Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics (an election forecaster who is sort of a right-of-center version of Nate Silver) writes today that though he believes the most likely outcome is that Republicans will retake the Senate, he believes the Democrats have a have a fighting chance to hold or even gain seats (though this would take everything going just right.
It’s a virtual article of faith among election analysts that Republicans will gain Senate seats in the 2014 midterms. I tend to agree with that assessment, and strongly so. In fact, like other forecasters such as Alan Abramowitz and Nate Silver, I think Republicans have the edge in the battle to take control of the upper chamber this November.
But there is one place where I part company with most forecasters. I’m not 100 percent confident that Republicans will gain seats. In fact, when I analyzed the Senate races in February, my simulation created a few scenarios where Republicans did, in fact, lose seats. (It’s also worth remembering that while a seven-to-nine seat Republican gain was the most likely scenario, in about 60 percent of the scenarios, Republicans gained some number other than seven, eight, or nine.)
Don’t get me wrong: For Democrats to gain seats this cycle would be the equivalent of drawing a straight flush. With that said, straight flushes do occur, so it’s worth examining how it might occur here.
The first thing that would have to happen is that the playing field would have to improve for Democrats. Of the 11 Democratic seats that RCP currently rates as leans Democratic or worse, Democrats are probably at least slightly favored in Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire, and perhaps Colorado. If the political dynamic were to shift toward the party, these seats would probably be out of the GOP’s reach on Election Day.
The way this could occur is fairly straightforward: The Affordable Care Act improves; there’s no massive rate shock for premiums in September or October; and the economy slowly gains ground. This should propel President Obama’s job approval upward, lifting the collective Democratic boat.
Another thing required in that straight flush: red-state Democratic incumbents holding on. “Recent polls have shown renewed vigor for Mark Pryor in Arkansas,” Trende writes, and while Pryor and company aren’t “in great shape…no one is terminal either.”
Trende writes that it would take a “perfect storm” for Democrats to avoid at least losing a few seats, but “we shouldn’t write off the possibility of such a perfect storm occurring.” Though he adds: “just like we shouldn’t write off a different perfect storm resulting in massive gains — more than 10 seats — for Republicans.”