Larry J. Sabato, a university professor of politics and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Tuesday that his accuracy on initial ratings for U.S. Senate races for the last five cycles (2006-2014) has been correct 89-percent of the time. That’s an important statistic, especially given his prediction for 2016 that Democrats stand a very good chance of retaking control of the Upper Chamber, and could do even better if their presidential candidate can blow the GOP ticket out of the water, as it now seems likely if Hillary Clinton mops the floor against a Republican ticket that could include Ohio’s governor or its junior Senator in Washington.
As publisher of the online, free Crystal Ball politics newsletter every Thursday and a regular columnist for Politico Magazine, Sabato wrote that Republicans “seem to have their backs to the wall, defending 24 seats to the Democrats’ 10.” Last fall, it was Democrats who had more to lose, and they did, as the midterm elections produced a sufficient crop of GOP winners in what was a low turnout election to take administrative charge in the Senate.
“Republicans must defend seven incumbents that represent states carried by President Obama in 2008 and 2012: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Rob Portman of Ohio, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. An eighth state Obama carried in 2008 but narrowly lost in 2012—North Carolina, home to two-term Republican Richard Burr—also merits mention with these other states,” Sabato said.
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced last Wednesday that he would enter the race to take on Portman for Senate in 2016. Portman, who is both formidable but beatable, as Gallup revealed, is also mentioned as a short-lister for Vice President, as is Gov. Kasich. Ted Strickland, who entered the race to challenge Portman shortly after Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfield jumped in, said he thinks Ohio will be center stage in 2016. “So I think it’s going to be a good year for Democrats,” Mr. Strickland told Politico. Portman, elected in 2010 along with John Kasich and a crew of statewide GOP candidates that won second terms last fall, is already bashing Strickland along with national and state party officials.
In Sabato’s scenario, he says strong Democratic Senate candidates when combined with a solid national lead for the Democratic presidential nominee could endanger all seven of the other GOP seats. When voters turnout, Democrats tend to win. When voters stay home, as they did last fall, Republicans find winning easier. But in recent presidential cycles, Sabato says there has been a consistent correlation between Senate and presidential election outcomes. “That is to say, the Senate result in a state has tended to be increasingly aligned with the state’s presidential result,” he said. In 2008, Barack Obama lost the Democratic primary in Ohio to Hillary Clinton. But in the General Election, he won a plurality of Ohio voters later that year and again in 2012.
Notwithstanding his high rate of accuracy in calling Senate races, he says Democrats have a challenge, for sure, but it “isn’t difficult to imagine.”