Nate Silver's new Senate forecast could terrify Democrats into action

Polling expert Nate Silver has come out with a new forecast: Republicans are currently favorites to take control of the Senate this fall. That prediction could open Democratic wallets.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, seen here on Capitol Hill in Washington, has been trying to turn voters against the Koch brothers, two obscure billionaires who are funding attacks on Senate Democrats and the president’s healthcare law. A new poll could help Democrats' counter-fundraising.

Nate Silver, the political prognosticator pilloried by Republicans for predicting, correctly, President Obama's convincing victory in 2012, has perhaps just given the GOP another reason to curse him.

He has predicted that Republicans are better than even odds to take back the Senate this November.

At first blush, that might seem like something for Republicans to celebrate. Control of the Senate is the Grand Prize up for grabs in this fall's midterm elections. Few doubt that Republicans will hold on to the House, and most also acknowledge that Republicans are likely to cut into the Democrats' 55-to-45 majority in the Senate. (There are actually only 53 Senate Democrats, but both Senate Independents side with the Democrats.)

The burning question is whether Republicans will win enough seats to become the majority. And now Mr. Silver, the Web's foremost political polling analyst and the very man who refused to give Mitt Romney much electoral love two years ago, has suggested on his FiveThirtyEight blog that "Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber."

Crack open the caviar, right? Cue the images of Mr. Obama's final two lonely years in the Oval Office, where filling out the presidential Final Four bracket will be the height of his executive action.

But here's the rub.

One of the great challenges facing Democrats this November is the threat of getting outspent, big time. That is why Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) has taken every conceivable opportunity (and a couple fairly inconceivable ones) to attack the Koch brothers, the conservative political donors who even at this early stage of the election are spending millions on advertisements to unseat the most vulnerable Senate Democrats.

Fortunately for Senator Reid, no one opens Democratic pocketbooks like Nate Silver, it seems.

Democratic operatives have found that the most effective way to get a potential donor to open an e-mail is to put Silver's name in the subject line, according to a report by National Journal's Scott Bland. As in: "Nate Silver's terrifying math."

The last time Silver released a Senate forecast (July), he called Senate control a "toss-up." His new analysis, released Sunday, could be the forecast that launches a thousand Democratic e-mails. If the June forecast was "terrifying," the new one is nearing a Democratic Senatepocalypse.

"There's a lot of testing, particularly for subject lines, to see what has the best open rates," Taryn Rosenkranz, a Democratic digital fundraising consultant, told National Journal. "Using that name [Silver] over and over suggests it's successful, and people are opening and giving."

The Koch brothers' early spending is already forcing some Democrats to dip into funds they had hoped to hold in reserve. The Koch brothers' "super political action committee," Americans for Prosperity, has reportedly spent $3 million on ads attacking Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana on Obamacare. 

"Now, Landrieu is reserving $2.6 million in airtime between April and June, an apparent recognition that the cascade of opposition ads has forced her to consider spending big months before the November election," The Washington Post reported last week.

Perhaps the biggest problem facing Democrats this fall is getting their own voters to the polls. In midterm elections, when the political buzz is lower, many voters stay at home – and those voters often trend Democratic.

"During presidential elections, young people vote, women are more likely to vote, blacks, Hispanics more likely to vote," Obama said Thursday at a fundraiser in Miami for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "But in midterms, we get clobbered – either because we don't think it's important, or we've become so discouraged about what's happening in Washington that we think it's not worth our while."

Motivating those voters to think voting is worth their while this November will be Job No. 1 for the Democratic campaign operatives. And on Sunday, Silver might have given them a little more ammunition.

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