a chance to digest the slew of prognostications and predictions last week.
Before we get to the 2014 Senate Map, itself, let’s first recap a bit about the variables used in PPD’s model. By all means, feel free to skip ahead to the map, analysis, and commentary if you aren’t interested.
Race ratings on our 2014 Senate Predictions Map are determined by a comprehensive model that includes polling (weighted to value based on past pollster accuracy), state demographics and its political leanings (including Partisan Voting Index, or PVI, and trends in party ID/registration), candidate recruitment and strength (sometimes referred to as “the talent gap”), GOTV and campaign organization (including fundraising), national political sentiment, the ever-important variables of the economy (both state and national) and presidential approval rating (both state and national, as well).
So, if you see polling in our expanded analysis articles or below that doesn’t necessarily comport with the rating assigned, then these variables would be the reason why. While we assign the following ratings to races — Toss-Up, Leans, Likely and Safe — they represent actual numerical values that reflect a probability or likelihood of outcome. On the election projection model, a race that scores a likelihood from 45 – 55 percent is assigned a “Toss-Up” rating; 56 to 64 percent is assigned a “Leans” ratings; 65 to 84 percent is assigned a “Likely” rating; 85 to 100 percent is assigned a “Safe” rating.
Now, let’s take a look at the map and talk more about the ratings assigned. Spoiler alert: There has been a lot of talk that largely and falsely assumes control of the Senate rests on whether the 2014 midterm election cycle will be a GOP wave akin to 2010, but, in reality, the Republican Party is favored to take back control of the Senate in November (possibly December if Louisiana goes to a run off), with or without a wave election.
LEGEND: SAFE DEM | LIKELY DEM | LEANS DEM | TOSS-UP | LEANS GOP | LIKELY GOP | SAFE GOP
(Above is the 2014 Senate map, which includes individual senate races and their ratings determined by People’s Pundit Daily Senior Editor and Political Analyst, Richard D. Baris. Polling is provided when available, but polling in and of itself is not enough to determine a credible race rating.)
Worth noting, before we get to the states that will be most competitive, hence, will decide party control of the Senate, you might notice that the map has more purple and red than most other prognosticators, save for Monkey Cage and the model developed jointly by CBS News/New York Times/YouGov. But I cannot stress enough that it is a fact — not a boast — that the PPD model has been way ahead of all the other prognosticators this cycle. It is the only model that predicted David Jolly would defeat Alex Sink in the FL-13 special election, and our ratings have been out in front in states such as West Virginia, Montana, Iowa, Arkansas and Colorado.
Going, Going, Gone Goodbye
Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia are “Safe Republican” pick-ups. These are three states where the “big picture” fundamentals and “All politics is local” considerations strongly favor the Republican candidates.
In Montana, which has been rated “Safe Republican” for some time now, appointed Democrat incumbent Sen. John Walsh plagiarized his Army War College thesis, but never had much of a chance to hold the seat to begin with. Rep. Steve Daines represents Montana’s sole congressional district and has a large base of support. There was little to zero chance he would implode in the same manner other Republican candidates have in the past, and there is absolutely no emprical evidence to support the Democrats’ claims that his appointment would give him an edge.
SAFE GOP | Chance Of GOP Victory: 98 Percent (Read Past Analysis)
The retirement of Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson had Democrats focused on two candidates: ex-Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, the son of the senator. Unfortunately for them, however, both of them declined to run, leaving Rick Weiland, a former unsuccessful House candidate who is close to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Daschle’s backing of Weiland apparently chapped the pants of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who preferred the more conservative (and probably more electable) Sandlin.
Weiland started off as an underdog to ex-Governor Mike Rounds, who handily won the GOP primary in June. The PPD model depicts an environment that is extremely hostile toward Democrats. In fact, it was sheer incumbency that kept this seat in Democratic hands, and it’s simply time to pay the piper. In polling, Mr. Rounds has a commanding lead, and it will likely never tighten.
SAFE GOP | Chance Of GOP Victory: 89 Percent (Read Past Analysis)
The Mountain State hasn’t been represented by a Republican in the U.S. Senate since 1959, which is the longest Republican Senate shutout in the country. Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a 7-term congresswoman and the daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore, has an easy path to the seat and appears to be the one to shatter the Democrat’s winning streak. Interestingly, Capito’s father was just one point away from ending what would have been a short-term shutout in 1978, when he narrowly lost to Sen. Jennings Randolph 50.5 – 49.5. Democrats have a credible candidate in Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the former co-anchor of “Good Morning, West Virginia,” but it won’t overcome the state’s realignment. A majority of polling has found a double-digit polling gap from the start of this thing, and Tennant is no Joe Manchin.
