The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee released a poll by the Mellman group showing Lautenberg with an 11-point lead over Forrester in the New Jersey Senate race, 44-33. Even adjusting for the bias of a partisan poll, and allowing for the large sampling error due to a small sample size (n=400), that suggests that Lautenberg starts out ahead, at a moment when the slightly fishy odor of his entry into the race should be strongest. He won’t run out of money, and New Jersey is a Democratic state. So unless he loses the election 5-4 next week, I think he’s got it locked up.
If the Democrats hold on to the New Jersey seat, the Republicans have to more or less fill an inside straight to take the Senate back.
Here’s the arithmetic as I see it. If we treat every race where one candidate is either ahead by 10 points or over the 50% mark in the latest polls as likely to go to the current leader, and all others as “in play,” so far the Democrats have a likely pick-up in Arkansas and no likely loss. and have three seats “in play” to the Republicans’ one.
Democrats are at risk in Minnesota, where Wellstone is trailing by 6, Missouri, where Carnahan is now up by 8 but still below 50%, and South Dakota, where Johnson’s lead has shrunk to 46-43.
The Republicans risk the loss of a seat in Colorado, where Strickland has pulled even with Allard.
So Republicans would have to win three out of four close races to take control of the Senate, and right now they lead in only one, are even in another, and trail in two. Not impossible, by any means, not not easy.
There are other races where a turnover would be unlikely but not far-fetched. Four Republican seats are in that category: New Hampshire, where Sununu seems to be way up in a non-partisan poll but a Democratic poll has Shaheen up by two; Texas, where Cronyn has a big lead but is still below 50%; North Carolina, where Dole is ahead 52-41 but Bowles seems to be gaining; and South Carolina, where Sanders is thought by some to have a chance. The incumbent Democrats in Georgia and Iowa are both over 50% but ahead by less than 10 points, with shrinking leads. (Oregon, Alabama, and Oklahoma, all of which looked like potential Democratic pick-ups, now seem out of reach.)
I’m not exactly breathing easy, but I think the Democrats are going to make it. If I had to bet on an outcome, I’d predict a one-seat gain for the Democrats, with pickups in Arkansas and Colorado and a loss in Minnesota.