No more distractions! The baseball playoffs kept my mind away from obsessing about the elections (the World Series, a little less), then there was the wild weekend just past and Sandy. Now, though, it is time to look at things squarely, without blinders, and tell 'em like I see 'em (before the other pundits go on record).
The House of Representatives
First, some individual races I'll be watching for clues on Election Night:
IL - 8 Tammy Duckworth (D) vs. Joe Walsh. Technically an open seat, Congressman Walsh is shifting to a new district, a somewhat unfavorable one created by the Democratic Legislature in redistricting. Along with Allen West (see below), he rates as one of the worst legacies of the Tea Party wave in 2010. A win by him over Iraq wounded vet and helicopter pilot Duckworth would be disastrous, though I believe it to be unlikely. If he did win, it would be the David Duke Effect (also known as the Tom Bradley Effect), in which the vote goes far stronger to an extreme right-winger than the constituents' polled opinions would suggest.
NH - 1 Frank Guinta (R - incumbent) vs. Carol Shea-Porter. The other New Hampshire district looks to be a pickup for the Democrats with Ann McLane Kuster; this one, a rematch from a close 2010 race, is a tougher task. A win by Shea-Porter should equate to a comfortable Obama win in New Hampshire.
FL - 18 Allen West (R- incumbent) vs. Patrick Murphy. West is flat-out one of the worst, full of bombastic bigotry, and beating him is a big priority for the Democratic party; Murphy is young and a bit green. It's a district in the Gold Coast area, slightly favoring the Democrats, but West's incumbency, and a lot of money, even up the odds.
AZ -2 Ron Barber ( D- incumbent) vs. Martha McSally. Barber won the seat in a special election when Gaby Giffords had to give it up; he used to work as an aide for her. He is favored to hold it.
UT - 4 Jim Matheson (D - incumbent) vs. Mia Love. Matheson is a moderate Democrat (not too liberal, but not a Blue Dog) trying to survive redistricting in a heavily red state. Ms. Love is a new Republican heroine, a conservative black Mormon mayor who spoke at the convention.
It would take a sudden storm surge greater than Sandy to send the Democrats over the top this year--every inch of gain will be hard-fought. I predict a gain of 12-13 seats, to 205-206, short of the 25-seat gain which would be needed to return control to the Democrats.
We begin by tabulating the seats either not up for election this year, locked up for their incumbents, or in the cases of the open seats in Texas and Hawaii, the obvious favorites, Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Mazie Hirono. This is an exercise we did long ago, and our current version of this brings the point of departure count of seats to 42-42, leaving an incredible 16 races close enough to be worth talking about. I will address each of the sixteen briefly, starting with the ones that have the clearest leaders and moving to the ones that are inseparably close, and give the running total:
Maine - Angus King will win the seat with about 60% of the vote. The question is whether this moderately liberal independent can be relied upon to caucus with the Democrats. It no longer appears that his will be the decisive vote for control of the Senate, though. Called here a "Democratic pickup". D, 43-42.
Nebraska - Former Gov./Sen. Bob Kerrey has run a good, hard race against a Tea Party extremist, but it is an uphill struggle for him, or for any Democrat in this state to hold onto Ben Nelson's seat that was--just barely--counted in the Democratic column. . Republican pickup. 43-43.
New Mexico - Congressman Martin Heinrich has opened a lead against former Republican Congresswoman Heather Wilson, both from Albuquerque. I saw a televised debate between them on C-Span: Heinrich is solid on the arguments but not too impressive as a speaker, Wilson still cagey but looking a bit drawn and tired. Heinrich has opened a lead. D, 44-43.
Pennsylvania - Incumbent Democrat Bob Casey has run a weak campaign this year, nothing like what he did six years ago in destroying Rick Santorum. It does appear he will win, though--the Sandy Effect (see the Presidential prediction post) should not be enough to bring him down. D, 45-43.
Florida - Incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson has been challenged, mostly by the huge spending made in the state by Republicans and PAC's, but it appears he will survive--again. D, 46-43.
Connecticut - The seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman, it should go Democratic, but free-wheeling Republican Linda McMahon has spent big money of her own on her candidacy as a Republican, and she has closed the gap. Which doesn't mean she will win, though. D, 47-43.
Ohio - Sherrod Brown is holding on in the ultimate battleground state by a few points (like the President is doing in Ohio, as well), despite being barraged by attack ads. D, 48-43.
Arizona - Rep. Jeff Flake is holding off Democratic nominee Richard Carmona, who has run a good race. Flake is still a slight favorite to hold onto the seat being vacated by Jon Kyl. D, 48-44.
Nevada - Republican Dean Heller won the seat in a special election after it was vacated by disgraced Sen. John Ensign. Heller now seems likely to hold off the challenge of Rep. Shelley Berkley. /D, 48-45.
Massachusetts - I expected this to be one of the closest races, and it is certainly one that will get more than its share of attention on Election Night. I see it as a fairly safe win for Elizabeth Warren, though, over that special election interloper, the incumbent Republican Scott Brown. Basically, he was brought down by his association with the national party. Democratic pickup. D, 49-45.
Missouri - Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill should be losing this one, despite the advantages of incumbency. Instead, her opponent is the infamous Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin, so she should pull out a 2-4 point win. D, 50-45.
North Dakota - This race for the seat Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad is vacating should favor the Republicans for a pickup. Democratic nominee Heidi Heitkamp has run a good political race, tilting a bit populist and anti-liberal to some extent, while seeking plenty of national party and feminist support. North Dakota also has the most vigorous economy in the country, due to a big oil boom. Still, got to go with the Republican Rick Berg here. Republican pickup. D, 50-46.
Virginia - After Massachusetts, and alongside the fate of the extremist Tea Party candidates in Missouri and Indiana, this race rates as one of the biggest stories of the night. Two former governors battling for an open seat with big budgets, major national party involvement, and, of course, the complexity added by Virginia's being one of the most critical swing states in the Presidential election. I give a slight edge (1-2 points) to President Obama's former national party chairman, former Gov. Tim Kaine. D, 51-46.
Indiana - Vying for the seat held by Republican Dick Luger are the Tea Party extremist who defeated him in the Republican primary, Richard "Rape pregnancy? God planned it" Mourdock and moderate (even conservative) Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly. Despite repeated gaffes (Mourdock insisting on speaking honestly), I think he will win, very narrowly--I don't trust the Indiana voters to do the right thing. D, 51-47.
Wisconsin - Democrat Tammy Baldwin has run a strong race to hold the seat of the departing Herb Kohl, but she has a competent, popular, fairly-moderate opponent in former Gov. Tommy Thompson. After this spring's recall vote which went to Gov. Scott Walker, I don't trust the Wisconsin voters much, either. Republican pickup. D, 51-48.
Montana - Moderate (even conservative) Senator Jon Tester (the farmer with the crewcut) has run hard to save his seat; he has a typical Western Republican (think: Goldwater-type) opponent in Rep. Denny Rehberg. I expect this race to be too close to call all night, maybe even subject to a recount with the outcome in doubt. At the end of the day, though, I think the Republican will win. Republican pickup. D, 51-49.
So, my picks are for four seats gained by the Republicans vs. two for the Democrats, a net gain of two. I'm leaning toward the Republicans' winning the closest races, with the exception of Virginia's. The Democrats would still hold a majority that would be somewhat safe, assuming Maine's King goes with them, even without the tie-breaking vote of the Vice President. We will look at the race for Joe Biden's seat (and, President Obama's), in our next post.