Let's Talk Sense...

Friday, September 13, 2002 Volume XXVII, No. 2
Roswell, New Mexico

The Battle for the U. S. Senate

GOP Likely to Net +3 Seats This Year

The East: Republicans gain 1 seat (New Jersey)
The South: Democrats gain 1 seat (Arkansas)
The Midwest: Republicans gain 2 seats (Minnesota, Missouri)
The West: Republicans gain 1 seat (South Dakota)
The Pacific: No change
Races to Watch: Still be wary of 10 races----final picks 2 weeks out
Summary: Upside and downside potential for both parties


The East: Republicans pick up 1 seat

Delaware: Joe Biden (D) wins reelection
Maine: Susan Collins (R) wins reelection
Massachusetts: John Kerry (D) wins reelection
New Hampshire: John Sununu (R) keeps open seat in Republican hands after making it open by defeating incumbent Bob Smith in the primary on September 10. (Smith would have lost the seat to Democrat challenger Jeanne Shaheen.)
New Jersey: Republican Douglas Forrester defeats Democrat incumbent Robert Torricelli
Rhode Island: Jack Reed (D) wins reelection
West Virginia: Jay Rockefeller (D) wins reelection

The South: Democrats pick up 1 seat

Alabama: Jeff Sessions (R) wins reelection
Arkansas: Democrat Mark Pryor defeats Republican incumbent Tim Hutchinson
Louisiana: Mary Landrieu (D) wins reelection
Georgia: Max Cleland (D) wins reelection
Kentucky: Mitch McConnell (R) wins reelection
Mississippi: Thad Cochran R) wins reelection
North Carolina: Elizabeth Dole (R) keeps the Jesse Helms seat in GOP hands
South Carolina: Lindsay Graham (R) keeps the Strom Thurmond seat in GOP hands
Tennessee: Lamar Alexander (R) keeps the Fred Thompson seat in GOP hands
Virginia: John Warner (R) wins reelection

The Midwest: Republicans pick up 2 seats

Iowa: Tom Harkin (D) is reelected
Illinois: Richard Durbin (D) is reelected
Michigan: Carl Levin (D) wins reelection
Minnesota: Republican Norm Coleman defeats incumbent Democrat Paul Wellstone
Missouri: Republican Jim Talent defeats incumbent Democrat Jean Carnahan

The West: Republicans pick up 1 seat

Alaska: Ted Stevens (R) wins reelection
Colorado: Wayne Allard (R) wins reelection
Idaho: Larry Craig (R) wins reelection
Kansas: Pat Roberts (R) wins reelection
Montana: Max Baucus (D) wins reelection
Nebraska: Chuck Hagel (R) wins reelection
New Mexico: Pete Domenici (R) wins reelection
Oklahoma: James Inhofe (R) wins reelection
South Dakota: Republican John Thune defeats incumbent Democrat Tim Johnson
Texas: John Cornyn (R) keeps the Phil Gramm seat in GOP hands
Wyoming: Mike Enzi (R) wins reelection

The Pacific: No Change

Oregon: Gordon Smith (R) wins reelection


Races to Watch:

There are a number of races that bear watching over the next few weeks. They fall into two broad categories: 1) close (or reasonably close enough) due to demographic and electoral trends; they could easily go the opposite of today's forecast; and 2) upset specials, i.e. places where similar demographic
and electoral trends plus idiosyncractic factors exist that could make races which are thought to be not-as-close tighten up.

Here are the races to watch in each category:

Close, could go the other way Upset Specials
New Jersey * Montana**
Arkansas Oregon*
Georgia** Louisiana
Minnesota* Iowa*

*Demographic trends favor Democrat, all things being equal
**Demographic trends favor Republican, all things being equal


The way things look today, about seven weeks out, the Republicans should realize a net gain of 3 seats, leaving them with a 52-48 majority. A final, or near-final forecast will be made on or about October 20.


Two weeks can be a long time in politics. Seven weeks can seem like forever. We have volatility in a number of areas which can affect both turnout and voting behavior----international crises and the national economy, to name but two (admittedly broad) categories, show great potential for "roller coaster" rides.

Each party, and a number of major actors in each, could behave in ways that suddenly, and immediately, accent their roles in specific situations, and the outcomes of those situations, that are highly favorable---or extremely prejudicial ---to each party or individual actor. As a broad example, pronouncements and
posturing by Senator Daschle or President Bush have the potential for being the deciding factor in a close race.

In 1980, with a worse economy (but less volatile stock market) and an international crisis, there was an astonishing 12-seat change in the Senate. But this year the Democrats, even though out of the White House---and therefore historically most likely to score dramatic gains----simply are not positioned to do
anything like that. They let too many seats in too many reasonably favorable venues go, either with weak challenges, or no challenges at all.

The absolute greatest outside gain the Democrats can expect----under perfect conditions---is +4 seats. Even with the worst possible scenario, the GOP would be left with 45 seats, and therefore positioned to strike back in two years. In historical terms, that's not a bad position for a "worst-possible outcome" of "a
worst possible situation" scenario. This is especially true since the factors needed to make it happen are just not that likely to fall perfectly in place.

The Republicans on the other hand, given the right set of international, national and local circumstances, could actually come out of it with a + 8. That's high, admittedly, but it could happen if the Democrats turn out to be the "bad actors" alluded to above.

Clearly, given the hardened nature of Senate (and House) inter-party relations, 45 seats is disastrous compared to what it meant 20 years ago. But, in the event that occurs, it will only be under conditions that would normally have left the GOP with only 39 or 40 seats, and out of challenging range for the majority for many years to come. Republicans can be thankful that that kind of downside potential and scenario is just not in the works for the GOP.

On the other hand, 57 seats (the GOP's upside potential) would virtually guarantee a Republican majority for the rest of a 2-term Bush Presidency. And, while chances for such gains are slight, it isn't entirely out of the question that circumstances could produce that kind of outcome.