Politics & Policy

Final Calls

Prediction time, Senate 2006.

Can Democrats gain the six seats they need to control the Senate? Five isn’t enough, because Vice President Cheney will cast tiebreaking votes in a chamber that’s split 50-50. Presumably all will be revealed tomorrow night.

I anticipate Democratic pickups in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, for a net gain of four seats — not enough to make Harry Reid the next Senate majority leader. Democratic takeover scenarios call for additional victories in two of the following three states: Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Meantime, here are my last-minute observations and predictions, arranged chronologically by poll-closing times. (To read last week’s review of the races, go here.)

Early results in Virginia (polls close at 7 P.M.) and Ohio (7:30 P.M.) could provide an indication of how the rest of the night will unfold. Good news for Republicans would be an early call for Allen in Virginia and a late decision in Ohio. For Democrats, it’s an early call for Brown in Ohio and a delayed announcement in Virginia.


VIRGINIA: Despite a last-minute surge in the polls by Democratic candidate James Webb, Republican senator George Allen will survive the race of this life. His near-death experience, however, virtually guarantees that the next race of his life won’t come two years from now, in a presidential campaign that he probably will now abandon. Allen has perhaps run this year’s worst Senate campaign, which saw him plummet from heavy favorite to possible loser in just a few months. Much of the problem goes back to his “macaca” moment in August, but Allen also deserves demerits for a campaign that focused on trivialities (excerpts from Webb’s novels) and themes that don’t resonate with his base (Webb’s views on women in combat). ALLEN WINS — REPUBLICAN RETENTION


OHIO: The Republican party’s ongoing implosion in the Buckeye State owes much to the dithering governorship of Bob Taft, whose legacy is to have raised taxes, grown the government, and left behind a diminished GOP. The Taft administration’s failings set the table for Democratic congressman Sherrod Brown to upset Republican senator Mike DeWine, a bland politician whose most fervent commitment is to moderation. Brown will beat him and become one of the Senate’s most vocal protectionists. BROWN WINS — DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER


CONNECTICUT: The insurgent candidacy of Democrat Ned Lamont may excite antiwar liberals, but Lamont has led incumbent senator Joe Lieberman only once: When he beat him for the Democratic nomination in August. Since then, Lieberman, who is running as an independent and promising to caucus with Democrats if reelected, has held an advantage over Lamont in every public poll. He will need the support of Republicans, who appear to be favoring him heavily over not only Lamont but also GOP nominee Alan Schlesinger. The result of this race won’t affect the Senate’s balance of power, but it will influence the composition and tone of the Democratic Party. LIEBERMAN WINS — DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

MARYLAND: A victory by Republican lieutenant governor Michael Steele might count as the upset of the year, cutting against every national trend and in a state where the GOP typically suffers a disadvantage. In the last couple of weeks, Steele has put himself in a position to pull it off. He’ll need a lot of black Democrats to defect — his campaign has long maintained that if 25 percent of blacks vote Republican, Steele will win — but a combination of his own effectiveness and the bumbling candidacy of Democratic congressman Ben Cardin has turned more than a few skeptics into believers. Still, it’s awfully difficult to bet against a Democrat in Maryland this year. CARDIN WINS — DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

MICHIGAN: Republicans in Michigan have a history of performing better on Election Day than the polls predict. Sometimes this has led to amazing, come-from-behind victories, as with John Engler’s first run for governor in 1990, and other times it has simply made races closer without changing the actual result. GOP nominee Mike Bouchard will need an Engler-like miracle to defeat Democratic senator Debbie Stabenow. A blizzard that depresses turnout might give him the boost he needs, but there isn’t one in the weather forecast. STABENOW WINS — DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

