Why is GOP's Karl Rove warning Democrats might keep Senate?

Republican strategist Rove notes that, to this point, Democrats have outraised and outspent Republicans on Senate races. Could money outweigh President Obama's poor approval ratings and greater enthusiasm among GOP voters?

Rich Pedroncelli/AP/FILE
Republican strategist Karl Rove, shown in a 2013 file photo, posited in The Wall Street Journal Thursdaythat Democrats may hang on to the Senate in the mid-term elections.

GOP bigwig Karl Rove says that it is still possible Republicans won’t win a Senate majority in the fall midterm elections.

Yes, that Karl Rove – the chief strategist for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, top fundraiser for the right-leaning American Crossroads super PAC, the guy who argued on air when Fox News awarded Ohio to President Obama on election night 2012. In other words, a staunch figure in the party.

Mr. Rove’s got a piece in the Wall Street Journal today titled “Why a GOP Senate Majority Is Still in Doubt.” It argues that the Democrats might still maintain control of the chamber after November despite their disadvantages, which include President Obama’s poor approval ratings, some lackluster performances by Democratic candidates, and greater enthusiasm amongst Republican voters.

Why? In a word, money. Rove notes that to this point Democrats have outraised and outspent Republicans on Senate races, by some measures. Democratic candidates have spent $24 million more on TV ads than their GOP opponents, Rove writes.

“Republican candidates and groups must step up if they are to substantially reduce that gap,” writes Rove.

Is this just someone who benefits from fundraising saying that lack of fundraising is a problem? After all, to a hammer, every problem is a nail that’s sticking out and needs hammering down. Or something like that.

Maybe. But on the other hand, Rove is a smart guy, and he’s not the only one pointing to a GOP cash shortfall to explain the surprisingly close midterm Senate contest.

Nate Silver, the data whiz behind the new 538 data journalism site, said this week that Democrats have more cash than the GOP in key Senate races. That’s a possible reason why some election forecasts show the battle for the chamber to be a toss-up, according to Silver.

And campaign ads do matter – particularly when a candidate can outspend their opponent, and time is short until Election Day, so the effect doesn’t wear off.

So maybe Rove’s right. He also emphasizes that Republican candidates have to campaign as a block to the ambitions of the unpopular President Obama. But his warning might be late. That’s not because there’s too little time for Republicans to catch up. It’s because they already are – or already might be, rather, if polls and forecasts are any guide.

A bad day of surveys for Senate Democratic candidates is causing election forecasting models to drift back toward Republicans. The New York Times Upshot forecasting model now gives the GOP a 57 percent chance of winning a Senate majority, a seven-point gain. The Daily Kos model stands a 54 percent chance of a Republican takeover, a nine-point gain.

Behind this move are polls showing Republican candidates making strides in the key purple states of Iowa, Colorado, and Louisiana, explains Andrew Prokup at Vox.

These “new polls should be taken as provisional. But they do not cut against the growing sense that the purple states were moving in the Democrats’ direction – and they show just how close the Senate battle remains,” writes Mr. Prokup today.

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