SAFE GOP | Chance Of GOP Victory: 89 Percent (Read Past Analysis)
All Alone Between A Little Rock And A Hard Place
Despite what other pundits are claiming, the Arkansas Senate race is in a league all its own. It’s certainly not a lock to be a Republican pick-up, but Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor has been between a rock and hard place since he decided to run for reelection. PPD’s 2014 Senate Map Predictions model has always favored Cotton in the Arkansas Senate race to varying degrees and, now, polling is beginning to catch up to both the fundamentals of the state and the political reality facing Pryor this election cycle. Republican Rep. Tom Cotton has been pulling away from Pryor in a series of recent polls, which he has led in since May 27, even breaking the 50 percent threshold in two polls conducted by accurate pollsters, Gravis Marketing and YouGov.
I would strongly suggest reviewing this past expanded analysis article, but for now, I will summarize.
Pryor’s challenge will be to run stronger than typical Democrats in the only swing region of the state — the South — which is compounded by the fact he must outperform Democratic candidates in Arkansas’s 4th Congressional District, and you may have already guessed that it happens to be represented by Rep. Tom Cotton. Just to put the state’s political leanings into context, if we were to actually lower the “candidate strength” variable by one degree on Pryor’s end, then the chance of a GOP victory increases 15 full percentage points.
LEANS GOP | Chance Of GOP Victory: 64 Percent (Read Past Analysis, Latest Polls)
True Toss-Ups And Truly Hanging By A Thread, Maybe
There are five states that we grouped together, which actually have considerable differences in variable input, including Iowa, Louisiana, Colorado, North Carolina and Alaska. Let’s begin with Iowa, which is teetering on the verge “Leans Republican.”
Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley has single-handedly thrown what little advantage he had out the window. First, he was caught on video trashing Iowa’s favorite senator in the same breathe he trashed Iowa farmers. Then, he was caught on video saying he was a farmer, which he isn’t, and also caught lying about why he hasn’t been attending hearings for the Veteran’s Affairs Committee.
Meanwhile, Joni Ernst, as we predicted she would, absolutely dominated a crowded GOP field by putting together a complete party coalition consisting of conservative super PACs and big establishment names, including 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney. From the beginning, we had contended that Braley wasn’t particularly well-liked, but built an early lead largely on name recognition. Now, he has only led in one poll out of the five conducted since Ernst won the nomination.
The reason is simple: Other pundits missed the trend, plain and simple, which clearly demonstrated that Iowa voters have shown a propensity to favor a Republican-controlled Senate since the onset of the cycle, and Ernst isn’t the second-tier candidate everyone claimed she was. We fully expect this race to move to “Leans Republican” by the end of the summer.
TOSS-UP | Chance Of GOP Victory: 55 Percent (Read Past Analysis)
In Louisiana, incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, the daughter of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu, is in deep, deep trouble. SMOR tracking, a pollster with an impressive record in the Pelican State, finds Landrieu bleeding support among white Democrats and Democrat women, and her support among white voters in total is now in the low 20s. She simply cannot win with those levels of support, regardless of how much her brother — the current mayor of New Orleans — can run up her margin among black voters.
The jungle primary may force this race to run off in December, as polls show a clear advantage for Rep. Bill Cassidy in a one-on-one contest, but he isn’t the only Republican in the race. Sarah Palin recently endorsed Rob Maness from Madisonville, a retired Air Force officer. Cassidy is — by far — the most popular among Republicans statewide. At this point, Landrieu can hope a fractured party works to her benefit, but Cassidy still has enough wiggle room to pull it off when undecideds and uncommitted voters make up their minds.
Interestingly, Landrieu hasn’t been any easier to beat in run off elections, as you will hear many pundits claim. Historically, she has increased her margin each time. Yet, even though she won in 2002 by three points and in 2008 by seven, it was largely due to the Democratic wave election and massive turnout among black voters. This time, however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine Landrieu finds a path to a winning coalition.
TOSS-UP | Chance Of GOP Victory: 54 Percent (Read Past Analysis)
Colorado, along with Iowa, had been on PPD’s election model radar months before any of the other prognosticators even began paying attention. Since the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare, Colorado voters have consistently reported low approval ratings for incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, well as President Obama. They’ve repeatedly said he doesn’t deserve reelection, and voter registration trends are very concerning to Democrats.
Also, as we’ve previously explained, the entrance of Cory Gardner to the race was a game-changer, because he closed the ever-important talent gap, which sent this race into competitive territory.
