It Ain’t Pretty: Senate Dems Struggle To Hold 59 Seats (CHARTS)

September 7, 2010 8:35 a.m.

Just how bad is it out there? Consider the TPM charts below showing the poll averages from each of the elections for Senate seats currently held by Democrats. Not a single Democrat in a contested race sits above 50 percent. Worse yet, many of them are outright losing to Republicans.

Election Day is still weeks off, and anything, and we mean anything, can happen to change these numbers on a dime. And it’s important to remember that there are so many more factors to consider than just polls, which, as we’ve proven again and again, can be wrong. Many of these Democratic incumbents have mountains of cash in the bank and President Obama has continued to be a massive fundraising strength for Democratic senators despite his unpopularity nationally. Plus, some of these Dems are up against barely-ready-for-prime-time Republicans with extreme views, and those numbers seem like they could waver.

But if every TPM Poll Average culled from our PollTracker and seen below were to hold on through Nov. 2, Democrats would lose at least five seats, and possibly as many as eight.Of course, between now and the election we’ll be looking at plenty of other scenarios, including surprising — but possible — Dem pickups in states like Kentucky and Alaska.

For now, take a look at the standings of seats held by Democrats. It ain’t pretty.


A few months ago Sen. Patty Murray was considered totally safe in a blue state, but Washington has long been one of those states the GOP targets as a battleground early on before giving up. Republicans think they chose the strongest candidate in Dino Rossi, and he has given her a run for her money.


Sen. Barbara Boxer is the more liberal of the state’s two Democratic senators, and has easily fended off challenges before. But former HP CEO Carly Fiorina is keeping it competitive.


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid looked like a goner earlier this year, with all signs pointing to a massive and embarrassing defeat. But when Sharron Angle’s tea-party-fueled campaign helped topple frontrunner and establishment choice Sue Lowden, Reid’s fortunes changed. He’s definitely not out of the water, but took a lead in our poll average for the first time after Angle was thrust onto the national stage.


Sen. Michael Bennet is the only Democrat defending a seat he wasn’t actually elected to hold. He was named in a special appointment when Sen. Ken Salazar was plucked to join the Obama administration as Secretary of the Interior. Bennet survived a tough primary challenge from Andrew Romanoff, and the Republicans elected the more extreme of their two candidates in Ken Buck. What’s more, Colorado is one of those Western swing states Obama is going to have to hold onto if he wants to win reelection in 2012.

North Dakota

This seat is all but gone, thanks to Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) retiring and the Democrats’ top choices opting not to run. What’s fascinating about the state is that the Obama campaign in 2008 considered it a potential battleground. Even though both senators are Democrats, the party isn’t putting much effort into holding the seat, and State Senator Tracy Potter (D) has barely registered in the fight against Gov. Jon Hoeven (R).


It’s hard to see how Sen. Blanche Lincoln can turn things around. She emerged standing after a rough Democratic primary against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, and even played a pivotal role in Wall Street reform, but nothing has changed as far as her standing back home. Rep. John Boozman is a popular former Razorback who has maintained a lead all year.


Like Washington, the Badger State is one of those whoa-nelly-if-we-win-this-one-the enchilada-is-ours races for the Republicans. Businessman Ron Johnson has started out strong and the GOP plans to invest heavily here to knock off progressive Sen. Russ Feingold. Feingold and Murray have something else in common – they both were elected in 1992.


The Republicans want this seat the most, a symbolic victory by capturing what was once held by Obama. It’s the seat at the center of the Rod Blagojevich scandal and Republicans have held it before — and State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) isn’t exactly doing well against Rep. Mark Kirk (R)


When Sen. Evan Bayh (D) retired, Democrats made sure their strongest candidate Rep. Brad Ellsworth was quickly elevated as the nominee. They’ve also tried their hardest to paint former Sen. Dan Coats (appointed to replace Dan Quayle when he became vice president) as a sleazy lobbyist — a strategy that hasn’t worked. It’s one of the reddest states Obama won in 2008 and Democrats are very nervous about losing it this fall.


This will be one of the hottest races this fall. Former Rep. Pat Toomey has maintained a lead all year, but Democrats booted Sen. Arlen Specter from the party in a May primary to nominate Rep. Joe Sestak. Obama is campaigning for Sestak later this month and Democrats will invest a ton of resources into this must-keep battleground state.


This race is the most in flux, given the surge of tea party favorite Christine O’Donnell in the primary against Rep. Mike Castle (R). Republicans will decide their fate next Tuesday, and if O’Donnell wins, you can bet these numbers change real fast. For now, Castle, a moderate repeatedly elected to the at-large seat thanks to votes from independents and Democrats, is the strong favorite to win if he makes it to the general election. (A new poll out this morning shows O’Donnell would lose in the general election.)

Like Illinois, Republicans had hoped to scoop up a seat held by a top Democrat, in this case, Vice President Joe Biden. His son, Attorney General Beau Biden, opted not to run, throwing the race in flux and boosting Chris Coons as the Democratic nominee.

Now, for the bright side for Democrats.


Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) has held a steady lead over World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon, and Democrats are feeling pretty good about keeping this seat now held by longtime Sen. Chris Dodd.

West Virginia

This is a tough state to predict as voters choose a successor for the late Sen. Robert Byrd. There have been very few polls, so there isn’t an accurate TPM Poll Average yet. Gov. Joe Manchin (D) holds the lead — for now. But Republicans see an opportunity.

New York

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) is the unstoppable candidate, once considered a prime target by Republicans and Democrats alike. Bruce Blakeman is just one of the Republicans vying to challenge Gillibrand on the ballot in the fall, but most polls show that, no matter who the candidate is after the Sept. 14 primary, Gillibrand will fare well.

Also in New York, incumbent Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) is sitting equally pretty, from the looks of the few existing polls.

Then there are the races for Democratic incumbents which are hardly generating any interest because they aren’t competitive.

In Vermont, Sen. Pat Leahy sits completely comfortably this fall. Sen. Barbara Mikulski seems to have nothing to worry about in Maryland. Sen. Ron Wyden (D) is leading his GOP rival Jim Huffman in Oregon. Sen. Daniel Inouye is poised to be reelected with little trouble.

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