The Senate Landscape Shifts

If you are interested in what happens this November down-ballot from the presidential race, WaPo’s Paul Kane has a solid update on the current betting on Senate races, with some speculation from the people who think about this 24/7. And while Kane’s news hook is the possibility that Indiana Republicans have put Lugar’s seat into play, there’s actually a lot going on around the country:

Tuesday’s landslide victory in the GOP primary by Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, a staunch conservative who beat longtime Sen. Richard G. Lugar, gave Democrats hope for claiming a seat they have not seriously contested in three decades.

The sudden opening reflects a growing sense that the potential for big Republican gains has begun to ebb and that Democrats have a real chance of hanging on to their majority.

“Eight months ago, I thought that Republicans had a 60 to 65 percent chance of taking the majority. Now, it’s a 50-50 proposition as to whether Republicans can take the majority,” said Jennifer Duffy, a longtime expert on Senate races who works for the independent Cook Political Report.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said he places his “pinkie on the scale” now for Democrats retaining the majority, but added that his calculation hinges on economic improvements, particularly as reflected in the monthly unemployment numbers.

Democratic-held seats once thought to be already in the bag for the GOP in ND and NE now don’t look quite so certain, while VA and MO are dead-even, and WI and FL are looking increasingly shaky for Republicans. Meanwhile, Dems have a solid shot at picking up Republican seats in NV and MA, and most everyone thinks Angus King will win Olympia Snowe’s seat in ME and then caucus with Democrats. Yes, Elizabeth Warren has been struggling lately, but as Kane notes:

[Warren’s] campaign will have abundant resources in a state in which [Scott] Brown will have to outperform presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney by roughly 500,000 votes in order to win.

Control of the Senate could quite plausibly come down to a vice-presidential tie-breaker, and in any event, the significance of Senate control will be heavily affected by the presidential outcome. Lest we forget: if Republicans hang onto the House, win the presidency and then obtain 50 Senate seats, they would be able to implement Paul Ryan’s budget on a straight party-line vote via reconciliation procedures that eliminate the de facto 60-vote requirement the GOP has created in the Senate for non-budget legislation. And that’s aside from the possibility that a couple of Senate Democrats might be picked off through deal-cutting.

So if you get bored with the presidential contest, there’s plenty of excitement elsewhere all over the map.

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.