OK, Senate update time. Sources here and methodology (and previous update) here.
Safe D: DE, IL, MA, NJ, NM, RI, HI
Likely D: MN, VA, NH, OR
Lean D:MI, CO
Tossup: AK (D), LA (D), NC (D), AR (D), IA (D)
Lean R: GA, KY
Likely R: SD (D), WV (D), MT (D)
Safe R: AL, ID, ME, NE, OK (X2), SC (X2), TN, TX, WY, KS, MS
So two changes in the past two months, both in the same direction: IA from Lean D to Tossup, and MT from Lean R to Likely R. If each party takes the states that are safe, likely or leaning, and if the two independents continue to caucus with the Democrats, the Republicans will need to win three of the five tossups to take control of the Senate.
I’ll admit I’m finding all this baffling. Going into this cycle we were told that Republicans would run on opposition to healthcare reform. Healthcare reform is increasingly successful, and Republicans are either ignoring it or abandoning their opposition. We were told that the weak economy would be a problem for the incumbent president’s party. The economy is strong, and the deficit is steadily shrinking. And we were told that the Republican party establishment would defeat the tea-partiers and make sure that candidates present a more friendly image, especially towards Latinos and women. Nope, nope, and nope.
My uninformed hunch is that pundits are overestimating Republican chances. Sam Wang, looking just at polls and ignoring “fundamentals” (like the red state/blue state thing), gives the edge to Democrats. But even the fundamentals don’t break as clearly for Republicans as you might think. In IA, AR and NC, the nominees are quite extremist right-wingers; they’ve managed to hide this fact so far (casual voters have no idea what “Agenda 21” is or why there’s a fuss about it), but sooner or later, as we start having debates and candidates get called on the carpet on certain issues and votes, it will start to become obvious. In NC there’s the additional baggage that Tillis carries as speaker of one of the most right-wing state legislatures in history, and specifically as a champion of voter suppression. I’m guessing this will not play well among African Americans post-Ferguson. Similar factors may also help Pryor and Landrieu. Then there’s the recent advocacy by McConnell - who was already widely disliked - of government shutdowns, money-dominated politics and a low minimum wage.
As the economy keeps improving and the unemployed get jobs and the healthcare system does not melt down, the anger and resentment will start to ebb. People will go back to voting for candidates whom they like and trust - this favors incumbents. I still think the Dems will hang on.