Dewey Defeats Truman!
Jumping the gun on election forecasting can earn a person eternal infamy, a spot in the Hall of Fame of political embarrassments. That is why this year, with possibly the closest midterm elections in the nation's history, even the most respected political analysts are loathe to put their predictions on the record. I, however, am able to make such predictions without fear of being humiliated on national television. My focus is the Senate, where there are at least eight races that are too close to call. No political prognosticator that I am aware of has been silly enough to think that he or she could pick all 34 winners, but as the great Homer Simpson once said, "Feeling stupid? I know I am!"
Let's hit the ground running with our very own race here in New Hampshire, where Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) is running against Rep. John Sununu (R). Although early polls had this race going fairly easily to Sununu, a slew of scathing advertising against the Republican has narrowed the race. Two polls are now out, each showing a different candidate ahead. Is it too close to call? Absolutely, but with likely Republican landslides in the gubernatorial and congressional races, look for the coattail effect to whisk Sununu to a victory by one or two percentage points.
While we are on the subject of open Republican seats, there are four more to deal with. Elizabeth Dole (R) will hold off a late surge from former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (D), in North Carolina. Rep. Lindsay Graham (R) will defeat College of Charleston President Alex Sanders (D) in South Carolina. Former presidential candidate Lamar Alexander (R) should win easily over Rep. Bob Clement (D) in Tennessee. Lastly, a series of gaffes down the stretch from Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (D) should be enough to guarantee a Texas win for state attorney general John Cornyn (R).
So far this sounds like a breeze for the Republicans, but keep in mind that even if they win all five of these races (and none but Tennessee is a certainty) the GOP will merely be holding onto seats they already control. If they want to win back the Senate they need to net at least one seat. That seat is likely to come from either Missouri or South Dakota. In Missouri, Sen. Jean Carnahan (D), who is serving for her late husband, needs to fight off former-Rep. Jim Talent (R) to guarantee a full term. Two new polls released last week have Talent up by four to five points, and one poll has him at 50 percent, a significant watermark for challengers. This is the biggest race on the ballot in Missouri this year, and Talent will win with a bigger margin than most have predicted.
South Dakota is harder to forecast, because current Sen. Tim Johnson (D) has served his state admirably, even breaking with party lines to support the Bush tax cut and the Iraq war resolution. His challenger, Rep. John Thune (R), is also a household name because the state has only one seat in the House. Polls have not been showing a steady trend either way, but in this solid Republican state Thune should eke out a victory, with a lot of campaign help from President Bush.
Minnesota is a tough case. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D) died tragically in a plane crash on Oct. 25. His opponent, Norm Coleman (R), suspended all campaigning but in the mean time Democrats have dusted off former Vice President Walter Mondale to run in the place of Wellstone. Coleman's hands are tied in this race in terms of how aggressive he can be, and early polling shows Mondale with an already sizable lead of five to nine points. With all the emotion still pouring out for Paul Wellstone and the popularity of the former vice president, Coleman will go down through no fault of his own. Similarly, in New Jersey, surrogate candidate Frank Lautenberg (D) will win over Doug Forrester (R) in the race that Sen. Bob Torricelli (D) should have had the integrity to lose.
The only other state in which a Democrat is in serious trouble is Georgia, where Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R) has been hammering away at Sen. Max Cleland (D). Last month he went so far as to say that Cleland, a triple-amputee Vietnam veteran, lacks the courage to lead on issues of national security and defense. Chambliss is closing fast but Georgians seems to like Max Cleland enough to keep him around for another six years.
It seems as if I have the Republicans picking up two seats so far, but now we hit Arkansas and Colorado. In Arkansas, Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R) has been running behind Mark Pryor (D), the son of a former senator, for weeks. Some aspects of his personal life have turned off voters, it would seem, and though it appears from recent polls that reports of his demise may have been premature, I still see this seat changing hands and going to the Democrats. Similarly, in Colorado, Sen. Wayne Allard (R) has been unable to shake off U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland (D). Daily tracking polls show the race going back and forth each day, but the fact that Allard remains at only 39-41 percent in every poll signals that he is in a lot of trouble. Strickland over Allard is the hardest pick in the bunch.
Just when you think it is over you realize there is still Louisiana. Why, you might ask, should incumbent Mary Landrieu (D) have to worry about reelection since none of her three Republican opponents is polling above 18 percent? Well, leave it to Louisiana to have the only election laws in the country that call for a December runoff if no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the initial election. This means that even if Landrieu wins outright, she and the next closest challenger will go head to head in December if she cannot break the 50 percent mark. This would likely lead to a "faceless election" in which the parties would duke it out for a month, and it could get nasty if control of the Senate hangs in the balance. Either way, however, it is difficult to see one of the fairly weak Republicans running against Landrieu to wrestle her seat away.
Well there is an overview of what may or may not happen tonight. I lacked the space or the inclination to write about all 34 races, so if I did not mention a race, assume I have it going to the incumbent. I encourage you all to watch the coverage because there are some exciting House and g overnor races as well (Jeb is going to win -- I had to get that in there). If you believe every word I say the Senate should stay just the same: 49D, 49R, 2I. If that happens it will make for another fun election night in 2004.