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Republicans (Still) Poised to Pick Up 6 to 8 Senate Seats

Cotton chats with supporters during a campaign rally in Mountain View, Ark. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Cotton chats with supporters during a campaign rally in Mountain View, Ark. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Almost two months ago, on September 8th , I wrote that  while the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call ratings projected Republican Senate gains in the five to eight seat range, I was “expecting a substantial Republican Senate wave in November, with a net gain of at least seven seats.”  

“But I wouldn’t be shocked by a larger gain,” I added.  

Now, eight weeks later, it certainly looks as if Republicans will win the Senate.  

Though I had not at all expected it, that September column ended up burning bridges to two Democrats on whom I had long relied for their political savvy and expertise. Their reactions, however, told me that I was more likely to be right than wrong. I had hit a nerve, I concluded, simply by saying what I expected to happen in an election that was still two months away. Had they been more confident that their party would hold the Senate, they would have simply dismissed my assessment and joked with me about how wrong I was.  

Most readers of that column apparently understood both my ratings and my personal expectations could change between Labor Day and Election Day. And there have been changes in individual House, Senate and gubernatorial races, though not in my overall view of the fight for the Senate.  

My ratings in the final months are based overwhelmingly on national and race-specific survey data. For those who mistakenly assume that I have contempt for statistical models that rely on polls that may come as a surprise.  

I do have a low regard for models that rely on survey data collected so early in a cycle that they reflect nothing but name identification or a lagging indicator like party registration. But popular statistical geeks, political scientists and I are looking for the same things: key indicators that have a predictive value about the elections.  

Anyway, I received a surprisingly large number of e-mails after my early September column from people who thought my comments were bold, risky and also not unreasonable. I never thought my comments were all that bold. They simply followed from the polls and reflected what I have learned from watching the last eight midterm elections.  

Today, I am pretty much where I was on Sept. 8. My Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call ratings are the same, as are my expectations.  

Though our range for the Senate is GOP gains of five to eight seats, I believe it is most likely Republicans will win six to eight seats (not including Kansas, which I treat as a Democratic takeover if Greg Orman wins, even though he has suggested that he will caucus with the GOP if they are in the majority).  

Republicans succeeded in nationalizing the midterm except in those few states with Republican nominees stumbled and gave Democrats a weapon to localize the race.  

You have heard a lot of gibberish from Democrats, particularly those around the president, that this midterm isn’t about him and that these elections are always about the individual candidates and local issues.  

I certainly hope that you don’t believe that nonsense any more than you believed it in 2006 or 2010. In bad times, when voters are unhappy, midterm elections are very likely about the occupant of the White House.  

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