Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape” have reshaped the Senate map for the GOP. For the immediate future the GOP does not believe it can win or should even invest resources in Missouri. So where does that leave the party after losing one of its top pick-up opportunities for the cycle?
Surprisingly the party is not in bad shape. The GOP is likely to win an open seat in Nebraska and still has golden opportunities in North Dakota, Wisconsin, Montana, Virginia and still to a lesser extent Missouri. More different to categorize are the subsequent races the GOP hopes to make competitive.
In Florida polls have shown a tightening between Republican Congressman Connie Mack and Democratic Senator Ben Nelson. Mack revamped his campaign after anemic second quarter fundraising numbers and his campaign has been on the attack ever since. Both presidential campaigns are also heavily targeting this seat and could have an influence on turnout in the race.
Ohio is also on the GOP’s “hopeful” list. State Treasurer and veteran Josh Mandel is challenging progressive freshman Sherrod Brown. Until recently many assumed Brown was running away with the race. But a flurry of new polls have shown Mandel is tied or within the margin of error against Brown. Mandel has a boyish face and charm that should not be underestimated. Brown has deep connections in the state through his time in the state legislature and as Congressman.
Without a doubt the GOP would love to make Michigan competitive. Even if Democrats win the presidential and Senate races the fact they had to invest time and money in the state shows just how in trouble Democrats are. Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra has gained ground on Senator Debbie Stabenow in new polls and it worries Democrats. Democrats largely assumed Stabenow would be fine when Hoekstra stumbled out of the gate but he easily won his party’s primary and is on the attack.
Then there are the dark horse races. For the GOP this comes down to one race, Connecticut. Former WWF executive and 2010 Senate candidate Linda McHahon recently locked up her party’s nomination in the state. Party officials were initially skeptical of her viability this year due to her loss in 2010. But her campaign has been more disciplined, her attacks more direct, money has never been an issue and her opponent, freshman Congressman Chris Murphy, is no Richard Blumenthal. Blumenthal was the state’s former Attorney General and beat McHahon in 2010. A brand new Quinnipiac poll shows McHahon ahead 49%-46% among Likely Voters and her favorability numbers are far above her 2010 levels. The GOP still expects Democrats to hold this seat but they would love to make Democrats sweat and use precious resources to do so.
North Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin and Virginia all offer the GOP hope. The GOP was initially optimistic on North Dakota but quickly became concerned when freshman Congressman Rick Berg let former state AG Heidi Heitikamp (D) get even in the polls. No new surveys have been conducted lately but recent articles suggest with national GOP help Berg has refined his message and has specific lines of attacks to launch against Heitikamp. Virginia is a rematch of two former Governors. George Allen and Tim Kaine are well-known to state voters and polls show the race neck and neck. This race could be won on the coattails of the winning presidential candidate.
Wisconsin is looking more and more like a GOP pick-up. Former four term GOP Governor Tommy Thompson won his party’s nomination and is set to face Congressman Tammy Baldwin. Baldwin is gay and represented liberal Madison for her tenure in Congress. Polls show both the candidates have about the same cash on hand but Thompson has better favorability ratings and leads in the polls. Lastly, Montana offers the GOP their best chance to win a Senate seat in the Mountain West. Congressman Denny Rehburg is running against freshman Senator Jon Tester. Both candidates are well-known to state voters and this race could be won or lost on how well Rehburg can tie Tester to the Stimulus and Obamacare (he voted for both).
Even without Missouri all these opportunities make the GOP bullish. This even as the GOP is protecting vulnerable incumbents in Nevada and Massachusetts and faces an uphill climb in Maine. GOP strategists do concede the road to the majority, three seat gain if Romney wins or four seats if Obama does, was made harder with Akin’s comments and refusal to leave the race. But GOP strategists easily see a road to the majority that goes through Nebraska, Montana, Wisconsin, North Dakota or even Florida and Ohio. Democrats scoff at this view as they see Nelson, Stabenow and Brown as fairly secure in their positions. But with millions ready to be spent by GOP allied groups in the final 10 weeks of the campaign anything could change.
I purposely excluded New Mexico from the GOP list because as strong as former Congresswoman Heather Wilson may be as a candidate the current demographics of the state do not favor her. Unless she can dramatically over-perform Romney’s performance in the state, particularly among Hispanics, she will not win (though Republicans argue otherwise).