The Hotline's Senate Race Rankings: 20 Seats Up for Grabs
by Reid Wilson, Josh Kraushaar and Quinn McCord, National Journal, November 21, 2011
What goes around comes around. After losing virtually every toss-up Senate race in 2006, Republicans find themselves in prime position to pick up the four seats they need to control the Senate. And Democrats' success five years ago means Republicans have plenty of targets from which to choose.
In this, the first installment of Hotline's monthly Senate race rankings, we examine the seats most likely to change partisan control in next year's elections. That is, we see Sen. Kent Conrad's seat in North Dakota as more likely to wind up in Republican hands than Sen. Ben Nelson's seat in Nebraska, and Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts more likely to lose to a Democrat than Nevada Sen. Dean Heller.
Our complex methodology includes a delicate balance of poll numbers, both public and private; fundraising performance; message resonance; buzz on the trail; and, the key ingredient, our gut feelings. From those five factors, we answer a fundamental question: Which candidate would we rather be? In North Dakota, we'd rather be in Rep. Rick Berg's position than in former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp's place, for example.
The ultimate conclusions are subjective, of course, and we promise they endear us to neither side (Our phones will ring off the hooks with loud complaints from both Democrats and Republicans the moment these rankings are published). But they represent months of close scrutiny of each race, and our best conclusions as to where the Senate is headed in the 113th Congress.
The bottom line: It's a target-rich environment for the GOP, but unlike in 2010, Democrats have opportunities to make life very uncomfortable for at least a few Republicans.
HAWAII (Open, Sen. Daniel Akaka retiring)
Former Gov. Linda Lingle is probably the one Republican in the country who embraces the RINO label. She needs to be seen as an independent in President Obama's home state. Lingle will benefit from what's likely to be a major schism in the Democratic field, as Rep. Mazie Hirono and ex-Rep. Ed Case battle it out in a late primary. But she may need as many as 20 points of split-ticket voting to overcome Obama's huge support; Republicans haven't elected a senator in the Aloha State since Hiram Fong won reelection in 1970.