Sabato: Shutdown has hurt GOP efforts to win control of Senate

McClatchy Washington BureauOctober 24, 2013 

Looks like the shutdown may have wounded, at least for now, Republican chances of retaking the Senate next year, according to political analyst Larry Sabato.

"Louisiana and North Carolina are no longer toss-ups in the Senate; they now lean Democratic," he wrote Thursday.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win control of the Senate next year, and until now, that appeared within reach. Democrats currently hold nearly all the most vulnerable seats.

But the 16 day shutdown that ended last week may have changed the dynamic. While Sabato and other analysts warn it's very early, they also see movement.

"If the numbers look similar close to Election Day next year, Democrats would be poised for significant gains in the House, and the generic ballot would also indirectly indicate a national sentiment for retained Democratic control of the Senate," Sabato said.

Here's his analysis of North Carolina, a seat now held by Democrat Kay Hagan, and Louisiana, where Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, is seeking another term.

"Other than the national dynamics, state-level issues are impacting the race in the Tar Heel State. Freshly-minted Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and the Republican-controlled state legislature have passed a series of conservative measures into law, such as implementing new voter ID regulations and placing new restrictions on abortion clinics. With the accompanying controversies over this and other legislation, McCrory’s approval rating is stuck in the 30s,  while only about a quarter of the state approves of the legislature. The main beneficiary of the tanking Republican ratings has been Sen. Kay Hagan (D), who is in a better position now to win reelection. With the leading Republican option in the race being state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), a man directly involved in the unpopular actions of the General Assembly, Hagan’s chance of survival has definitely improved.

Also keep an eye on a Tea Party insurgent on the Republican side, physician Greg Brannon. Brannon recently won the support of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and could be a factor in the GOP primary. Whether Brannon is the next Paul — or the next Sharron Angle or Christine O’Donnell, to name two of the more memorable Tea Party duds — remains to be seen.

Down in the Pelican State, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) also finds herself in a more favorable situation. Not only has the national Republican brand suffered, but Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), her likely opponent, has not impressed with his fundraising. While Landrieu raised close to $1.4 million in the last quarter, Cassidy only could manage to pull in $700,000. She now has significantly more cash-on-hand than Cassidy ($5.8 million to $3.4 million). Cassidy also voted against the debt ceiling compromise, a vote that is perhaps aimed at shoring up his right flank, although he doesn’t have a ton of competition there (Tea Partier Rob Maness is also in the race, but other, bigger-name Republicans have so far decided not to run). The “no” on the debt ceiling vote probably wouldn’t help during a general election, although it’s not guaranteed to hurt, either. Given her history of pulling out close elections, Landrieu has earned herself a small edge in the race.

That leaves only two toss-up races in our ratings: Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK) and Mark Pryor (D-AR).

So long as Joe Miller (R), the disastrous 2010 Senate nominee, doesn’t win the Alaska Republican nomination, there are several Republicans who could give Begich a hard time in the general election. This is just a state that generally does not send Democrats to the Senate, period. One thing to watch here is if any credible third-party candidate emerges, which is common in Alaska. If so, Begich may not need to get over 50% to win.

Pryor’s opponent is clearer: It’ll be Rep. Tom Cotton (R, AR-4). Cotton, despite being a favorite of more conservative players in the GOP (like the Club for Growth), cast a general election-style vote on the debt ceiling deal: He ultimately supported it, unlike Cassidy. That vote, in our eyes, speaks well of his political prowess. Pryor remains in deep trouble and is probably the most endangered Senate incumbent of either party at this point. (Remember that Democratic-held Senate seats where we favor Republican takeovers in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia are all open seats.)"

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