St. Charles Herald-Guide

National senate race coming into focus

By Dan Juneau - August 19, 2010

The House and Senate elections in November are going to say a lot about the mood of the voters and the outlook for national politics going forward. Republicans are widely expected to perhaps secure a majority in the House of Representatives and unseat the extremely liberal House leadership. But the Senate is another matter.


The GOP is certainly expected to pick up Senate seats in November, but few predict a Republican majority in the upper chamber once the votes are totaled. How close the Republicans come to achieving a majority will have a great impact on President Obama's agenda for the remainder of his first term. Here is a current snapshot of how the Senate races look:


The odds-on favorites for Republican gains are in North Dakota, Arkansas, and Indiana. Incumbent Democrat Byron Dorgan chose not to seek re-election in North Dakota. When popular Republican governor John Hoeven entered the race, it was over. Hoeven is maintaining a 50-point lead in the polls over his Democratic opponent.


In Arkansas, Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln barely survived a left-wing challenge in the party primary. She now faces popular Congressman John Boozman in the general election and trails by 25 points. In Indiana, the popular Democratic incumbent, Evan Bayh, did not seek re-election. The Republicans nominated former Senator Dan Coats who is currently maintaining a 20-point lead over Brad Ellsworth.


The GOP also stands an excellent chance to pick up a Democratic seat in Delaware where moderate Republican House member, Mike Castle, is holding a 10-point lead over his Democratic opponent. If those four races go as expected, Republicans would move up to 45 seats in the Senate from their current level of 41.


The next tier of races could bring the Republicans very near a majority, or they could serve as a firewall for the Democrats to maintain a decent majority.


Several liberal Democratic icons are in the races of their lives in the November elections. Barbara Boxer is in a too-close-to-call race against former Hewlett-Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, in California. Boxer is barely maintaining a lead in the polls and Fiorina is closing. In Wisconsin, liberal Democratic Senator Russ Feingold is in an even tighter race against his Republican opponent.


The race is currently a toss-up. But perhaps the most renowned "toss-up" race is in Nevada where Senate President Harry Reid is in a fight for survival against a weak Republican opponent. Reid spent more money in the Republican primary than any of the Republican candidates. He targeted the stronger Republicans hoping to get the weaker Sharron Angle in the runoff. He got what he wanted, but he only holds a two-point advantage in the polls.


Colorado is another state where the GOP can pick up a seat. The unelected incumbent, Michael Bennet, survived a tough primary fight and now faces Ken Buck who holds an early lead in the race.


Pennsylvania is another pick-up opportunity for the Republicans. Congressman Pat Toomey holds a slight lead over Congressman Joe Sestak who beat Arlen Specter in the primary. In Washington state, incumbent Patty Murray is also in a very close race, holding only a slight lead over Dino Rossi. And in Illinois, the Senate race is a toss-up between a scandal-ridden Democrat Alex Giannoulias and the Republican, Mark Kirk, who has trouble telling the truth.

Republicans have a lead in holding onto seats in Ohio and North Carolina, and the Florida open seat is a toss-up between Republican Marco Rubio and the current governor who switched to Independent, Charlie Crist.


If all were to go perfectly for the GOP, it could end up with 52 seats. That won't happen. If everything goes perfectly for the Democrats, they could hold their losses to only one seat. That won't happen either.


Look for a GOP gain of six to eight seats in the Senate, not a majority, but enough to easily filibuster any Democratic legislation-and force President Obama and the Democrats to deal with them on issues.