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Race Rating Changes: The Final Push

Race Rating Changes: The Final Push
Supporters of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listen Sunday during a rally in Des Moines, Iowa. With two days before Election Day, Romney is campaigning in swing states across the country. (Emmanuel Dunando/AFP/Getty Images)

Heading into the final weekend of barnstorming before Election Day, there was a noticeable shift toward the GOP in many key House races while Democrats seem to be getting more good news than bad about the Senate map.

First, the Senate math:

Yes, it’s quite possible (even likely) that Democrats such as Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Bob Casey (Pa.) will have closer margins on Election Day than most expect. But Democrats are likely to hold both seats, and the climb for Republicans to net the four seats they need for an outright majority (if President Barack Obama is re-elected) seems steep heading into election week.

Here’s what we know: Republicans are likely to pick up two Senate seats in Nebraska and North Dakota (although the race there remains close). Those gains are likely to be offset by Democratic pickups in Massachusetts and Maine, where an Independent is poised to win and will likely caucus with Democrats. Assuming Republicans hold their seats in Arizona and Nevada, which seems like a good bet, that’s a zero net gain, leaving the chamber’s makeup at 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans.

The worst news for Republicans in the final week was in Indiana, where an independent poll showed Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) up by 11 points over state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R). The final result will no doubt be much closer, but the poll strongly suggests the race is Donnelly’s to lose.

If Democrats pick up that Senate seat, it leaves the very tight contests in Montana, Virginia and Wisconsin to decide the final Senate breakdown. Even if Republicans run the table in those races, they would still only end up with 49 seats.

Now, the House math:

The way the final House map is shaping up, there really isn’t much math to be done — a very bad sign for Democrats. About a month ago it seemed at least possible that Democrats could see a net seat gain in the high single digits or low double digits. But races that looked pretty good or were even for Democrats have shifted significantly toward Republicans as the national environment and presidential race tightened.

Democratic incumbents Reps. Jim Matheson (Utah) and John Tierney (Mass.) are very likely to lose. Others such as Reps. Bill Owens (N.Y.), David Cicilline (R.I.), Jerry McNerney (Calif.) and Ben Chandler (Ky.) are in worse shape than they were a few weeks ago. At the same time, some Republican incumbents who, in early October, looked likely headed for defeat are very much still in the game. That group includes Reps. Dan Benishek (Mich.) and Ann Marie Buerkle (N.Y.).

Two conservative Democrats could hang on and win on Tuesday: Reps. John Barrow in Georgia and Mike McIntyre in North Carolina. But Republicans are likely to win the two Member-vs.-Member contests (pitting a Republican against a Democrat), and Democrats won’t hold any open seats in conservative districts (in North Carolina, Oklahoma and Arkansas).

It’s notable that some of the races that have fallen off the map for House Democrats are in states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which are competitive at the presidential level and have competitive Senate races. Redistricting was a big factor that hampered Democrats in both.

A handful of GOP incumbents will likely lose next week, but the fact that all of our final House ratings changes — save for one — are benefiting Republicans speaks volumes about where the final margin will end up. Democrats are likely to see a net gain somewhere in the mid-to-low single digits. There’s no doubt that’s a disappointment for party leaders.

See all of our ratings for Senate and House races here and here.

Here are our most recent rating changes:

