Pundits typically take a conservative approach to their previews (born of many late electoral changes they didn't see coming, no doubt): assume incumbents win, shift when the evidence is overwhelming, and make the right call late. We don't roll that way (or do we?--see the Bottom Line). This will be the last full-length review; if we see some changes worth noting, we'll make them in the comments.
We refer you to our prior previews from January, February, July, and earlier this week. We don't run from any of that analysis, and we accept that we are somewhat on the leftward tail in terms of expectations. We're looking to the endgame, assuming that Democrats will get their campaign together, that Republicans will have visible fault lines behind their pretended unity, and that voters, especially independent voters, will think twice before they hand the keys back to the Bushites (or the neo-Bushites).
In this view, we will take a look at what two key partisan organizations--the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the right-wing operation The Club for Growth--have said publicly about which are the key races. And, through implication, which may not be.
Going Where The Rant Leads Us
"The Rant" is a semi-blog operated by the DSCC, and this week they sent a missive--actually, two of them--to me seeking contributions for their races of interest. The first one listed twelve races where they saw a chance and were either asking me to "Contribute" (marked below with a +) or "Defeat Them" (a -). I figure in the former case they want to promote the quality of their candidates, in the latter, they plan to go negative at the Republicans.
As I've suggested before, I think it's best to contribute to individual races where there's a real Democrat with a real chance to win, not just to punt money to the DSCC and let them decide where to spend it. Here are those DSCC-featured races, with commentary from yours truly:
Alaska (-) This might have seemed like a waste of time; Tea Party candidate Joe Miller, a personal fave of Sarah Palin, is a little less of a favorite over Democratic also-ran Scott McAdams than the incumbent ("Establishment", and a personal rival of Palin), Lisa Murkowski. But now, the plot thickens with the announcement that Murkowski is not going to play nice, and will seek to run either as a third-party candidate or a write-in candidate. Either way, it could make things interesting, though I'm not sure it makes McAdams viable or that Murkowski, should she win, would ever caucus with the Dems. Conclusion: Don't bother.
California (+) Barbara Boxer is worth caring about; Carly Fiorina is worth making an effort to defeat. This race is hugely expensive, and pretty close. I am fairly confident Boxer will win in the end. Conclusion: Don't bother--unless you have a whole lot of money to burn.
Colorado (+) Appointed Senator Michael Bennet (and he's been a very good one; pushed hard for the public option, for example) is in a very tough race against right-winger Pat Buck (he likes the TP support, but has drawn the line at birthers). Bennet was behind but has caught up. This is one candidate I've already contributed to, and may do so again. Conclusion: Give now!
Connecticut (-) This is a must-win for the Democrats, and Attorney General Blumenthal has held the lead consistently since Chris Dodd dropped out long ago. The negative is because the Republican candidate, World Wrestling Federation bigwig wife Linda McMahon, is a big, nasty target. Appropriately so. If I were a Connectican, I would work on turnout, because a poor turnout is the only way Blumenthal can lose. Conclusion--No need to give $$.
Delaware (+) Chris Coons may be a nice guy--he's a favorite of Harry Reid--but the real play is negative ads about new upstart candidate Christine O'Donnell (nice, but batty). The best of all would be if they could get ads showing defeated moderate Republican candidate Michael Castle (who would've been a huge favorite if he'd won this week's primary) saying why he isn't endorsing O'Donnell. Don't take our word for it, take the word of the state's most successful Republican politician. Coons should now win if Dems don't relax. Conclusion--see Connecticut.
Illinois (-) This is doomed to be a negative campaign in which Republican Kirk and Democrat Giannolias are going to hammer away at each other's faults. The race is and has been genuinely close, but I would be shocked if the Democrats lose: in the end, I expect the Chicago machine to do its job. Conclusion--Let them do it.
Kentucky (-) This is one of those for which the Democrats claim that "there are 15 races within 5 points" is somewhat hollow: Tea-bagger Rand Paul isn't leading by much (the Republicans could've had a much easier time if he'd lost the primary), but I see the lead as more than 5. I gave some to the moderate Democrat, Jack Conway, because I'd really like to see my birth state do the right thing, but it seems unlikely at this point. Conclusion--a bit of a longshot, but it's up to you.
New Hampshire (-) I think the negative tack is the wrong way, because Paul Hodes is a Democrat worth praising. The Republican nominee, Kelly Ayotte, barely survived a tough TP challenge and has been weakened. Conclusion: A good give, though risky.
Nevada (-) Reid's challenger, Tea-bag Sharron "Right" Angle, is about as bad as they come. Going negative probably makes sense, given the dire straits of Nevada's economy--Reid may have delivered some Federal benefit to the state, but it's not nearly enough. The one thing is, Reid's campaign is going to have plenty of money. Conclusion--Don't give, and better hope he doesn't blow it.
Pennsylvania (-) I refuse to believe that Joe Sestak can't beat former Wall Street right-winger Pat Toomey, but Toomey continues to lead by 5-10 points. I consider Sestak one of the best candidates out there. This is technically a seat the Democrats are trying to hold, because of primary loser Arlen Specter's 2009 party conversion, but it's been uphill the whole way. Toomey currently has a small lead, but there is a high percentage of undecided, so there is still reason for hope. Conclusion--If there appears to be a chance, give to Sestak.
