For several months, we’ve held steady on our range of expected gains for Republicans in the Senate: a net of four to eight seats. With Labor Day in the rearview mirror and with less than 55 days to go until the midterms, we’re giving Republicans a slight bump: Our new range is a Republican net of five to eight Senate seats.
This means that the best-case scenario we can now envision for Democrats is a 50-50 tie in the Senate, with Vice President Joe Biden’s tiebreaking vote narrowly keeping Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) as majority leader.
The likeliest outcome remains a Republican gain of six or seven seats, which we noted before Labor Day and stand by now. That would be good for a narrow 51-49 or 52-48 Republican Senate majority.
What’s changed? Not a whole lot: It’s just that the weight of an unpopular president in the White House and a GOP-leaning Senate map is subtly moving things a tick or two in the Republican direction.
We do have one major rating change this week: Arkansas is going from Toss-up to Leans Republican. We had Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) as an underdog earlier this cycle, and we’re putting him back there now based on the growing weight of polling data. If one assumes Republicans will net Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia, they need at least two more seats to meet the low end of our range. Arkansas looks like the next domino to fall, and if that comes to pass, the GOP will have netted four seats. (More on this in our race-by-race analysis below.) Given the wide range of other targets for Republicans in the Senate — Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, and North Carolina, with other conceivable but more remote possibilities in Michigan, Minnesota, and New Hampshire — it seems reasonable to expect that the GOP will net at least one more assuming they don’t lose any of their current seats. Hence the new range.
Given that Republicans are poised, we believe, for substantial Senate gains, we’re wondering: What would count as a “wave” for the GOP in the Senate?
As emeritus Prof. Al Tuchfarber of the University of Cincinnati wrote in the Crystal Ball last week, waves have a “very specific semi-formal definition” from a political science standpoint, which is that one party or the other nets 20 or more seats in the House.
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