Republicans might be close to winning control of the Senate after next year's elections, according to New York Times statistician Nate Silver.
Writing in his "FiveThirtyEight" blog
on Monday, Silver said this weekend's announcement by former Montana Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer that he would not run for the Senate "represents the latest in a series of favorable developments for Republicans as they seek control of the chamber."
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The GOP, which holds 46 seats in the Senate, likely will lose New Jersey's special election in October to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, according to Silver. The loss will leave Republicans with 45 seats, meaning they will need six more to control 51 seats and overcome Vice President Joe Biden's tiebreaking vote.
But, Silver stressed, Montana — along with West Virginia and South Dakota, two other red states where an incumbent Democrat has retired and the party has not identified a strong candidate to replace them — "gives Republicans a running start."
"Republicans could then win three more seats from among red states like Louisiana and Arkansas, where vulnerable Democratic incumbents are on the ballot, or they could take aim at two purple states, Iowa and Michigan, where Democrats have retired," Silver said.
He said more opportunities could arise if the political environment becomes more favorable to Republicans, perhaps "because of a further slide in Mr. Obama's approval ratings."
Meanwhile, he noted, "Republicans have few seats of their own to defend," even though seats in Kentucky and Georgia might be vulnerable.
"Unlike in 2012, they can focus almost entirely on playing offense," he said.
Silver concluded that the "best guess, after assigning probabilities of the likelihood of a GOP pickup in each state, is that Republicans will end up with somewhere between 50 and 51 Senate seats after 2014, putting them right on the threshold of a majority."
The Times political analyst noted
that in February he said Republicans would win 49 or 50 Senate seats next year.
"Their standing has improved by about one seat since then," he said.
Still, Silver wrote, "The fact that the battle for Senate control appears to be very close right now does not guarantee that it
will end up that way. It is therefore important to watch macro-level indicators — especially Mr. Obama's approval ratings, the generic congressional ballot and major economic measures — in addition to following the recruitment and polling in individual states."
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In 2008, Silver correctly predicted the winner of all 35 U.S. Senate races. In the 2012 presidential election, he correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
In last year's Senate races, his predictions were correct in 31 of 33 states. He was wrong in North Dakota and Montana, where he had predicted Republicans would win.
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