Larry Sabato’s Final Forecast: Republicans Take the House, Democrats Take the Senate

The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, arguably one of the most accurate election forecasters in the country in the Crystal Ball forecasts issued by him and his top team, is now making his final prediction: the Republicans will take the House and the Democrats will retain the Senate — but he doesn’t rule out a GOP surprise on the Senate front given post-World War II political trending.

Here are the key sections.

The House:

The Crystal Ball was the first nonpartisan ratings service to call the House for the Republicans this year. Before Labor Day we issued a projection of +47 net gains for the Republicans. We based this both on a district-by-district analysis and also a careful review of the underlying election variables, from the generic ballot to presidential job approval to likely statewide coattail.

We believe +47 was the right call, though at the time the number was considered startling to most. The likely switch of the House to the GOP was fiercely disputed by Democrats at that time. Many other nonpartisan prognosticators had estimated Republican gains as being below the 39 net required for a GOP takeover.

Even at this late date, we see no need to do anything but tweak the total R gains, based on more complete information now available to all. Thus, we are raising the total to +55 net R seats. We consider 47 to be in the ballpark still, but more of a floor than a ceiling. In fact, if you’ll go back to our pre-Labor Day analysis, that’s exactly what we suggested +47 would end up being.

The Senate:

The Crystal Ball has operated within a very narrow range all year. When others were projecting GOP Senate gains of just +3-4, we were already at +6. Depending on the primary results and other circumstances, we’ve landed between +6 and +9 in the last half-year. We have never gotten to +10, the number needed for Republican takeover of the Senate, and we do not do so in this final forecast either. To us, the number of GOP gains looks to be +8. Ten was always a stretch.

We believe the GOP will hold all its open seats (FL, KY, MO, NH, OH). This is quite an accomplishment in itself, since the early assumption was that at least a couple would switch sides. In addition, Republicans will probably pick up most of the following: AR, CO, IL, IN, NV, ND, PA, and WI. The closest appear to be CO, IL, NV, and PA. These races, especially the first three, are so tight that a strong breeze could change the result, so the GOP may well come up one or two short in this category. By the way, if Republicans do win the +8 we have projected, then they only have to unexpectedly pick off two of the following states to take control: CA, CT, WA, or WV. CT seems least likely, WA most likely–but any of the foursome would be an upset.

In our pre-Labor Day analysis, however, we noted a historical anomaly: Since World War II, the House has changed parties six times, and in every case, the Senate switched, too. In five of the six cases, most prognosticators did not see the Senate turnover coming. (Only in 2006 did some guess correctly, including the Crystal Ball.) So if we have a big surprise on election night, this could be it, despite the pre-election odds against it.

Go to the link above to read the details and see the graphics giving data on each race.

Last night on Hardball, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, along with The Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman and Time’s Mark Halperin, went through the various scenarios of how Congress could go and the meaning. The consensus is that if the House went GOP and the Senate stayed Democrat that would actually be the best outcome in terms of the possibilities of any kind of compromise between Democrats and Republicans.

Either way the prevailing question is going to be whether Barack Obama has the political smarts and nimbenelss of a Harry Truman or Bill Clinton to turn this kind of new era to his advantage or whether he’ll be frustrated and outmaneuvered and wind up a one-term President.