Drama: Twists and Turns in Senate Races Could Determine Majority

Posted: Oct 05, 2016 4:01 PM

As the presidential race continues to move in Hillary Clinton's direction (here's a new poll showing her inching ahead of Trump in Ohio, one of his strongest battlegrounds), the fight for control of the US Senate remains as close and pitched as ever. A new batch of Quinnipiac numbers, which correspond with the Trump/Hillary polling data we reported earlier in the week, offer one pleasant surprise and one red flag for Republicans. The Florida margin is a little smaller than we've previously seen for Rubio, suggesting that Trump's deterioration in the state may be having a small drag on his former presidential rival, but the incumbent Senator's lead has been stable and consistent for quite some time. In Ohio, two new polls show Rob Portman absolutely dominating former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland, winning that contest by double-digits -- 17 and 15 points, respectively -- in that important swing state. What jumps out at me here is Richard Burr in a dead heat in North Carolina, a state in which Clinton is on the march, and the Republican Governor appears to be in trouble. That Senate race is as close as they come, and if Burr's opponent can pull off a win there, that would go a long way to helping her party regain the majority. The GOP is starting to hammer her for her stance on the sex offender registry. And that Pennsylvania number is an eye-popper:

The last three polls in that race, all in the field around the same dates, have Toomey up eight, exactly tied, and down six. I...don't know what to make of that. What seems clear is that Toomey's fate is tied to Trump's. If Trump loses Pennsylvania big, Toomey will struggle to hang on (his margin is ten points better than Trump's in the Monmouth poll, yet that's only good enough for a tie). If Trump is relatively competitive in the state (the Q-poll has him down four), Toomey could prevail. He also appears to have learned a lesson from his Senate colleague Kelly Ayotte, who gave a bad answer about Trump being a role model at her debate this week. He hemmed and hawed a bit before settling on 'yes.' She then backtracked after the debate, admitting that she misspoke, and that she wouldn't point to either presidential nominee as someone kids should aspire to emulate. The Democratic campaign, eager to talk about Trump rather than policy, immediately pounced on the reversal and cut an ad attacking Ayotte. In a Wall Street Journal story about the flap, Toomey made his position quite clear from the get-go:

Meanwhile, Evan Bayh continues to look like a rusty, out-of-touch candidate in Indiana. He's getting pounded at home for taxpayer-funded flights on private jets, and made the hilarious mistake of quoting a supporter who refers to the Obamacare-supporter-turned-DC-lobbyist as 'a Hoosier' in the past tense -- in his own commercial. Oops:

"I'm a Hoosier, proud to be one, and so was Evan Bayh."

Indiana is a notoriously difficult state to poll, so there's not a lot of great data out of this race. The intangibles still appear to be trending in Republican Todd Young's favor, even if he hasn't taken the lead yet. In Nevada, Joe Heck is still outpacing Harry Reid's personally hand-picked and -endorsed candidate to replace him in virtually every single poll. In Wisconsin, national Republicans have cut Ron Johnson loose, and in Illinois, a new poll confirms that Mark Kirk is likely to be ousted from the seat he narrowly won in 2010. We'll see if some bad headlines for the Democrat there make any difference. Let's run the back-of-the-envelope math: Let's give Democrats WI, IL, IN and PA (or NH). Let's give Republicans OH, FL, NC, NH (or PA), and NV. That would result in a razor-thin 51/49 GOP majority. Flip one of those seats into the blue column, and Chuck Schumer is majority leader, assuming a Hillary victory.  This isn't shaping up to be a wave year, so this outcome will be determined at the margins in a  small handful of races: