By Ciro Scotti Are the pols, pundits, and pollsters right? On the eve of the midterm elections, is control of the Senate too close to call? Maybe not. More than a half-dozen races are squeakers, but we have consulted with the Neutral Oracle (who delivered a stunning 100% accuracy rate in Election 2000 predictions), and his un-Delphic utterance is: Most of those races will squeak Republican.
The math-based conventional wisdom is that the House will remain in GOP control. If that's correct (though the Dems could have some surprises in store, as my colleague Richard S. Dunham rightly suggests in his 11/4/02 story, "Can the GOP Buck History in the House?"), America may wake up on Nov. 6 looking at a Republican sweep.
Retaking the Senate means the Republicans will have to be victorious in six out of eight hotly contested states. Here's why that will happen:
THE VEEP GETS BEAT. In Georgia, war-hawk Representative Saxby Chambliss is looking to oust Democratic incumbent and disabled Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland, a dove on going to war with Iraq. Visits by the Commander-in-Chief to a state where necks are redder than the stripes on the flag should help Chambliss win the damn-Saddam vote and prevail.
Minnesota is a quirky state in the most pallid of years, but after the untimely death of Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone and the drafting of former Vice-President Walter Mondale to run in his stead, this race is about as predictable as Anna Nicole Smith on acid. Still, the Oracle's liberal Minneapolis mole morosely predicts that GOP candidate Norm Coleman will beat the Veep.
In the show-me state of Missouri, voters in 2000 showed compassion and cast their ballots for Mel Carnahan, who like Wellstone was killed in a tragic plane crash. Their expectation was that his wife, Jean, would be appointed to fill the first two years of his six-year term, which was what happened when Republican John Ashcroft did not contest the oh-so-tight vote tabulation.
DEBACLE FOR DASCHLE. That was then. Now, Jean Carnahan must win the remaining four years on her own, and she hasn't looked up to the job. Voters showed their heart two years ago. Now, they'll elect former Republican Representative Jim Talent.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle will have only himself to blame when he becomes Senate Minority Leader. On Election Day, he'll be unable to deliver his home state of South Dakota as Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson goes down to defeat against Bush's hand-picked agent, Representative John Thune. What does that say about Daschle's prospects in the 2004 Presidential sweepstakes?
The only person in the Senate with fewer hairs out of place than Liddy Dole will be the born-again Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Dole has been getting a run for her money in North Carolina from former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, who has spent a pant-load of his. But despite being so prepackaged that she's almost microwaveable, Dole will charm her way to the Capitol steps.
SELLECK ON HIS SIDE. In Texas, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk has mounted a last-minute charge against Republican Attorney General John Cornyn. Kirk, an African-American centrist, makes a compelling case that he's the sort of bridge-builder Washington needs. But is Texas really going to kick dust in the face of its homegrown ex-governor-turned-President? Don't count on it. And Republican Representative John Sununu could prevail in New Hampshire despite a strong showing by former Democratic Governor Jeane Shaheen.
Finally, Republican incumbent Wayne Allard of Colorado could beat back a challenge by millionaire former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland, but here's the only race where the Oracle isn't quite sanguine about a GOP victory. The cool-guy-wins theory is at work here. And Strickland has that Tom-Selleck-lookalike thing going on. Too close to call.
When the smoke clears, the Oracle predicts, the Republicans will have 50 seats or more. That will mean bragging rights for George W., whose popularity was not thought to be transferable. It will mean committee chairmanships for Senate Republicans again. And it will mean a whole new tenor in Washington.
If the GOP has a bare 50 seats, plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice-President Dick Cheney, that may mean less than meets the eye. The skunk at the party will be Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Republican who, like Vermont's Jim Jeffords, has hinted about possibly switching his party affiliation. This year's post-election maneuvering could get very interesting. When he's not consulting the Neutral Oracle, scotti is BusinessWeek senior editor for politics and sports business. He offers his views in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BusinessWeek Online