Campaigns hate it when I suggest they have their races won, so let’s include all the traditional caveats. In a New York minute, everything can change; every candidate is one gaffe away from self-destruction, October surprises may abound, the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
At this point, the story of the election is the number of statewide races that were supposed to be competitive that aren’t. This morning’s poll in Ohio suggests that Ohio’s Senate race isn’t going to be all that competitive, and neither is the governor’s race. In Pennsylvania, Patrick Toomey leads by a bunch and Tom Corbett leads by a bunch more. Democrats will not be able to translate the Mark Sanford scandal into any serious traction in South Carolina’s governor’s race, and in that state’s Senate race . . . well, you know.
Michigan will not have a competitive governor’s race. There was a lot of talk that Democrat Bill White was capable of making the Texas governor’s race competitive, but so far he trails by a significant margin, except for the occasional outlying poll. Barring some dramatic change, Democrat Rory Reid will not make a serious run at Nevada’s governorship. In Tennessee, Republicans will win the governor’s mansion. In one of the great under-the-radar races of this cycle, Republican Paul LePage is a strong favorite to be the next governor of Maine. You can almost put Wisconsin in this pile, too.
The Missouri Senate race, once considered one of the perfect bellwethers, is looking increasingly like a Roy Blunt rout. The Florida Senate race looks much less competitive, now that Marco Rubio is up on the airwaves and kicking it into a higher gear. The Arkansas Senate race is probably going to be an embarrassment for Democrat Blanche Lincoln. We’ve known for a while now that the Senate races in North Dakota and Indiana would be solid GOP wins, and the challengers to GOP incumbents in Louisiana and North Carolina are not making any serious progress.
These are all statewide races that the Democrats could reasonably have hoped would be competitive at the beginning of the year. For their party, all of this paints a picture darker than Rembrandt’s Night Watch; if they’re losing the statewide races by a bunch, that helps GOP challengers in the House races lower on the ticket.
So Democrats can rejoice that they have a better chance in Delaware now, or that the Colorado gubernatorial race has broken their way, or that Mark Kirk isn’t roaring ahead of Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois. But they’re fooling themselves if they think it means that much in the big picture.
Every party leaves races on the table, even in their best years. In 1994, Democratic senator Chuck Robb hung on against Ollie North, and Sen. Diane Feinstein beat Michael Huffington by only 2 percentage points. In Maryland, Democrat Parris Glendening won the governor’s race by the skin of his teeth after viciously nasty attacks against Ellen Sauerbrey.