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A Look at the Senate Races

It’s now just four months until Election Day, and for those who really like to think ahead, not much more than a year-and-a-half away from the next Iowa caucuses. (Speaking of the 2012 presidential nominating process, I’ve got an item posted at FiveThirtyEight about the maneuvering over the rules and calendar for that contest.)

My political memo on Tuesday focused mainly on an overview of House races, so today let’s take a closer look at the U.S. Senate. As noted on Tuesday, Nate Silver has slightly upgraded Democratic Senate prospects after the recent batch of primaries, and now thinks the probabilities come in at about 55 for what Democrats might have in the way of a Senate majority after November. Over at the (subscription-only) “Cook Political Report,” Jennifer Duffy, relying somewhat less than Silver on polling data, reaches similar conclusions about the overall landscape but with different takes on specific races. Duffy, for example, still has Arkansas in the toss-up category, while Silver says: “Our model now shows Blanche Lincoln’s chances to be close to zero (technically, about 0.3 percent, which rounds down to zero).” Conversely, the Cook Report shows the Connecticut race as “lean Dem” (having briefly rated it as a toss-up after the military record controversy hit Democrat Richard Blumenthal), while FiveThirtyEight rates it as “safe Dem.” It will be interesting to see if these and other forecasts begin to converge as we get closer to November.

It’s also worth remembering that the nominees haven’t been sorted out yet in several competitive or potentially competitive Senate races, notably Colorado, Arizona, Florida and Wisconsin.  And most interesting of all will be to see if some sort of intensified national wave begins to help Republican Senate candidates towards the home stretch, which could solidify the GOP’s shaky hold on seats in Ohio and Missouri (and perhaps Florida, where Marco Rubio consistently trails now-indie Charlie Crist), while making Democratic incumbents in Washington, California and Wisconsin a lot more vulnerable. To use historical analogies, we’ll find out if this Senate cycle is more like 1980 and 2008, when one party (Rs in 1980, Ds in 2008) got every break and won every close race, or like 1982, a recession-ridden year when the incumbent Republicans dodged a lot of bullets.

The polling world this week was roiled by a conflict between Daily Kos and the Research 2000 public opinion research firm, which has done regular polling for DKos for the last two years.  DKos proprietor Markos Moulitsas dismissed the firm recently, apparently unhappy with its accuracy as rated by FiveThirtyEight. But then an investigation of anomalies in R2K numbers convinced Markos that there might be fraud or at least book-cooking involved, and now the charges and counter-charges are flying and lawsuits are being filed. As the facts get sorted out, all sorts of political observers (including yours truly) are looking back at what they might have said or concluded based on R2K data. It is clear that if R2K gets out or is forced out of the state polling biz, the dominance of Rasmussen data, with its apparent pro-GOP “house effect,” could grow, though PPP seems to be expanding its state polling significantly.

Poll Watch

In polls this week that aren’t part of any overriding dispute, PPP takes a look at GOP statewide primaries in Wisconsin, and finds self-funder Ron Johnson with a big lead over hard-core ideologue David Westlake in the Senate race, and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker with an equally comfortable lead over former Rep. Mark Neumann in the gubernatorial race.  Meanwhile the increasingly visible Republican polling firm Magellan has Democratic former Gov. John Kitzhaber and Republican candidate Chris Dudley even in the Oregon gubernatorial race, and shows Republican former Gov. Bobby Ehrlich inching ahead of incumbent Democrat Martin O’Malley in Maryland.