  • Connecticut Senate: Tossup to Leans Democratic
    Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon’s (R) early ad spending put this seat into the competitive mix, but Democrats said all along that Rep. Christopher Murphy would get some breathing room after the party began to go negative against her on television. According to the most recent polling, they were right.
  • Massachusetts Senate: Tossup to Leans Democratic
    It was always going to be a very tough job for Sen. Scott Brown (R) to hold the seat he won in a special election. It’s a testament to the strength of Brown and the campaign he has run that he was able to keep his race against Elizabeth Warren so close for so long. But heading into the last weekend before the election, it was clear that Warren has the edge in this very Democratic state.
  • Arizona’s 1st: Leans Democratic to Tossup
    Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) began as the frontrunner in this race, but Republicans have spent heavily in support of former state Sen. Jonathan Paton. When pretty much every operative in the state agrees that her chances on Tuesday depend on turnout on Native American reservations, this one is going to be tight.
  • Arizona’s 2nd: Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic
    A late rush of partisan spending in this district has made the race between Rep. Ron Barber and Republican Martha McSally more competitive. Barber, who won a special election this year to replace ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D), still has the edge heading into Election Day, albeit a slight one.
  • Indiana’s 8th: Likely Republican to Safe Republican
    This was already a very long shot for Democrats, who argued that former state Rep. Dave Crooks was a good recruit for this conservative district. But Crooks’ resources have dried up, making Rep. Larry Bucshon’s return to Congress secure.
  • Kentucky’s 6th: Leans Democratic to Tossup
    Rep. Ben Chandler (D) survived one of the closest races of 2010, so it’s not surprising that his rematch with Andy Barr looks to be highly competitive. Last cycle, Chandler was fighting the strong GOP national wave. On Tuesday his biggest battle is the drag from his own party at the top of the ticket.
  • Michigan’s 1st: Leans Democratic to Tossup
    Rep. Dan Benishek (R) very well could become a one-term wonder when voters go to the polls on Tuesday. But he could also survive and eek out a victory, which is a better position than many operatives believed he was in a few weeks ago.
  • Nevada’s 3rd: Tossup to Leans Republican
    The best thing state Speaker John Oceguera (D) has on his side in this swing district is the state party machine and the Obama campaign’s turnout operation. But Democrats in the state concede he has work to do to win, and recent polling found freshman Rep. Joe Heck (R) well ahead and looking more likely to return for a second term.
  • New Jersey’s 3rd: Likely Republican to Safe Republican
    This race was always going to be a uphill climb for Democrats, largely because of the money needed to break through to voters in the pricey Philadelphia media market. Democrats conceded this race was off the table even before the monkey wrench that Hurricane Sandy threw into Election Day turnout in the Garden State.
  • New York’s 11th: Leans Republican to Likely Republican
    In a nonpartisan poll released this week, freshman Rep. Michael Grimm (R) led Democrat Mark Murphy by 18 points. With the Staten Island anchored district cleaning up from Hurricane Sandy, it looks pretty clear voters are going to give Grimm a second term.
  • New York’s 21st: Leans Democratic to Tossup
    The district still tilts toward Rep. Bill Owens (D), but only by a small margin. This one could be really close.
  • New York’s 24th: Leans Democratic to Tossup
    Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R) was left for politically dead weeks ago, but national Republicans are increasingly confident in the chances of the freshman to win a surprise victory in her rematch against former Rep. Dan Maffei (D).
  • Ohio’s 16th: Tossup to Leans Republican
    The barrage of presidential and Senate TV ads in the Cleveland market were good news for Rep. Jim Renacci (R). He benefits in this GOP-leaning district if voters just choose to tune most everything out and is the favorite now over fellow Rep. Betty Sutton (D).
  • Pennsylvania’s 8th: Likely Republican to Safe Republican
    Democrats just weren’t able to make a competitive race against Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) materialize this cycle in a state that was an overall disappointment for the party. Look for Democrats to try again in this traditionally competitive district next cycle, with or without attorney Kathy Boockvar (D).
  • Rhode Island’s 1st: Leans Democratic to Tossup
    Rep. David Cicilline (D) looked as if he’d bounced back from poor poll numbers and his image troubles in this heavily Democratic district. But Republicans continued to spend heavily to knock the Democrat and boost Brendan Doherty. It’s worked, and this race is looking much more like a Tossup heading into Election Day. If Cicilline pulls it out, it will be by a narrow margin.
  • Tennessee’s 4th: Likely Republican to Leans Republican
    Rep. Scott DesJarlais will have no one to blame but himself if he loses on Tuesday to Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart. Still, the embattled Republican had time on his side since the damaging headlines that have dogged him over the past month probably came too late in the cycle for Democrats to capitalize. 
  • Utah’s 4th: Tossup to Leans Republican
    National Democrats still seemed confident at the end of the summer that Rep. Jim Matheson (D) could overcome the huge presidential deficit in a district that Mitt Romney will win by more than 20 points. Not any more. An independent poll released Friday showed Republican Mia Love ahead by 12 points, although the amount of outside spending pouring in indicates the race is closer than that.
  • Wisconsin’s 7th: Leans Republican to Likely Republican
    Freshman GOP Rep. Sean Duffy was a top Democratic target from the beginning of the cycle. But barring a big upset, he will prevail over former state Sen. Pat Kreitlow (D) on Tuesday and be back for a second term.
  • Wisconsin’s 8th: Likely Republican to Safe Republican
    This race has continued to move further and further out of reach for Democrats. Rep. Reid Ribble (R) is surely coming back to Congress for a second term.

Kyle Trygstad, Joshua Miller, Shira Toeplitz and Abby Livingston contributed to this report.

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