Maine Race Heats Up as Others Cool

The Democrats could still retain the Senate. But the coin tosses would have to be heavily in their favor. 
One more time.

Time for the final Friday roundup of campaign 2014: a look at control of the Senate, plus tidbits from individual races.

1. It's looking good for the election predictions from the Washington Post's Monkey Cage. While other forecasters have seen Republicans as slim favorites to reach 51 seats, the political scientists projecting for the Post have said all fall that a Republican Senate majority was close to a lock.

Most other models are now projecting about a 70 percent chance for Republican control. This doesn't mean, as Nate Silver points out today, that the polls in aggregate would have to be wrong for Democrats to win; what it would take is for Democrats to win a disproportionate share of coin tosses, which is possible but increasingly unlikely. For example, the New York Times currently estimates a 36 percent chance that Democratic Senator Mark Begich hangs on in Alaska; a win for him might be consistent with a regular polling margin of error, rather than evidence of a serious polling mishap.

2. In the Senate, the projections are still converging on 52 Republicans; the increasing chances of a Republican majority are more about leads solidifying than about new seats switching from likely Democratic to likely Republican. But anything from 48 Republican seats up to maybe 55 is still plausible. As I've said, Republicans would have a lot less trouble blocking the president's nominees with a 54-46 majority than with a 51-49 edge.

3. OK, I admit it: Nothing interesting happened in the South Dakota four-candidate Senate race after all (Republican Mike Rounds has the lead). But check out the Maine gubernatorial election, where incumbent Republican Paul LePage is trying to hold off Democrat Mike Michaud, with independent Eliot Cutler apparently drawing enough support away from Michaud to keep it close. Read political scientist Amy Fried of Pollways on why Senator Angus King's support for Michaud, announced this week, may be the rare endorsement that matters. The idea is to persuade Cutler's supporters to accept that only Michaud has a chance of replacing the very conservative LePage. We'll see. Crazy things can happen in a competitive multicandidate race, while in a normal two-party contest, third-party minor candidates tend to fade at the end. The trick for Michaud, throughout the campaign, has been to turn it into a normal two-party election.

4. One look-ahead question on the House races: Will Republican gains overall (maybe 10 seats, maybe a few more?) outpace gains by party radicals? In other words, will the mainstream (very) conservative majority find it easier or harder to govern? Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post had a little about this earlier in the week. It's often difficult to know how candidates will behave after they get elected. After all, almost every Republican these days uses language borrowed from the radicals to appeal to Tea Party voters; many of them, however, are interested in governing when they get to Washington -- at least when they're not worrying about primary challenges. We may be able to predict their voting records. It's harder to guess what their basic approach to governing will be.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

    To contact the author on this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor on this story:
    Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net

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