The venerable Cook Political Report is now projecting a gain of five to seven US Senate seats for the Democratic Party, which would wrest control of the upper chamber away from Republicans, and promote Chuck Schumer to the position of majority leader. Cook's reasoning is very plausible, but does it stand up to the current polling data? Maybe. Democrats need to net four seats to forge the slimmest of majorities, if Hillary Clinton wins the presidential race. A quick state-by-state update:
Illinois: Polling has been relatively scant, but liberal challenger Tammy Duckworth is expected to defeat incumbent moderate Mark Kirk in this race, despite some bad headlines for Duckworth about her oversight work at the state's VA. Tough, very blue state in a presidential year. Solid Dem pick-up.
Wisconsin: Even though Ron Johnson has battled to within the margin of error in a few Badger State surveys, Democrat Russ Feingold remains a clear favorite to win back his old seat. Johnson supporters remain hopeful that an upset may be brewing, but Feingold is ahead. Likely Dem pick-up.
Indiana: Developments in this race have gotten almost cartoonishly bad for Obamacare-supporter-turned-DC-lobbyist Evan Bayh, whose big lead and war chest have dwindled down into precarious territory. More damaging information seems to leak out about him every day, and Republicans smell blood. Conservative Todd Young's trajectory is said to be positive, but (minimal) public polling still has Bayh out front at the moment, and Trump's coattails in the traditionally red state aren't looking strong; Fox News just downgraded the state from safe GOP to lean GOP. The "fundamentals" of this race smell inauspicious for Bayh, but for now, his family name is keeping this one a lean Dem pick-up.
New Hampshire: One outlier survey gave liberal Maggie Hassan a whopping nine-point advantage over incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte last week, but four of the last five state polls show Ayotte +1, a tie, a tie, and Ayotte +4. It is extremely close. In this pure toss-up race, the Ayotte campaign is smartly pouncing all over the awful Obamacare news with a fresh TV ad:
Pennsylvania: Keystone Staters have a history of ticket-splitting, and that's what Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is counting on to carry the day next month. Despite Donald Trump's struggles in the state, Toomey is tied or leading in four of the last five statewide surveys, and holds an average lead of roughly two points in the RCP average. His Democratic opponent has been plagued by ethical baggage, and had an embarrassing moment at their recent debate. Given the dynamics of the presidential race, and how close Toomey's victory was in the 2010 GOP wave election, this contest is a pure toss-up.
Nevada: In Republicans' lone pick-up opportunity, the party's impressive Senate nominee Joe Heck (a medical doctor, soldier and businessman) is locked in a very tight battle with Harry Reid's hand-selected successor, Catherine Cortez Masto. Heck had led in every public poll until the last few weeks, when he's been overtaken by the Democrat -- but just barely. The last three polls average out to an exact tie in this race. But given Trump's deterioration in the state and the vaunted Reid machine poised to spring into action for his candidate, this looks like a slight lean Dem hold -- although it's absolutely winnable for Heck, depending on how things break.
Missouri: Democrats really want this one, fielding a fresh-faced veteran challenger against incumbent Republican Roy Blunt. But the Democratic nominee is too liberal, and the Show Me State is looking too red. Polls are surprisingly tight, but Blunt has led in almost all of them, and Trump is running even stronger there. Lean GOP hold.
North Carolina: Richard Burr is an underwhelming campaigner, and North Carolina is a very swingy state these days, so this competition is giving DC Republicans indigestion. But Tar Heel State Democrats have chosen an ACLU activist to oppose Burr, and recent focus on her extreme record appears to have set her back a bit in the polls. Hillary Clinton is leading in this state, yet Burr is keeping his head above water. He's only trailed in one of the last 11 surveys of the race -- which may ultimately be determined by the margins at the top of the ticket. Lean GOP hold.
Florida: The polling margins are all over the place in this one, with two recent polls showing Marco Rubio up 10 and 14 points, or up two or four points. The consistent factor is that Rubio's ahead across the board. Democrats nominated an amusingly flawed candidate, who is out of his depth against the talented incumbent. National Democrats have pulled out of this race, even though liberals desperately want to end Rubio's career; they see him as a potential future threat at the national level, as we've learned through public quotes and private emails. I've heard that both parties' internal polling give Rubio a consistent, but relatively modest, edge of three to five points. One X factor could be the presidential race, where Mrs. Clinton holds a small lead in the state, although a new Bloomberg poll shows Trump surging ahead by a pair. Likely GOP hold.
Ohio: Rob Portman just keeps winning. Big League. Solid GOP hold.
Add up the columns from our ratings above, and Democrats are favored to gain three seats -- one shy of a probable majority, an two shy of an outright majority. Can they get there? Absolutely. By definition, those toss-ups could go either way, and a few of those "lean GOP" races are worrisomely close for Republicans. If Clinton ends up winning comfortably, and the Democrats' ground game totally outclasses the GOP's, it's conceivable to see most of the closest contests all cascade in one direction, building a wave that will sweep Senate Democrats into power. But if Hillary's margins are smaller, or Trump over-performs, it is still entirely possible that the GOP could cling to a very slim upper chamber majority. The question keeping NRSC officials up at night is whether the ticket-splitting that's showing up in public polling will actually materialize in voters' actions. Reports of Trump pulling up his joint fundraising stakes yesterday, which have been contradicted by others within his camp, touched off a ripple of panic in Republican circles:
A big reason Senate R's don't feel great abt toss-up races is b/c they'll be swamped w/$ in final days. Trump turning off spigot won't help— Jessica Taylor (@JessicaTaylor) October 25, 2016
The party just announced one last mega blitz to try to pull some of its candidates over the finish line:
BREAKING: Senate GOP makes last-minute, mammoth $25 million investment in last-ditch push to keep control https://t.co/g8y4e7BEKt— Alex Isenstadt (@politicoalex) October 25, 2016