John Bolton

John Bolton

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Will GOP Take Control of U.S. Senate in 2010?

Did Scott Brown's election signal that a GOP victory wave is on the way?

Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) Sworn in...FINALLY!

Vice President Joe Biden, right, reenacts the swearing in of Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. , left, as Brown's wife Gail Huff holds the family bibles, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010,in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington. Earlier, Brown was sworn in on the floor of the Senate.
Can GOP Take the Senate?

Even in the days following Brown's election, Larry Sabato, one of the best political analysts, predicted the GOP would make only a further 3-5 seat gain in November; well short of the ten additional seats needed for the GOP to take control of the Senate. In early February, Larry polished his crystal ball and found fresh data for a more optimistic, yet still cautious takeover scenario:
Keeping Our Senate Sensibility
By Larry J. Sabato, Director, U.Va. Center for Politics
Sabato's Crystal Ball
February 4th, 2010

The Crystal Ball was the first to project that Republicans had a good chance to pull Democrats all the way down to 52 Senate seats in November. (See our latest Senate article here). So we’re certainly not hesitant to predict big Republican gains. But any serious suggestion that the GOP can win outright the 51 seats it needs for control is getting well past the data we have available. Republicans would first need to reelect all their incumbents who are on the ballot plus hold all their open seats (OH, NH, KS, MO, FL, KY). This is doable, though no one is yet going to bet the farm on New Hampshire, Missouri, and Kentucky, given the strong Democratic candidates that give the party a real shot in those states. Republicans would also have to defeat Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Arlen Specter (D-PA), and Harry Reid (D-NV). Current polling suggests this is quite possible—though one or more could recover ground by November. Then Republicans would have to grab Democratic open seats in North Dakota, Delaware, and Illinois. The GOP will get North Dakota, has a very good shot at Delaware, and starts out with at least a 50-50 chance in Illinois.

If all of that goes perfectly for Republicans—a big “if” from the perspective of February—then the GOP would need 3 additional seats. Those three would have to come from some combination of the following seats: Barbara Boxer (D-CA), open seat of Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI). Right now, Republicans don’t have a single announced candidate who credibly leads in any of these contests. Yes, the GOP has “dream candidates” such as Dino Rossi (WA), George Pataki (NY), and Tommy Thompson (WI) that the party would like to see run. Former Sen. Dan Coats could possibly be a real threat to Bayh, if somehow Coats can compete with Bayh’s enormous $12 million warchest. But at this moment, a ‘no’ is more likely than a ‘yes’ from the dream candidates in WA, NY, and WI. As far as Barbara Boxer is concerned, observers always say she’s vulnerable and she ends up winning handily every time. In Connecticut it is difficult to see how Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal loses, from the perspective of February.
GOP Wave in 2010?

To win big, the GOP would have to ride a voter wave of discontent with Obama and the Democrats. In my political life I have only seen two GOP waves. The first in 1980 swept Ronald Reagan into the White House and Republicans took control of the Senate. In that year, the GOP held all their incumbents, took three open seats and defeated nine Dem incumbents, including Birch Bayh of Indiana, the father of Evan Bayh, whose seat is up in 2010. Balance was 53-47 in favor of the GOP. The GOP held the majority in the Senate until 1986 during a very difficult election in the middle of Reagan's last term as President.

1994 was the second GOP wave. The long elusive goal of retaking the House occurred with a stunning gain of 54 seats (the first time this had happened since 1954). The GOP retook control of the Senate by winning six open seats and knocking off two incumbents. Later, two Democrats, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado switched to the GOP. Final balance that year was 53-47 favoring the GOP.

Since Brown's Election, GOP Heavyweights Stepping Up

Wave or no wave, the best way to ensure success in dethroning the Democrats is to nominate the strongest, most competitive candidates. Since Brown's election, top shelf candidates have been coming out of the woodwork.

Dan Coats, the former Republican Senator from Indiana announced Wednesday he is considering a run to unseat Evan Bayh from the seat Bayh won in 1998 after Coats retired. Former Governor George Pataki is considering a run in New York which would put the seat held currently by Kristen Gillibrand in jeopardy. Likewise, if Tommy Thompson, the former Governor of Wisconsin runs against Feingold, that seat too would be in jeopardy.

There has been some criticism on the right that entries such as the three above are disappointing retreads, not the new brand of conservative like the exciting Marco Rubio who continues to surge ahead of Florida Governor Crist in advance of that state's primary on August 28. However, like it was in this week's Illinois primary where GOP moderate Mark Kirk won handily and is set for a very competitive race to take Barack Obama's old Senate seat, the Tea Party candidate never caught on.

The primary schedule for 2010 will soon heat up and any candidate considering a serious run will need to have financial backing and organization in place quite soon to take their shot at winning.

Notice that the first wave was 1980 and the second was 1994. We are overdue for a third. Solid candidates including conservative newcomers like Rubio will make this a very interesting year!

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