If the Democrats want to win the Senate, they need a big wave--the kind of tsunami they got in 1974 and 1986, or that the Republicans received in 1980 and 1994. Rough surf won't do the trick, and at least at the start of 2006, November looks to be full of white caps but no Maui-style waves for the party out of power.
This sea forecast can change in either direction over the next ten months, obviously. Yet our first 2006 midterm election survey of the Senate contests suggests only a small craft advisory. In subsequent weeks, we'll look at the U.S. House and the 36 Governor's match-ups to create a benchmark for this year's Crystal Ball analysis. As we do so, the Crystal Ball urges our readers to keep in mind one of the most telling lessons of U.S. electoral history: When the American people decide to make a change, they do it. They don't care that the forecasters and the prognosticators say it isn't likely. They find a way to make the change happen, even if--on paper--there aren't enough competitive districts or states to produce a party turnover.
It will be a surprise if 2006 is not a Democratic year, with the only question being how Democratic. After all, this is the fabled sixth-year election of the Bush presidency (read more in the Crystal Ball's look at the Sixth Year Itch in the Senate), and President Bush has been in deep trouble on a host of subjects, from Iraq to Katrina to scandal. Presidential popularity is an overarching key to the 2006 results. The current betting is that Bush will be below 50 percent come November, but who knows? He could be at 35 percent or 55 percent by then, and it is easy to construct scenarios that would produce either result as events in the New Year unfold.
So for now, we'll stick to a race-by-race analysis of the "War for the Senate." This will give us a starting point for another unpredictable year in American politics.
As usual, many of the contests appear over before they begin. We stress the word appear. A few of the favored candidates might well lose in the end, but at the moment there's no reason to think any of them are in trouble. The list of Secure Senators follows:
"Secure" Republicans (8)
Indiana - incumbent Richard Lugar (R)
Maine - incumbent Olympia Snowe (R)
Mississippi - incumbent Trent Lott (R)
Nevada - incumbent John Ensign (R)
Texas - incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison (R)
Utah - incumbent Orrin Hatch (R)
Virginia - incumbent George Allen (R)
Wyoming - incumbent Craig Thomas (R)
"Secure" Democrats (10)
Larry Sabato is the founder and director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics as well as author of Divided States of America: The Slash and Burn Politics of the 2004 Presidential Election.
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