As the primary season wraps up, we are beginning to get our first look at the 2016 Senate races. It may be hard to remember, but most of these seats last came up for election during the Republican / Tea Party wave of 2010. Back when Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck had dueling National Mall rallies to support and oppose sanity. Both Stewart and Beck are off the air, but many of the Senators elected that year are still stalking the hallways of the Capitol. Because so many Republicans won in 2010, the GOP has to defend an impressive 24 seats to 10 seats for the Democrats. To make it worse, many of these races are in typically Democratic states during general election years, such as Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. It is likely that the Democrats will gain seats in the Senate, but it is not clear how many they’ll be able to peal back into the blue column or whether Donald Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket will start a Democratic wave election down ballot.
Currently, there are 46 Democratic Senators. Given the state of the Presidential contest, it looks like Democratic Senate candidates will be competitive in 6 GOP held seats (WI, PA, NH, OH, FL, and IL). Ohio is the biggest stretch for the Democrats, where the incumbent Rob Portman appears to be in a tough reelection fight. It’s not entirely clear whether being picked to be Trump’s VP would help or hurt Portman in Ohio, but I guarantee that he’s been contacted by Trump and is getting a lot of unsolicited and contradictory advice on the matter. Potentially, if the Trump candidacy collapses under the weight of its own hairspray and gold spray-painted facade, McCain in Arizona, Burr in North Carolina, and even Chuck Grassley of Iowa might be vulnerable. However, we’re not in a position to say that yet.
We’ll be updating the Senate Model as polling trickles in over the early summer. The model is a combination of Senate polling and party performance in the Presidential Election Model. Typically, we would put favorable weight on incumbency, since incumbents historically perform well in reelection campaigns, but this year’s turbulent and anti-establishment environment has dissuaded us from putting our thumbs on the scale in that way.