Predicting the Senate

One source of agreement: Nobody can predict New Jersey.

Published September 18, 2006 4:41PM (EDT)

A new balance-of-power scorecard from Rasmussen Reports shows Democrats making some serious progress in their bid to win control of the Senate in November. About a week ago, Rasmussen was projecting that the 2006 elections would leave the Republicans holding 50 seats, the Democrats holding 45 seats and five more still too close to call. With a new analysis out today, Rasmussen projects a 49-48 GOP advantage with just three states left in what it calls the "toss-up" category: Missouri, New Jersey and Tennessee. Rasmussen comes up with such a big swing by moving three other states -- Montana, Ohio and Rhode Island -- into its blue column.

How do Rasmussen's projections compare with those made by others?

Wall Street Journal: Eschewing equivocation, the Journal paints seats solidly red or solidly blue pretty much regardless of whether a candidate's polling lead is in double digits or within the margin of error. The resulting projection: 52 Republicans, 45 Democrats, two independents (Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman) and one race (New Jersey) too close to call.

CQ Politics: Relying on polls, reporting, research and experience, CQ Politics assigns races to spots on a scale that runs from "Safe Democratic" to "Safe Republican" with five categories in between. Its current projection: 51 Republicans, 44 Democrats (including Sanders and Lieberman) and five races (Montana, Minnesota, Ohio, New Jersey and Rhode Island) that are too close to call.

Charlie Cook: Cook says that it's "easy to see how Democrats might score a net gain of three or four seats," and that a gain of five seats is a "reasonable possibility." But he says that winning six seats -- what the Democrats need to take control from Dick Cheney and the GOP -- "still looks tough," particularly in light of the Robert Menendez/Thomas Kean Jr. deadlock in New Jersey.

Larry Sabato: Warning that angry voters are unpredictable voters, Sabato predicts that Democrats will pick up somewhere between three and six seats in November.

Is there a consensus here? Yep. Each and every one of the prognosticators declares New Jersey too close to call. As figures it, the last five polls on that race have Kean over Menendez by a within-the-margin-of-error average of two percentage points.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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