Morning midterms update: Nate Silver gives GOP edge to take Senate – with a caveat

Plus: Updates on Florida's governor race, New Hampshire's Senate race and Obama's campaigning plans

Published September 24, 2014 12:18PM (EDT)

Nate Silver                        (ABC)
Nate Silver (ABC)

In its latest forecast, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight gives Republicans a 59 percent chance of winning back control of the U.S. Senate. That prediction comes with a major caveat, however.

FiveThirtyEight predicts that Republicans will win open Democratic-held seats in South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana, and that GOP challengers will oust Democratic incumbents in Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. With independent Greg Orman forecast to knock off Sen. Pat Roberts in Kansas, that makes for a net GOP gain of six seats in the chamber — the minimum necessary to put the Senate in Republican hands.

But FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten cautions that the site’s latest forecast may overstate the likelihood of a GOP takeover. That’s because of continued uncertainty over polling in Alaska, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is trying to fend off a challenge from former state Attorney General Dan Sullivan. The state — a maddeningly difficult one to poll, given that many of its residents live in remote areas — has just seen its first poll in recent weeks, and it shows Sullivan narrowly leading Begich.

Enten notes, however, that while nonpartisan polls have lately shown Sullivan on top, partisan polls in the state may actually be “higher quality,” since they’ve been conducted by live interviews and have included cellphone users, unlike the robocalls and online polling nonpartisan pollsters have used.

Moreover, while FiveThirtyEight’s model gives GOP challenger Cory Gardner a 54 percent chance of defeating incumbent Democrat Mark Udall, that partly reflects a recent outlier Qunnipiac poll showing Gardner leading Udall by 8 points; most other polls have given Udall a narrow lead.

Meanwhile, Princeton’s Sam Wang — whose model Silver has previously slammed as “wrong” — is more bullish on the Democrats’ chances. In a new piece for the New Yorker, Wang estimates that Democrats have a 70 percent chance of hanging on to the Senate. Parting ways with FiveThirtyEight, Wang predicts that Begich and Udall will win their respective races, although he concedes that the races are extremely close.

In other midterm news:

  • President Obama told Democratic donors in New York on Tuesday that he’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that Democrats keep the Senate, but Politico reports this morning that the president has no plans to campaign with Senate candidates in any state besides blue Michigan, where Democratic Rep. Gary Peters has held a steady lead against GOPer Terri Lynn Land. The White House may deploy first lady Michelle Obama to key Senate battlegrounds, however. Despite plans to steer clear of most Senate races, Politico reports that Obama is expected to campaign with Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois and possibly Massachusetts.
  • Meanwhile, the president’s former secretary of state is headed to Florida to assist Republican-turned-Independent-turned Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist in his bid to reclaim his old job. Clinton will head to the Sunshine State to headline an October fundraiser for Crist, who’s locked in a tight battle with incumbent Gov. Rick Scott. Two new polls out this morning show Scott narrowly edging Crist.
  • Scott Brown may have posed nude in Cosmopolitan in 1982, but the magazine is endorsing Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for reelection. Citing Shaheen’s support of women’s equality, the DREAM Act, LGBT rights, and an increased minimum wage, the magazine tore into Brown for his anti-choice votes as a senator from Massachusetts and for evading questions about his stance on contraception issues. “Scott Brown may have been Cosmopolitan's ‘sexiest man’ in 1982,” Cosmo writes, “but in 2014, we're picking brains over brawn — and that's Jeanne Shaheen.”

By Luke Brinker

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