PPD’s election projection model has warranted two rating changes since the entrance of Rep. Cory Gardner in February, both of which clearly show this race slipping away from incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Udall. The Democrat has already spent roughly $7,000,000 out of his $13,000,000 war chest, mostly on attack ads aiming to define Gardner early. Yet, despite these efforts, the latest survey conducted by Quinnipiac found Udall in the most vulnerable position he has been since the cycle began.
Polls, on average, still show Udall holding a statistically insignificant lead over Gardner. However, an NBC News/Marist poll — which has a terrible track record for accuracy — is throwing off the average, and most surveys show Udall stuck in the low to mid 40s. The Colorado Senate race is one of the closest “Toss-Up” races as far as probability on our 2014 Senate Map Predictions model.
TOSS-UP | Chance Of GOP Victory: 53 Percent (Read Past Analysis)
The Tar Heel State is a true “Toss-Up” this cycle, though it actually leans slightly toward Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis, who secured the GOP nomination in one try back in early May. Given incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan’s abysmal approval ratings and lack of accomplishment, the race is likely to move into “Leans Republican” territory pretty soon. Because Tillis is the face of a controversial state legislature, Hagan has been moderately successful thus far at remaining competitive. However, the fundamentals of this race are against her.
President Obama is even more unpopular than Hagan, which is quite a feat, and Republicans were still able to flip North Carolina regardless of the heavy black turnout in 2012. In 2008, Hagan ran ahead of Obama, but polling suggests the voters will not return. Her task, unsurprisingly, will be turning out her base, who reportedly will hold their nose and vote for her, at best.
Aside from the usual stipulation around midterm electorates being older and whiter, Census data show increases in eligible voting population among demographics who tend to vote Democrat (i.e. black voters) from 2010 to 2014, aren’t significant enough to expect the 2014 midterm electorate will resemble anything other than a slightly less Republican electorate than in 2010.
TOSS-UP | Chance Of GOP Victory: 54 Percent (Read Past Analysis)
In my last look at the Alaska Senate race, entitled “Alaska Senate Race Rating And Analysis Bodes Bad For Begich,” I gave a general assessment of the race and the political landscape, as well as laid out how completely unreliable Alaska polling has been in past elections. It’s worth a read in case you didn’t know or you still need to be convinced, but I concluded that it is more likely than not that election night is going to be a miserable night for incumbent Sen. Mark Begich.
The incumbent, to be sure, is a strong campaigner, not to mention a smart politician. Unlike the majority of his party, he has no problem laying in bed with Alaska’s oil industry and somehow manages to balance his support for oil at the same time he advocates against manmade global warming.
However, the “big picture” data are pretty clear. According to Gallup, Alaska is now the 6th most conservative state in the union, with Democrats losing ground by 20 points over the last year alone. That trend is backed up by voter registration data, consequently. In a deeply red state with a PVI of R+12, which Mitt Romney easily won by 13 points, Begich boasts defeating scandal-laden Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008 — a Democratic wave election no less — by under just 4,000 votes.
Do the math.
As far as the GOP primary is concerned, Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell have been vying for the establishment vote. The Republican Establishment, itself, has lined up behind Sullivan, and he has been endorsed by The Club For Growth. Yet, people in Alaska like Treadwell, who is an outstanding retail politician.
Speaking of which, a recent round of polling by CBS News/NYT/YouGov inexplicably excluded 2010 Republican nominee Joe Miller. That’s a mistake that even Begich concedes. Miller, by far, has the most energized, dedicated group of supporters who will turn out for him on Election Day. In “Why Joe Miller Could Pull Off An Upset Against The GOP Establishment, Again,” I put aside the superficial punditry too oft-heard from prognosticators, and focused only on the data. The bottom line is that — if the establishment doesn’t rally behind either Treadwell or Sullivan — Miller has a very clear path to victory.
But, as of now, with so much still uncertain, the Alaska Senate race is more competitive than it otherwise should be. Further, recent indicators suggest Sullivan is losing steam and popularity. He made some awful mistakes, including skipping out on grassroots-hosted debates, and refusing to respond or clarify charges from Miller that he believes in manmade global warming and would be soft on illegal immigration.
Four races in New Hampshire, Minnesota, Michigan, and Oregan should all be grouped together as potential GOP pick-up opportunities.
In New Hampshire, it was no secret that incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and her team were scared of a challenge from former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. So, the bombardment of negative attack ads hoping to define Brown as a carpetbagger came on early and hard.
