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Battle for Senate control tipping towards the GOP?

If polling trends continue, then Republicans wouldn’t need to worry about Kansas, because they would still have a majority, even if Sen. Pat Roberts loses. All the major forecasters now give the edge to the GOP.

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    US Sen. Pat Roberts applauds former Alaska governor Sarah Palin as she enters the room for a pancake breakfast at the Independence Historical Museum and Art Center on Sept. 25, 2014, in Independence, Kansas. Roberts is locked in a close race with independent challenger Greg Orman.
    Jaime Green/The Wichita Eagle/AP
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The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza notes that election projections are starting to turn significantly in favor of a Republican takeover of the Senate:

All three major election forecasting models saw an uptick in the likelihood of Republicans winning the six seats they need to retake the Senate majority over the past week, movement largely due to the party’s strengthened chances in Alaska, Colorado and Iowa.

The most bullish model for Republicans is Washington Post’s Election Lab, which, as of Monday morning, gives the GOP a 76 percent chance of winning the majority. Leo, the New York Times model, pegs it at 67 percent while FiveThirtyEight shows Republicans with a 60 percent probability. A week ago, Election Lab gave Republicans a 65 percent chance of winning the majority, Leo put it a 55 percent and FiveThirtyEight had it just under 55 percent.

All three models give Republicans very strong odds of winning the open seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia as well as beating Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.). That would net Republicans five seats, one short of the number they need for the majority.

Of the rest of the competitive seats, Alaska is the biggest mover in all three models from a week ago. At that time, the models disagreed — Election Lab (81 percent chance) and Leo (62 percent) gave Democrats the edge while FiveThirtyEight had Republicans at a 56 percent probability of winning. Today all three models align; Leo gives former state attorney general Dan Sullivan (R) a 72 percent chance of winning while Election Lab puts it at 71 percent and FiveThirty Eight at 68 percent.  A series of polls released over the last week have shown Sullivan moving ahead of Sen. Mark Begich (D).

In addition to Alaska and Louisiana, Republicans have also been performing well in polling in Colorado lately, where Congressman Cory Gardner appears to have pulled ahead of Sen. Mark Udall (D) and how leads by a small margin in the RealClearPolitics average. There’s also good news for Republicans right now in Iowa, where Joni Ernst has posted strong leads in highly respected polls from The Des Moines Register and Quinnipiac and now has just over a two point lead in the polling average. Add these two states in to the list of states where Republicans are already performing well, and you will find yourself with a very red map. At this moment, in fact, all of the states which RealClearPolitics lists as “toss-ups” due to how close the candidates are in the polling average, it’s the Republican candidate that has the lead. When you give the toss-ups to the candidate in the lead, that leaves us with a Republican pickup of seven seats and a Senate in January that would have 52 Republicans, 47 Democrats or Independents caucusing with Democrats, and Kansas Independent Greg Orman who still isn’t saying whom he would caucus with if he won in November. Obviously, this projection also assumes that the GOP will hold on to the Senate seats in Kentucky and Georgia; however, given current polling trends it looks like this is exactly what will happen. If this trend continues, then Republicans wouldn’t need to worry about Kansas, because they would still have a majority even if Sen. Pat Roberts loses. Vox’s “aggregation of aggregators” agree, pointing out that all of the major forecasters now give the edge to the GOP, including Sam Wang at the Princeton Election Consortium who has been alone among forecasters this year in predicting that the Democrats would hold on to the Senate.

Based on these numbers, at least, it looks like voters might be starting to finalize their decisions and turn toward the GOP. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that we are still at that point in the race where things could still be very much in flux, which is why the phrase “if this trend continues” is so important. It was just two weeks ago, after all, that the polls seemed to be indicating that the race for Senate control was tightening thanks to signs of strength among Democratic candidates in North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Colorado. There have really only been a handful of truly reliable polls released since then, and while they do seem to show things tipping in the GOP’s direction, it’s clearly far too early for either Republicans to start celebrating or Democrats to start panicking. On the other hand, it’s worth nothing that recent national polling has also been quite favorable to the GOP, and it’s possible that we’re starting to see those national numbers filter down to the state races.

Recommended: Election 2014: the most competitive Senate races

In either case, given this volatility, it’s far too early to start making ground pronouncements about what is going to happen in November. If the polling models are still showing the same thing a week or two from now, of course, it would be a different story. Additionally, Nate Silver says that while it’s too early for Democrats to panic, it may be soon depending on how the polls keep going:

They should keep a close eye on North Carolina and Kansas. These states have been moving toward Democrats in our forecast, helping them offset Republican gains elsewhere.

But these are also races in which the Democrat is doing better than the“fundamentals” of the states might suggest. The Democratic incumbent in North Carolina, Kay Hagan, is pretty clearly ahead in the polls today (including in a CNN survey that was released on Sunday). However, two other states with vulnerable Democratic incumbents, Colorado and Alaska, have shifted toward Republicans. Perhaps if the Republican challenger Thom Tillis can equalize the ad spending in the Tar Heel State, the polls will show a more even race there as well.

And the Kansas race is still in its formative stages. No one has yet polled the race after the Democratic candidate, Chad Taylor, was officially allowed to remove his name from the ballot on Sept. 18. Since then, the ad spending has become more even after nearly a month in which Orman had a pronounced advantage over Roberts. In about 7 percent of our forecast model’s simulations, Democrats held the Senate solely because they won Kansas and Orman elected to caucus with them; without it, Republicans would already be 2-to-1 favorites to take the Senate.

Democrats should also monitor the polls in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska. As I mentioned, if these go from being probable GOP pickups to near-certain ones, it will make a lot of difference in the model.

So, yes, the trends are most definitely moving in the GOP’s direction and there’s little reason to think that the political climate will improve for Democrats any time soon, but given the fact that we’re still looking at a battle for the Senate that could tip one way or the other based just on what happens in one or two states, and that we may not even know who controls the Senate until after the Senate convenes in January,it’s still far too early to make definitive predictions. That being said, were I a Democrat, I would be starting to get worried.

Doug Mataconis appears on the Outside the Beltway blog at http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/.

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