Election 2014 update: Nate Silver says Senate Dems are gaining

FiveThirtyEight's chief predictor explains how changes in Colorado and North Carolina may upend the Senate race

Published September 16, 2014 1:55PM (EDT)

Nate Silver                        (ABC)
Nate Silver (ABC)

Long before the midterm election campaigns happening by the hundreds right now across the country had designed their first bumper stickers, the conventional wisdom held that 2014 was not going to be the Democrats' year.

For reasons of geography, demography and terrible timing — and because the party that controls the White House in the sixth year of a presidency usually takes a hit in the midterms — it was assumed that Democrats would have to give up entirely on winning back the House and focus instead on merely holding on to control of the Senate. Even that, thought some, was a stretch.

Until recently, the conventional wisdom even had FiveThirtyEight numbers guru and star economic oddsmaker Nate Silver on its side. Throughout most of the summer, Silver's model gave Republicans around a 6-in-10 chance of taking the Senate. But things can change; and due to developments in Colorado and North Carolina, Silver writes in his latest update, the race for control of the Senate is "pretty darn close," with Republicans' chances standing at 55 percent after being 64 percent as recently as last week.

Here's more from Silver, as well as the other important recent news about the midterm campaign:

  • The change in the FiveThirtyEight model's prediction, Silver writes, is not due to some massive groundswell of Democratic support. "[T]here hasn’t been an across-the-board shift" in Democrats' favor, Silver says, "[b]ut the two states with the largest shifts have been Colorado and North Carolina," which "accounts for most of the difference in the forecast." Silver notes the strangeness of Dem gains in these purple states, given that support for the party overall has plummeted as of late. He chalks it up to more spending by the candidates as well as their outside backers.
  • The New York Times delves into another possible explanation for Senate Democrats' success thus far in keeping the bottom from falling out, if not quite defying all expectation. It's a new one for the Democrats, too: winning the culture war. According to the Times' Jonathan Martin, Democrats now use the issues of marriage equality, birth control and reproductive health "as a tool to both stoke concerns among moderate voters, especially women, and motivate their base." Martin argues the Democrats' behavior in this regard is no different than Republicans' in years past — but we're not so sure demagoguing about welfare queens is equivalent to supporting universal contraception.
  • Not everything has changed, however: According to a Politico report, a campaign featuring Mitch McConnell is about to get seriously sleazy. An outside group called Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is about to see what you get for "just under $1 million over the next week" when it comes to advertising. You can check out their ad here, but it's not weird or sordid enough that I would recommend it. It's your standard-issue anti-amnesty ad, one of the kind that reject any path to citizenship but doesn't have the guts to say outright what that would mean — deporting millions. TL;DR? They're taking your jarbs.
  • Finally, the Huffington Post does a deep dive into what former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called "the professional left," specifically its strategy for keeping the Senate in Democrats' hands — however ambivalent about shaking those hands they may be. As you might expect, it sounds like the get-out-the-vote strategy being used by folks at MoveOn and the AFL-CIO focuses a whole lot more on how Republicans are bad than on why Democrats are good.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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