The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato is one of the most reliable political analysts and forecasters in America. Unlike some popular political pundits who suggest they analyze and forecast (one in particular who I get by email) but are partisan and ideology based, Sabato is a solid political scientist who isn’t issuing forecasts for political reasons. And his latest Crystal Ball entry has grim news for Demcorats: He predicts they face a virtual political Katrina on election day. Some excerpts:
The Crystal Ball’s predictions are clinical. We are fond of people in both parties. We cheer for no one.
2010 was always going to be a Republican year, in the midterm tradition. It has simply been a question of degree. Several scenarios were possible, depending in large measure on whether, or how quickly, the deeply troubled American economy recovered from the Great Recession. Had Democratic hopes on economic revitalization materialized, it is easy to see how the party could have used its superior financial resources, combined with the tendency of Republicans in some districts and states to nominate ideological fringe candidates, to keep losses to the low 30s in the House and a handful in the Senate.
But conditions have deteriorated badly for Democrats over the summer. The economy appears rotten, with little chance of a substantial comeback by November 2nd. Unemployment is very high, income growth sluggish, and public confidence quite low. The Democrats’ self-proclaimed “Recovery Summer” has become a term of derision, and to most voters—fair or not—it seems that President Obama has over-promised and under-delivered.
His forecast: Republicans are posed to take over the House and could well take over the Senate as well.
Obama’s job approval ratings have drifted down well below 50% in most surveys. The generic ballot that asks likely voters whether they will cast ballots for Democrats or Republicans this year has moved increasingly in the GOP direction. While far less important, other controversies such as the mosque debate and immigration policy have made the climate worse for Democrats. Republican voters are raring to vote, their energy fueled by anti-Obama passion and concern over debt, spending, taxes, health care, and the size of government. Democrats are much less enthusiastic by almost every measure, and the Democratic base’s turnout will lag. Plus, Democrats have won over 50 House seats in 2006 and 2008, many of them in Republican territory, so their exposure to any sort of GOP wave is high.
Given what we can see at this moment, Republicans have a good chance to win the House by picking up as many as 47 seats, net. This is a “net” number since the GOP will probably lose several of its own congressional districts in Delaware, Hawaii, and Louisiana. This estimate, which may be raised or lowered by Election Day, is based on a careful district-by-district analysis, plus electoral modeling based on trends in President Obama’s Gallup job approval rating and the Democratic-versus-Republican congressional generic ballot (discussed later in this essay). If anything, we have been conservative in estimating the probable GOP House gains, if the election were being held today.
In the Senate, we now believe the GOP will do a bit better than our long-time prediction of +7 seats. Republicans have an outside shot at winning full control (+10), but are more likely to end up with +8 (or maybe +9, at which point it will be interesting to see how senators such as Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and others react). GOP leaders themselves did not believe such a result was truly possible just a few months ago. If the Republican wave on November 2 is as large as some polls are suggesting it may be, then the surprise on election night could be a full GOP takeover. Since World War II, the House of Representatives has flipped parties on six occasions (1946, 1948, 1952, 1954, 1994, and 2006). Every time, the Senate flipped too, even when it had not been predicted to do so. These few examples do not create an iron law of politics, but they do suggest an electoral tendency.
The seat switches are probably coming in Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware (but only if the eventual GOP nominee is Rep. Mike Castle), Indiana, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. We expect Republicans to pick off at least a couple of these states: California, Illinois, Nevada, Washington, and Wisconsin. While it is possible that Republicans will lose one or two of their own open seats, the only 50-50 chance of that right now is in Florida—and it might not happen even there. There can also be unanticipated shockers if a GOP wave develops. While we rate Gov. Joe Manchin (D) the early favorite to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s seat, his Republican opponent, John Raese, is a self-funder in a strongly anti-Obama state.
The inescapable conclusion is that the Senate is on the bubble, with only a slight lean at Labor Day toward Democratic retention.
And the statehouses? He has been predicting a net gain of 6. Now he predicts 8. Go the link to read it in its entirety — and read Sabato if you want to analyze politics and some of the other consultants, forecasters and talking heads if you want to read what they are rooting to see happen.
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.