To some extent, handicapping electoral races is a fool’s errand, because predictions are easy to make and often incorrect and we’ll all find out the results on election day anyway. And to some extent, race rankings reveal more about the person or institution doing the ranking than they do about the races themselves. Still, they’re fun to do, and of greater-than-zero interest if you follow politics or the person/institution doing the predicting.
But I wouldn’t be writing this article if I wasn’t annoyed by another one – this article in The Hill predicting the 10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2016. First, because that’s an unhelpful way to do the ranking; a better way is the likely/lean/tossup system used by dailykos and others.
And secondly, because I think the bias of The Hill itself is showing in their ranking (that is, non-ranking) of John McCain. He’s the former Republican nominee and a longtime favorite of the DC establishment, but this year I think he’s quite likely to lose.
The Dailykos rankings are a more credible prediction than the one I’m about to make, partly because they will change over time, as events and candidates shape the races over the coming few months. Instead, I’m predicting now that Democrats will pick up 8-11 Senate seats, giving Democrats a 54-57 seat post election majority.
Secondly, the Dailykos rankings express more gradation than I’m about to. I’m just going to predict winners and losers, and a very few toss-ups.
Predicting a Senate majority isn’t difficult. Democrats win more seats in Presidential years, because that marquee election drives turnout among Democratic base voters (like low-income and younger voters) who tend not to vote when less is at stake. Also, Republicans are defending far more seats in 2016: fully 24, while only 10 Democratic seats are up for election. And the last time this class of Senators was elected, in 2010, it was a Republican wave year, in which the nascent tea party and discontent with Obama motivated Republican base turnout,while Democrats were less enthusiastic than they were in 2008. Therefore many of the seats Republican Senators first won in 2010 are up for election, in generally blue terrain.
Two more recent events have influenced the Senate picture. The first is the likely nomination of Donald Trump at the head of the Republican ticket. Recent polling has indicated that most Republican voters will support the nominee – even if it’s Trump – but he does shed many conservative voters. Some (like a few acquaintances of mine) object to his vulgarity, crassness, and outright racism. Others don’t think he’s qualified to lead the country. And some voters may be put off by Trump’s apostasy; his policy positions are occasionally misaligned with the conservative mainstream, or have been in the past. At the same time, a Trump ticket is likely to galvanize Hispanic voters to turn out and vote Democratic.
The second is the death of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and the opposition by Senate Republicans to confirming any replacement – even before a nominee was announced. This opposition is in line with the sentiments of the Republican base, but not civic-minded people who believe in the Constitution, and object to this degree of politicization of the high court. Republican Senator Grassley of Iowa, for instance, has received unprecedented condemnation from the Iowa media over his uncharacteristically partisan stance, and he hasn’t been responding well. In other, more competitive races, like in New Hampshire, the refusal to consider a nominee may play a further role in undermining Republican incumbents. If Trump does indeed win the nomination, defending the idea that he should appoint the Justice instead will become even more difficult.
I don’t believe any Democratic seats will flip. Both Nevada and Colorado may be close, but Hispanics are a major voting block in both states, and the Democratic nominee in Nevada, the sitting Attorney General, is herself Hispanic. She’s running against a credible Republican, a sitting member of the US House, but the same can’t be said in Colorado, where the Republican candidates are entirely small-fry.
The following Republican seats will flip:
- WI (Johnson vs Feingold)
- IL (Kirk vs Duckworth)
- FL (Open; likely Democratic candidate is Murphy)
- NH (Ayotte vs Hassan)
- OH (Portman vs Strickland)
- AZ (McCain vs. Kirkpatrick)
- PA (Toomey vs Unknown, likely to be McGinty)
- IN (Open; Unknown vs Hill)
And I predict two of the following three toss-ups will flip:
- IA (Grassley vs Judge)
- MO (Blunt vs Kander)
- NC (Burr vs Ross)
If only one of the three survives, I predict it will be Blunt.
There. That was fun.