The Race for the Senate: Who Will Come Out on Top?
Missouri: I'm assuming we don't need to relive Rep. Todd Akin's August "legitimate rape" and pregnancy doc comments here. Republicans ran from the congressman, the NRSC and the RNC pulled funding, and a dogpile of partisans urged him to drop out of the race because beating Sen. Claire McCaskill was the first priority. Akin stubbornly refused to drop out and pulled conservatives Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich to his side. And he hasn't run from his own comments: Akin's new ad features a rape survivor explaining why she's voting for him, and McCaskill's new ad features Mitt Romney denouncing him. McCaskill leads by a 5-point average, and just suffered a personal tragedy that could turn voters sympathetic in this nasty campaign. She canceled campaign events last week before her mother, Betty Anne McCaskill, passed away. The first women elected to the Columbia, Mo., City Council, the elder McCaskill may help evoke some Democratic dynasty feelings around the senator's campaign. I think in the end this race will go to the incumbent.
Indiana: This race moved from a safe GOP seat to the toss-up category with the defeat of longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) is an anti-abortion Blue Dog Democrat. State treasurer Richard Mourdock is a conservative backed by the Tea Party who wants to mix things up in Washington. Internal polling by the Dems shows Donnelly up by 9 points, and internal GOP polling shows a dead heat. In a televised debate on Oct. 23, Mourdock said he believes "even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." Dems pounced and Mourdock ably explained his pro-life convictions. Unlike Akin, there was no throwing under the bus and NRSC chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) put out a statement supporting Mourdock. I think this one will be tight, perhaps recount-tight. Mourdock will likely edge out Donnelly, who doesn't have the same grass-roots mobilization in a state that leans Republican. I won't be surprised if the race does fall Dem, though.
North Dakota: GOP Rep. Rick Berg is challenging former Attorney General Heidi Heitekamp for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). The state had the same Democratic senators for many years: Conrad and Byron Dorgan. Then in 2010, former Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican, replaced the retiring Dorgan. Berg has been one of the House Republicans in the forefront of drawing attention to the wildly successful fracking boom in his state's Bakken oil fields. With such benefits reaped from an operation so supported by Republicans, it's hard to see this race going to the Dems. Heitkamp has been hanging in there in the polls, but I'd call this one for Berg.
Ohio: I saw many tweets last night hoping that the senator caught up in the sex scandal allegations would be incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown, who is being challenged by state treasurer Josh Mandel. Brown is liberal. Mandel is conservative. The state is moderate -- that's why it's the coveted be-all, end-all swing state. Presidential turnout is definitely going to influence this race, where Brown now has a 5.5 point polling average on his young challenger. The GOP has been pouring money into this race to take out Brown. But I predict Brown will hold on to his seat.
Wisconsin: Here's another tight race, this one for retiring Sen. Herb Kohl's (D) seat. It's Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) versus former Gov. Tommy Thompson, a popular Republican and former Health and Human Services secretary. Obama stomped Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) here in 2008, but GOP Gov. Scott Walker's survival against a union-led recall effort and a thinner poll margin favoring Obama suggest that "too liberal" is not in. This is probably one of the better pickup opportunities for the GOP, and I'm going to predict Thompson can pull it off.
Florida: GOP Rep. Connie Mack has been a strong foe of tyrants such as Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, and Mack has been courting the same Cuban voters who helped Marco Rubio ascend to the Senate. Not to mention, Mack and Mary Bono (R-Calif.) are the cutest couple in the House. However, Mack's never been quite able to catch up to incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D). I think Nelson will keep his seat.
Nebraska: Former governor and Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) is aiming to be the comeback kid here in a quest to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Dem who found it was time to retire after giving in as the deciding vote for ObamaCare. Kerrey just won the endorsement of Chuck Hagel, a two-term former GOP senator from the state. The numbers are in favor of state senator Deb Fischer, who's getting a hand from McCain and conservative groups. Fischer should win this race. If there's going to be a "who says you can't go back" upset on election night, though, it would probably be here with a Kerrey win.
Pennsylvania: Sen. Bob Casey (D), son of the state's late former governor, is being challenged by GOP CEO Tom Smith, who rounds out the trifecta of candidates who have gotten into hot water over comments concerning rape this election cycle. Republican campaign officials have shown great interest in a possible upset here. Recent polls have showed Smith gaining ground on Casey, who had a comfortable lead for most of the race (and thus probably forgot to, like, campaign). Pennsylvania elected a Republican in 2010, Sen. Pat Toomey, who edged out a Democrat who wasn't a good campaigner, Rep. Joe Sestak. But I'm guessing that Casey got his wake-up call and this seat will stay blue.