Thursday, January 7, 2010

What the Departure of Senators Dodd and Dorgan Means in November, GOP in Striking Distance in Massachusetts?, Other Senate Updates

Lots of news in the world of 2010 Senate races the past few days. Let me break it down.

Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT)'s Retirement
Chris Dodd has represented Connecticut in the Senate for the past 30 years and has frequently won re-election easily, winning by 34% in his most recent re-election in 2004. But it was to be a massive uphill climb for the man who was the Senate's top watchdog over the financial services industry (oops!) and was exposed sneaking a change into the stimulus bill that allowed AIG to pay out massive bonuses after huge TARP fund injections (bigger oops!)

He was trailing prospective GOP opponents by as much as 13% in recent polls and had a huge PR problem. In fact, at the time of his announcement, his seat was the strongest projected change in the entire array of Senate races, being rated a "likely GOP pick-up."

With Dodd gone, this helps the DEMs. They are free to run a candidate in a deep blue state that has not so deeply offended the voting public. Attorney General Mike Blumenthal has announced his candidacy and he is highly popular in the state.

How much more popular than Dodd?

Dodd was trailing prospective GOP candidates by 6 to 13%. Blumenthal, in a just-released Rasmussen poll (validated by a Democratic-afilliated Public Policy Polling poll which showed even wider margins) leads these same candidates by 23 to 24%.

This race is effectively over. The Dems hold the seat.

Move Connecticut almost all the way across the spectrum: it goes from a Likely GOP Pick-up to a Safe Democratic Hold

Senator Byron Dorgan Retires

A different story entirely in North Dakota. Senator Dorgan was in trouble, to be sure. A red-leaning state is a bad place to be in a year that is shaping up to be on the red side to begin with. Couple that with the probably candidacy of a popular Republican Governor, John Hoeven, and you have a "lean GOP pick-up".

Take Dorgan out of the equation and you have....still a lean GOP pick-up. Dorgan wasn't the problem the way Dodd was, the dynamics of North Dakota, the quality of the opposition and the national mood are the key factors in play.

North Dakota remains a Lean GOP Pick-Up.

Could Coakley Actually Lose?
Losing Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in a state among the deepest blue would be a disaster of epic proportions for the Democrats and an ominous sign for November.

Could it actually happen? I doubt that it will. But it has moved from the realm of pure Republican fantasy to the realm of mere improbability. In a stunning closing of the race, a Rasmussen poll released this week shows Coakley with merely a 9 point lead over GOPer Scott Brown. This is a dramatic drop from November polls, which had the margin pegged at 30 or more points.

Make no mistake about it, I expect Coakley to prevail and avoid an outright disaster for the DEMs. But a single-digit win is still an embarrassment in what should be a walk for the DEMs.

Massachusetts moves from a Safe Democratic Hold to a Likely Democratic Hold with a week and a half to go until the special election.

Other Moves
The first New Hampshire senate poll in several months was released this week, conducted by ARG, shows Republican Kelly Ayotte leading Rep. Paul Hodes by 7 points. In the absence of other recent polling, the margin is sufficient enough for me to move this from a Lean Democratic Pick-up to a Lean Republican Hold.

In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D) may have made a very real choice to put her job on the line by supporting health care reform. A Rasmussen poll against 4 potential GOP challengers shows her trailing them all by margins of 8 to 12% after leading by single digits in late November and early December. This race moves from a Lean Democratic Hold to a Lean GOP Pick-up.

I suspect that there are other states that may move to the right as new polling data comes in (Missouri and Pennsylvania jump out, just to point out two), but we'll take the polls as they come in.

Complete rundown soon.

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