Politics & Government

Which party will win the Senate? Who knows, experts say

Some of the nation’s best political prognosticators imparted this piece of knowledge Thursday on which political party will gain control of the Senate after the Nov. 4 elections: It’s too soon to tell.

‘Guys, we have a long ways to go,’ Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said at an Election 2014 event hosted my The National Journal at Washington’s Newseum. ‘We’re five weeks out, four-and-a-half weeks out from the elections. That’s several political lifetimes. The Senate is not yet decided.’

Newhouse, who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2014 Republican presidential campaign, and fellow panelists Charlie Cook, a National Journal columnist and editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report, and Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, agreed that the landscape looks better for Republicans heading into November.

Republicans only need a net gain of six seats to win the Senate; Democrats are defending more seats than Republicans; seven of the 21 Democratic seats are in states that Romney won in 2012; President Barack Obama’s low approval numbers could be a drag on Democratic candidates; and poll after poll show Republican voters are more enthusiastic heading in next month’s elections.

Cook called the combination a perfect storm for Republicans and gave the party a 60 percent chance of gaining the Senate. Still, all three experts stressed that the election isn’t over until it’s over (and may not be over in November if Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu, D-La., is forced into a runoff vote in December) even with the advantages tilting Republican.

‘Campaigns do matter. And that’s why I think anybody who’s predicting today that Republicans are going to win or Democrats are going to win, guess what, campaigns make mistakes,’ Newhouse said. ‘And over the last month or so we’ve seen it go from Republican advantage, to kind of Democrats edging back to Republicans having the wind at their backs. These candidates and campaigns make mistakes: they run advertising that’s ineffective, they focus on the wrong issues…these campaigns do make a difference.’

Greenberg said the race for the Senate is on a ‘knife’s edge.’

‘I’m in the 50-50 probability,’ he said.

Greenberg said incumbent Senate Democrats in tight races could be aided by the unpopularity of Republicans in the House of Representatives and of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who’s in a tough re-election bid against Democratic challenger Alison Lundgren Grimes.

‘Views of House Republicans are more important than views of the senators and the Senate parties,’ Greenberg said. ‘The House Republicans define the Republican party.’