MISSOURI: The cliché about how everything hinges on turnout is probably nowhere more true than in the Show-Me State, where Republican senator Jim Talent is locked in a toss-up contest against Democratic candidate Claire McCaskill. The polls have see-sawed for months, right through last week. For Republicans, this may be a firewall state — if Talent wins, the GOP keeps the Senate; if he loses, all bets are off. Look for him to prevail, barely. TALENT WINS — REPUBLICAN RETENTION

NEW JERSEY: Democratic senator Bob Menendez was a poor choice to fill out the term of Gov. Jon Corzine, given the closeness of this race in what ought to be a slam-dunk election for his party. Yet Republican candidate Tom Kean Jr. appears unlikely to beat him: With a single exception, he hasn’t led any polls in the last month. Voters don’t love Menendez, but they also don’t want to hand over the keys to a Republican. Independent voters look prepared to split their support, and for Kean to have a chance he must win them handily. MENENDEZ WINS — DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

PENNSYLVANIA: This race now appears to have been lost more than a year ago. Republican senator Rick Santorum has trailed Democrat Bob Casey Jr. badly and hasn’t been able to close the gap. The latest polling trends show Casey — a lousy candidate who owes everything to his last name — scoring consistently above 50 percent. Liberals have made Santorum’s defeat a national cause; he is for them what Tom Daschle was for Republicans two years ago. In the aftermath, GOP moderates will claim that Santorum’s brand of outspoken conservatism is a political liability, especially in a swing state such as Pennsylvania. Of all the losses Republicans will suffer on Election Day, this may be the one that conservatives most regret. CASEY WINS — DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER

TENNESSEE: Democratic congressman Harold Ford Jr. deserves a prize for running a very effective campaign as a faux conservative and making this race interesting, but his reward won’t be a seat in the Senate. This race has been much closer than Republicans would have liked, but at this point they’ll be happy merely to secure a victory, no matter what the margin. CORKER WINS – REPUBLICAN RETENTION


ARIZONA: If Democrats were going to have an outstandingly good year, as opposed to a very good one, Republicans would be struggling in Arizona they way they are in Tennessee and Virginia, states that also lean to the right but which have Democratic governors. Yet GOP senator Jon Kyl has avoided missteps and his opponent, Democrat Jim Pederson, hasn’t caught fire. KYL WINS — REPUBLICAN RETENTION

MINNESOTA: This isn’t the year Republican congressman Mark Kennedy wanted to have — he’s going to lose badly to Democratic nominee Amy Klobuchar. The result will convince many Democrats that they have a real shot at beating Minnesota’s soon-to-be senior senator, Republican Norm Coleman, when he faces re-election for the first time in two years. KLOBUCHAR WINS — DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

RHODE ISLAND: Since June, not a single poll of likely voters has shown a lead for Republican senator Lincoln Chafee. The NRSC will want to blame Steve Laffey’s GOP primary challenge — and the conservatives who supported it — as the root cause of the incumbent’s misfortune. The truth is that “Weak Linc” Chafee has been a failure as a senator and that the NRSC acted unwisely in backing him so heavily from the get-go. Democratic candidate Sheldon Whitehouse isn’t exactly a glittering candidate, but this year he will be good enough and he’ll probably hold this seat for as long as he wants it. WHITEHOUSE WINS — DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER


MONTANA: Republican senator Conrad Burns refuses to fade away — the latest buzz, in fact, involves the possibility that he may yet come from behind and defeat Democratic candidate Jon Tester, who has been favored for a while now. Is it possible to have a 71-year-old “comeback kid”? Probably not, though Tester must be a little concerned that he isn’t topping 50 percent in the polls as much as several Democrats in other close-call states. TESTER WINS — DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER


WASHINGTON: National Republicans began the year by suggesting that if you wanted to see a dark horse in the GOP, you could look to Mike McGavick in the Evergreen State. In recent weeks, however, they’ve been more hopeful about their long-shot odds in Maryland and Michigan. McGavick’s latest move, oddly, is to try to peel antiwar voters away from the incumbent. CANTWELL WINS — 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.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.