The Right’s Dream Fades

Forgive the repetition, but since it continues to be an underreported story, you can argue the most momentous development of the latter stages of this campaign has been the very likely failure of the GOP’s once-indomitable drive to retake control of the Senate. The reason is very simple: only with control of the Senate could the conservative dream scenario of a Republican Congress repealing Obamacare and enacting the Ryan Budget in 2013, with a President Romney redeeming his promises to sign both measures, come to fruition. And with Democrats holding 23 of the 33 seats up for grabs this year–five in states certain to be carried by Mitt Romney–the prospects of picking up three (for a tie that a Vice President Ryan would break) or four (for control regardless of the presidential outcome) seemed overwhelming not that long ago.

Now almost no one is predicting a Republican Senate. Larry Sabato has just issued his final predictions, and is projecting the status quo: a 53-47 Democratic majority. Politico‘s David Catanese suggests that late polls have pretty much resolved all the races other than five “nail-biters” in Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Indiana and Nevada. Republicans would have to win four of five to retake the Senate if Romney wins, and sweep all five if Obama wins. Sabato has Tammy Baldwin winning Wisconsin (she leads in the last three public polls), and Joe Donnelly in Indiana (he led by double digits in the only poll published after Mourdock’s rape-and-abortion moment).

Strange things could happen, of course, but it would take something like an 1980 scenario–a year when Republicans won virtually all the close races–to produce a GOP Senate. And it’s just as likely that Democrats could actually gain in the Senate (the Sabato scenario plus a Democratic win in Arizona, Montana, Nevada or North Dakota). If you want to get really wild, Democratic wins in all those states plus a possible upset in Nebraska could produce a 58-42 Democratic majority. That’s very unlikely, but so, too, is a GOP Senate.

But the best gauge of fading GOP hopes is some of the arguments we are hearing for why the takeover will happen, viz. this quote in the Catanese piece:

“The level of organizing on the ground I don’t think is reflected in the polling today,” said FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe, who still is holding onto the dream of a Republican Senate. “I’m an outlier. But Mourdock won the primary by 20 points and nobody was predicting anything like that. No one predicted a double-digit victory for Ted Cruz in the primary. How do you explain that? I think the pollsters are having a hard time measuring this wildly decentralized political system.”

Nice try. But polling in primaries is vastly less accurate than in general elections. And in any event, both Mourdock and Cruz were leading in every pre-primary poll with every indication they were making big gains daily. If there’s some Mourdock Surge going on in Indiana right now, it’s well-hidden.

In the possible panoply of Republican post-election regrets, the flubbing of the slam-dunk opportunity to win the Senate will play a large role, and it’s not something that can readily be blamed on Sandy or “Chicago” or the godless media.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.