A year ago, Republican capture of the Senate in the 2012 election was regarded as close to a sure thing. The political direction of the country had shifted in favor of Republicans. Democrats faced the unenviable task of defending 23 seats, Republicans only 10. And 8 of the GOP seats were safely in Republican hands.
Now Republican prospects are not as rosy. The odds on a Republican Senate are no worse than 50-50, maybe better. But the effort to oust Democrats, who currently control the Senate 53-47, looks more difficult than it did.
What has changed? Most significant may be President Obama’s improved chances of reelection. He has enormous liabilities, but he has managed to alter the political environment enough to make Republicans and the rich a live issue in the campaign. Before, his record in the White House, especially on the economy, was the lone issue.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen says how Obama fares will affect Senate races. The relationship is pretty simple. If Obama is reelected, Democrats are likely to hold the Senate. If the Republican nominee wins, Republicans are odds-on to take over the Senate, while retaining the House.
Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report, a savvy analyst of congressional races, says the outcome of four Senate races may depend on Obama’s fate: Virginia, Montana, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Notice that two of those states have Republican incumbents, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Dean Heller of Nevada. Republicans can lose one of those seats and still take the Senate, but probably not both.
Another impediment to a Repub-lican Senate is Democratic success in recruiting strong candidates. North Dakota was considered a certain GOP takeover for Rick Berg, a House Republican freshman, until Heidi Heitkamp, a former state attorney general, jumped into the race. Democrats are talking up a poll that shows her leading Berg, but Heitkamp has striking vulnerabilities—like her strong support of the president and Obamacare. The betting is still on Berg.