GOP Still Sees Gains in November Despite Tightening Races

The midterm Senate polls show several races tightening, with Democrats making key gains in the most decisive races. Factors in the individual states are responsible for these changes, but the passage of the health care bill is probably playing a role as well.

The media’s attention is no longer solely focused on this losing issue for Democrats, which amounted to a 24-7 free negative advertisement that benefited Republicans. However, at the same time, it is quite possible that the polls are underestimating turnout by Republicans and fiscally conservative independents, making a number of contests turn into dramatic horse races at this time.

The GOP currently has 41 seats, so a pickup of 10 seats are needed for the Senate to flip. To take the Senate, the Republicans will almost certainly have to hold all of their current seats. If they do not, then it is a sign that the predicted conservative tidal wave has been greatly exaggerated. Of these, the Democrats will focus on two races: Kentucky and Ohio -- the latter of which will be a real fight. The controversy over Rand Paul’s comments on civil rights has caused some hope for the Democrats in Kentucky. One poll has Paul up by only three points, but this appears to be an outlier as the survey was sponsored by the Daily Kos. Kentucky is a solid GOP state, so this one can still be considered safe.

There are currently three tiers of races that get progressively more difficult for the GOP to win. The easy races in the first tier are in Delaware, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Indiana. It is highly unlikely that the GOP will walk away from the November elections without 44 seats at the very least.

The second tier races have been favorable for the Republicans, although they have tightened -- in some cases, dramatically. The Republicans can be most optimistic about Illinois, where Mark Kirk seems to have established a solid lead of an average of five points, although revelations about "misstating" his military record may change that. But the Democrats have surged in Nevada, Colorado, and Pennsylvania after sizable Republican leads have disappeared. In a stunning comeback, Harry Reid is now statistically tied with the Republican candidates in one poll. It remains to be seen if this was a fluke.

Colorado was considered safe, but Jane Norton is only ahead of Michael Bennett by an average of one point (and losing slightly in some polls) and polls show Ken Buck would lose if he were the nominee. In Pennsylvania, Republican Pat Toomey had a secure, growing lead as the Democratic primary fight waged, but has begun losing ground to Joe Sestak. The key question is whether Sestak's victory bounce will dissipate. In Ohio, Democrat Lee Fisher has held a small but consistent lead over GOP nominee Rob Portman since April.