If Republicans lose four Senate seats on November 7, they’ll probably breathe a deep sigh of relief. In fact, they can stand to lose five seats and still control the chamber, because Vice President Cheney would break 50-50 ties. The Democrats need to pick up six seats in order to make Harry Reid the majority leader.
Since last week’s roundup, I’ve moved Montana and Ohio from “toss up” to “leaning Democratic takeover.” Herewith, a review of the races.
ARIZONA: Will Republican senator Jon Kyl beat Democratic nominee Jim Pederson by single digits or double digits? Discuss. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION
CONNECTICUT: Left-wing websites have begun to ponder the possibility that Joe Lieberman, upon his re-election as an independent, will caucus with Republicans. Their distress is a symptom of their disappointment in Ned Lamont’s apparent inability to beat Lieberman, after stealing the Democratic nomination from him in August. A UConn poll of likely voters puts Lieberman ahead, 48 percent to 40 percent. For all practical purposes, Lieberman will remain the Democratic senator from Connecticut. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC RETENTION
MARYLAND: Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is a very good candidate running in a very bad year. Last week, a one-day Rasmussen poll of likely voters put Democratic congressman Ben Cardin on top, 53 percent to 44 percent. Other surveys have produced similar results. On the plus side, this probably isn’t the last we’ll hear from Steele. He’s too talented to disappear. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION
MICHIGAN: Democratic senator Debbie Stabenow has benefited from the fact that several of Michigan’s top Republicans refused to run against her, in the expectation that they’ll pursue an open seat in 2008, when Democratic senator Carl Levin is expected to retire. If GOP nominee Michael Bouchard comes within a few points of beating Stabenow — she leads 53 percent to 42 percent, according to a SurveyUSA poll of likely voters — he may use a better-than-expected performance as an excuse to keep on running. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION
MINNESOTA: If Republicans lose control of the House of Representatives, one of the reasons why may be that GOP congressman Mark Kennedy ran for the Senate: His seat in the 6th congressional district, which includes St. Cloud, is now home to a close contest between Republican Michelle Bachman and Democrat Patty Wetterling. Meanwhile, Kennedy badly trails Democratic Senate nominee Amy Klobuchar: His best showing in a poll over the last month had him down by 8 points. Other surveys have given Klobuchar a double-digit advantage. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION
MISSOURI: Except for last week’s SurveyUSA poll of likely voters, which gave Democratic candidate Claire McCaskill a 9-point edge over Republican senator Jim Talent, every sign suggests a nip-and-tuck contest that will be won by no more than about two or three percentage points. Debates today and Wednesday probably won’t settle anything. If you plan to stay awake on Election Night until there’s a winner in Missouri, you may want to take a nap in the afternoon. TOSS UP
MONTANA: Jon Tester wasn’t the candidate that Democrats in Washington wanted, but they’re glad they have him now: He looks ready to upset Republican senator Conrad Burns. A one-day Rasmussen poll of likely voters last week gave Tester a lead, 50 percent to 44 percent. LEANING DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER
NEW JERSEY: Democratic senator Bob Menendez maintains a small advantage over Republican candidate Tom Kean Jr.: Last week, a Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters put the incumbent on top, 49 percent to 44 percent. Kean is running almost neck-and-neck with Menendez among independents, but loses ground because the Garden State is home to more Democrats than Republicans. Menendez has a serious image problem — 38 percent consider him “trustworthy” and 39 percent call him “untrustworthy” — and this is the main reason why he’s the only endangered Democratic incumbent in the country. TOSS UP
OHIO: Republican senator Mike DeWine may have to bank on the GOP’s legendary turnout operation: One poll last week showed him to be trailing Democratic congressman Sherrod Brown by 6 points. And that was (for him) the good news: Another poll had him down by 14 points. Democrats are hoping for a big year in Ohio, and increasingly it appears as though Brown may be a part of it. LEANING DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER
PENNSYLVANIA: Last week’s debate in Pittsburgh showed that Bob Casey Jr. is at best a second-rate candidate — but it may not matter, if Pennsylvanians continue to view this contest as a referendum on Republican senator Rick Santorum. A poll of likely voters by the Allentown Morning Call showed Casey holding a small lead, 46 percent to 41 percent. Several other recent surveys have given Casey a bigger advantage. Is Santorum finally closing on his opponent, as he must now do? “Democrats win polls,” he said last week. “I win elections.” LEANING DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER
RHODE ISLAND: Several commentators have described this as the dullest race in the United States because the two candidates, Republican senator Lincoln Chafee and Democratic nominee Sheldon Whitehouse, are yawn-inducing politicians. Recent surveys have given Whitehouse a small but steady lead. Chafee probably will need to rely on a GOP ground game that gave him a bigger-than-expected win over Steven Laffey in the Republican primary. LEANING DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER
TENNESSEE: With Democratic congressman Harold Ford Jr., quality is job one: He may be running the best campaign of any Senate candidate in the country. Ford may not win, but he is giving Republicans a big-time scare in a state that hasn’t had a Democratic senator in a decade. A Rasmussen poll of likely voters gave Ford a slight advantage over Republican nominee Bob Corker, 48 percent to 46 percent; a SurveyUSA poll of likely voters gave the edge to Corker by exactly the same percentages. LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION
VIRGINIA: Republican senator George Allen clings to a lead here, but he still hasn’t pulled away from Democratic challenger James Webb, whose stronghold is in the D.C. suburbs. Allen might be well served if his campaign would quit claiming that Webb isn’t nice to women and instead started pointing out that he’s too liberal for Virginia. Sunday’s Washington Post poll of likely voters had this contest within the margin of error: 49 percent for Allen and 47 percent for Democratic challenger James Webb. LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION
WASHINGTON: The Evergreen State sends two of the nation’s least impressive senators to Washington. Although voters aren’t thrilled with Democratic senator Maria Cantwell, they also appear ready to award her a second term. If Republican nominee Mike McGavick does in fact lose, especially by more than a few points, it will be said that he waged a campaign that was too nice. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION
— John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review and the author, most recently, of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.