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The GOP’s Senate Worries

By Charlie Cook

No mat­ter how en­ter­tain­ing the cir­cus of the pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, also re­mem­ber this: Con­trol of the Sen­ate is def­in­itely in play. Mag­gie Has­san offered a re­mind­er Monday when the Demo­crat­ic gov­ernor of New Hamp­shire an­nounced that she will chal­lenge Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a first-term Re­pub­lic­an, in next year’s elec­tions. Has­san had been si­lent about her in­ten­tions, but pub­lic polling sug­gests that the race would be very close; most sur­veys show the Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bent with the nar­row­est of leads.

Re­pub­lic­ans hold a 54-to-46 ad­vant­age in the Sen­ate. This means that Demo­crats would need a net gain of four seats if they hold onto the White House, or five seats if they don’t (be­cause the vice pres­id­ent can break a Sen­ate tie).

The GOP’s ma­jor­ity is flimsy, though. Re­pub­lic­ans have 24 seats at risk next year, com­pared to just 10 for the Demo­crats, and sev­en are in states that Pres­id­ent Obama car­ried in 2012. One of those sev­en seats looks safe; Iowa’s six-term in­cum­bent Chuck Grass­ley is widely seen as both un­beat­able and un­likely to re­tire. But the oth­er six are in real danger—in­cum­bents Ayotte, Mark Kirk (Illinois), Ron John­son (Wis­con­sin), Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania), and Rob Port­man (Ohio), plus a seat in Flor­ida held by Marco Ru­bio, who is run­ning for pres­id­ent rather than Sen­ate reelec­tion.

The res­ult: Demo­crats have fared well in Sen­ate races when the pres­id­ency was up for grabs. In 2008 and 2012, they picked up eight and two seats, re­spect­ively. Their gain in 2012 wasn’t lar­ger be­cause they’d already picked up four seats in 2000 and six more in 2006—the two pre­vi­ous times this class of sen­at­ors had faced voters—leav­ing few­er ad­di­tion­al seats with­in their reach.

Con­versely, Re­pub­lic­ans did won­der­fully in the midterm elec­tions of 2010 and 2014, when they picked up six and nine seats, re­spect­ively.

I’m not a be­liev­er in coat­tails—the no­tion is highly simplist­ic. But the dy­nam­ics of voter turnout, the is­sue agenda, and un­pre­dict­able events that tip a close state one way in a pres­id­en­tial race can just as eas­ily tip that state’s close Sen­ate race in the same dir­ec­tion.     (my emphasis)

READ all of Charlie Cook’s comments from the National Journal here [1].

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