Washington (+) Patty Murray's been a good Senator, though not outstanding like her Democratic colleague Maria Cantwell. She's got a tough opponent in Dino Rossi, and it appears she's slightly ahead. The state trends Democratic, so I'm cautiously optimistic; this is an important race because it's one the Republicans would need to win if they're to take over the Senate. Conclusion--I'd certainly countenance a contribution.
Wisconsin (+) This is Russ Feingold we're talking about, after Bernie Sanders probably the most progressive Senator, and he's in a tough race with a rich right-winger. I thought Feingold, who's been raising money for this race for years, had enough money, but this race may be draining it. Conclusion--better give (I did recently), as we'll all be sorry if he loses.
After the initial Rant request, I got another later in the day asking for money on these four races. I think it was an afterthought--better not ignore any triggers that might spur giving--but I don't bite:
Missouri (-) Decent Democratic nominee (Robin Carnahan, of the family of popular deceased Senator Mel Carnahan), but she has an uphill fight against Republican incumbent Roy Blount. Conclusion--I'm skeptical--"show me" you can win, Robin.
Indiana (+) This hasn't been well handled by the Democrats, as Brad Ellsworth gave up his House seat (which will now probably be lost) to step up for this improbable race. Conclusion--Don't bother.
Louisiana (-) Railing against hypocritical right-wing sinner John Vitter might draw some money, but he's going to win, unfortunately. Conclusion--not this time.
West Virginia (+) It would make sense for the DSCC to give to Democratic Governor Joe Manchin, against a rich, free-spending opponent. They need to make sure he wins in this recently Republican-trending state, one that Democrats need to count upon to be sure of their majority, but that doesn't mean you or I should give. Conclusion--let them handle it.
The Club for Growth choices for big-money contributions are Nevada, Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. These are well-targeted: each is a hot race with a right-wing Republican nominee with a serious chance to win.
Florida is a special case, and notable because the DSCC doesn't seem to be getting behind its nominee, Kendrick Meek, who would be very supportable--if he had a chance to win (he doesn't). It's almost unfortunate that he is running well since winning the nomination, because he's cutting into the votes of Charlie Crist, who's running as an independent and is the best chance to stop TP Republican star Marco Rubio. I had hopes for Crist's chances, but I see them slipping away, something in retrospect I should've seen coming: third-party candidates often lose support late if the two major parties don't yield the field.
The other race notable in its omission from the DSCC Rants is Ohio: the state is trending extremely badly for Democrats, the Democrats' candidate never caught fire, and the chances there are slipping away.
Bottom Line Time
In terms of candidates to individual races, then, I'm strongly recommending contributions in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; somewhat less fervently, in New Hampshire, Kentucky, Washington, and California; and urging local involvement in Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, and Delaware (trusting that those races will get plenty of money). The mechanism to give to specific races? You can certainly look up the individual candidates' websites, but one easy way to pick the ones you want to give is through ActBlue.
O'Donnell's upset primary win takes Delaware from "certain Republican gain" to "probable hold". Rubio's pulling away from Crist puts Florida into "probable hold" for the Republicans. This leaves me with the following slightly optimistic assessments of competitive races or seat switches (Nate Silver's probabilities of party turnover appended):
North Dakota, Arkansas --never in doubt (100%!)
Democratic Uphill Struggles
Pennsylvania--would be sort of a hold (92%!)
New Hampshire--would be a pickup (20%)
Colorado (72%), Nevada (52%)
Feeling Somewhat Confident Now
Illinois (55%), Wisconsin (33%), Washington (30%), California (42%), Connecticut (2%), West Virginia (10%), Delaware (6%).
I'd Love to Believe, But Don't See It (reluctantly, Republican seat holds)
Florida (22%), Alaska (5%, but not updated for Murkowski's renegade run), Ohio(7%), Missouri (7%), Kentucky (9%).
I'll go conservative--but against the conventional wisdom--with party holds in all but the three certain or near-certain Republican takeovers. That would make the count Democrats 54, Republicans 44, plus Sanders (who counts as a Dem) and Lieberman (who doesn't, really). The big ones for me then--where I'm going against Silver's current probabilities--are Sestak in Pennsylvania, Reid in Nevada, Bennett in Colorado, and Giannoulias in Illinois. We also need to hold the others we should win (WI, WA, CA, CT, WV, and DE). Silver has approximately equal probabilities for 51-53 Democrats (counting the two independents).
Finally, for those who put their money where their predictions are, there are two Intrade bets I notice: on whether the Republicans will control 50 or more seats, the price is 42 (42%, roughly speaking); if they will control the Senate, it's 22%. The difference is that, with Vice President Biden able to cast the tie-breaking vote, the Republicans actually need 51 Senators to control that house of Congress.
Note: the only real movements in this prediction from my last was giving up on Florida and Crist, backing away on Paul Hodes' chances in New Hampshire, and flipping Delaware from a near-certain Republican pickup to a probable Democratic hold.