The State of the Senate

There are currently 11 seats that the Democrats could conceivably win next Tuesday. Looking at the races, at least four of the Republican seats are definite goners — New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, and Alaska — with New Hampshire probably gone as well. That leaves six races on the bubble, with Democrats and Republicans each having the edge in three.

In Oregon and Minnesota, Democrats have to be favorites right now, especially given Obama’s likely victory margins in the two states. I’d give Norm Coleman a better shot than Gordon Smith just because there’s always the possibility that Minnesotans won’t want to put comedian Al Franken in the Senate (though this is the state that gave us Gov. Jesse Ventura). Trends have been going against Elizabeth Dole and she isn’t a great campaigner, so Democrats have the edge in the North Carolina race as well, but given that McCain will be more competitive in the state, let’s say she has a fighting chance.

That leaves us with three Republican seats  — Kentucky, Mississippi, and Georgia — that are more competitive than they should be, but are likely to stay in GOP hands. McCain is expected to win all three states comfortably, and I think that the argument against unified Obama-Reid-Pelosi control of government will have special resonance there. The most recent polls show Roger Wicker taking a commanding double-digit lead in Mississippi, while Mitch McConnell continues to lead in Kentucky polls, albiet by a narrower margin. In Georgia, though Democratic challenger Jim Martin has made Saxby Chambliss sweat, Martin hasn’t lead in a public poll all year. A strong showing by Libertarian Allen Buckley could keep Chambliss under 50 percent, thus triggering the state’s run-off rule. However, with the outcome of the Senate already known by the time any run-off takes place, Chambliss can explicitly make the “don’t give Obama a blank check” argument in a solid Republican state, and thus would likely prevail. (It’s true that some recent polls have shown the presidential race getting close in the state, but Obama just released his public schedule through Election Day and Georgia isn’t on it, suggesting to me that the campaign doesn’t see a realistic possibility of flipping it, and making it less likely that Martin will gain the 50 percent needed to avert a run-off).

So, to sum up, the most likely outcome right now is that Democrats gain eight seats, leaving Republicans with just 41 senators, which should be enough for an effectively filibuster-proof majority given wobbly Republicans, but fall short of an outright Democratic supermajority. The best hope for Republicans right now — barring a major upset — is that they hang on to at least two of the following three seats — Oregon, Minnesota, and/or North Carolina.