And it has worked. After closing the double-digit gap to under five points, Brown now trails Shaheen again by a low-double-digit margin in the PPD average of recent polls. Politico recently reported that “Brown needs to be within 5 to 7 percentage points of Shaheen by mid-September or national money won’t come.” We heard the same rumblings in early June, so it’s safe to say they are serious. We moved the New Hampshire Senate race back to the “Likely Democrat” rating it was assigned before Brown announced his bid in early July, which you can read here.
Still, Republicans have reason to remain optimistic about New Hampshire, a state that has a propensity to decide elections late, give pollsters erroneous responses and move with nationwide trends. But unless Brown steps up his game soon, it will be a lost opportunity. For now, the rating should be considered accurate, but volatile.
LIKELY DEM | Chance Of GOP Victory: 40 Percent (Read Past Analysis)
In Michigan, Republican Secretary of State and U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land has seen her lead over Democratic Rep. Gary Peters deteriorate. Republicans have won just 1 of the past 12 Senate races in Michigan, but that 1994 win was also the last time the Michigan Senate race was an open seat contest, and the national political environment is more than favorable enough for the Republican Party to flip this seat.
But Land has made a big mistake. Land has chosen to lay low in a Blue-leaning state rather than hammer Peters on ObamaCare and, a far more powerful issue in the state, the Detroit bankruptcy. When now-Gov. Rick Snyder defeated Democrat Virg Bernero in 2010 by a blow-out 19-point margin, which helped Republicans build historically large majorities in the state legislature, Snyder was not only aggressively campaigning, but he campaigned aggressively against one-party, Democratic dominance.
And that was when Detroit going bankrupt was still just a theoretical prediction. Now, it’s a reality, and voters were and remain outraged. But Land’s lay-low campaign strategy has prohibited her from harnessing that outrage, and it has been a big mistake, allowing Peters to avoid the big issues and instead distract voters with the trivial.
LEANS DEM | Chance Of GOP Victory: 43 Percent (Read Past Analysis)
Virginia and Oregon, as well as Michigan, are three states where Republicans should be far more competitive than they currently are. Honest or not, the charges against Monica Wehby have done damage to her image, and incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley is now favored to retain his seat.
Incumbent Sen. Mark Warner had a terrible debate against Ed Gillespie last week, but unfortunately for the GOP, the mainstream media didn’t even cover it. If the national condition deteriorates further for Democrats, Warner’s reelection position could very well be compromised. However, for now, the power of the incumbency and gigantic war chest gives Warner the edge.
LIKELY DEM | Chance Of GOP Victory: 39 Percent (Read Past Analysis)
But another state is turning out to be a sleeper state that both sides argue is far closer than the polls suggest.
Incumbent Sen. Al Franken would not have already spent $10 million on his race if he thought the polling in this race was accurate. Republican businessman Mike McFadden has begun to coalesce the party after pulling off a miracle at the state GOP convention in late May. And there is something else in play here.
Franken defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman by just 312 votes in a wave election for Democrats, and that was only after a lengthy recount process that suspiciously ended after someone “found” a few thousand more votes for Franken in their trunk. Did Franken and the Democrats steal the election? I don’t know, most likely. In fact, it sure looks like it. But it doesn’t matter what I think, only what the voters in the state think, and there are many who still feel robbed.
While Republicans tend to sink a ton of money into Michigan with the hope of turning the Wolverine State Red, Minnesota has actually been nearly two points more Republican in the last four presidential elections. This was on full display when we translated the Obama-Romney rematch poll into electoral votes. If the election were held again today, Romney would carry Minnesota, but still lose Michigan.
LEANS DEM | Chance Of GOP Victory: 42 Percent
It Was Always A Dream, But Now It’s A Nightmare
Despite Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s low approval rating in Kentucky, and Democrats’ hopes the minority vote would flip the Peach State, both Alison Lundergan Grimes and Michelle Nunn are on their way to defeat. No serious pundit has ever given any of these Democratic candidates the edge.
McConnell is now beginning to pull away from Tennant, who has made more than a few mistakes along the way.
Regardless of whether the 2014 midterm elections turn out to be a wave or historic “shellacking” as was the case in 2010, the political landscape is one in which Democrats will once again be defending many more Senate seats than Republicans, with 20 Democratic seats up compared to 14 for Republicans. As far as state dynamics, 7 Democratic-held seats are up in red (or purple) states carried by Mitt Romney, while another 7 are from swing states. Because the 2008 election was a wave election for the Democratic Party, in 2014 the party will have a ton of exposure, or in other words, they are forced to defend seats that would otherwise be Republican.
If the election was held today, the PPD 2014 Senate Map Predictions model forecast Republicans are likely to have a net gain of 6 seats — the number needed to win a majority — and are less likely to have a net gain of 8 seats.