Roll Call's Rothenberg: GOP Capture of Senate Is Far From Assured

Wednesday, 16 Jul 2014 08:19 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Republican gains in the Senate seem certain this November, polls show, but a GOP gain of six seats to take control of the upper chamber isn't in the bag just yet, political observer Stuart Rothenberg says.

"[S]ome of the pieces of the puzzle have moved around dramatically over the past few months," the Roll Call columnist writes. 

Handicapping the upcoming races, Rothenberg maintains three Democratic-held Senate seats seem "headed to the GOP" – Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.

But "from that point on," he writes, "things get a bit dicier for Republicans."

Rothenberg's sober view contrasts with a new poll from The Washington Post's Election Lab model that gives Republicans an 86 percent chance of winning a Senate majority. 

Rothenberg argues vulnerable Democratic seats in Arkansas and Louisiana are anything but locks.

The contest between incumbent Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and GOP challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, is "a statistical dead heat… with Cotton holding a small advantage," he writes.

And in Louisiana, he writes Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is likely headed for a runoff in December against her closest challenge, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy – but the eventual winner will depend "on what happened in other Senate contests in November, and whether [Landrieus's] seat would decide control of the chamber in 2015."

A big "surprise," he writes, is taking shape in Iowa, where Joni Ernst could benefit from Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley's early "missteps."

A June poll had her slightly ahead.

Rothenberg writes there's also reason for GOP optimism in Alaska, North Carolina and Colorado.

In Alaska, he writes, "Republican prospects depend in part on the results of the Aug. 19 GOP primary," while North Carolina's Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is barely holding her own against GOP challenger Thom Tillis. 

In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is getting a run for his money from a well-liked and well-funded Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, Rothenberg writes. 

"Far longer shots" for the GOP lie in Michigan, New Hampshire and Virginia, while Republicans are nervously watching contests in Georgia and Kentucky, he writes.

"[F]undamentals make it very uphill for Michelle Nunn, so unless she is running strongly in early October, there is no reason to think that Georgia is a particularly good opportunity for Democrats," Rothenberg writes.

As for Kentucky's incumbent Mitch McConnell, Rothenberg thinks the minority leader should get a boost from the "unpopularity" of President Barack Obama and "the midterm dynamic."

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