WASHINGTON: The close race for majority control of the Senate comes down to whether Republican candidates in Massachusetts and Connecticut can win over President Barack Obama’s voters and Democrats from Indiana to Arizona can impress Mitt Romney’s GOP backers.
Ticket-splitting is vital to the prospects of Senate candidates in a half-dozen races in states that Obama and Romney are expected to win handily. These candidates are significantly outdistancing their parties’ presidential nominees in polls, turning what should be an election-year rout into too-close-to-call contests.
With about three weeks to the Nov. 6 vote, Democrats hold a slight edge in keeping their majority in the Senate. GOP hopes have faded in New Mexico and Hawaii. In an unlikely scenario, races in Indiana and Arizona, once considered certain GOP wins, are competitive.
“The map has expanded over the election cycle,” said Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who credited the class of recruits. “When the cycle started, no one gave Democrats a shot at holding the majority.”
Still, the mathematical equations of the election remain unchanged.
Democrats hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate, counting the two independents, and must defend 23 seats to the GOP’s 10.
The Republicans need a net of four seats to grab the majority if Obama wins and a net of three if Romney captures the White House and Paul Ryan as vice president breaks a Senate tie.
Republicans are counting the open seat in Nebraska as a pickup and are bullish about holding Nevada despite a concerted Democratic effort. They’re also upbeat about snatching Democratic seats in close contests in Virginia, Montana and North Dakota. Romney’s first debate performance energized the party for the home stretch.
“There’s renewed enthusiasm on our side,” said Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “It’s filtered down to our Senate candidates. There’s very good movement across the board.”
In the lineup of ticket-splitting races to watch, one of the biggest surprises and promising opportunities for the GOP in the closing weeks of the campaign is Connecticut.
Former professional wrestling executive Linda McMahon, in her second Senate bid, is running even with three-term Democrat Rep. Chris Murphy in the Democratic-leaning state.
Another closely watched race is in neighboring Massachusetts, where Republican Sen. Scott Brown is talking bipartisanship in his race against Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
Brown won a special election in January 2010 to fill the seat of the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, but this election he’ll likely face 700,000 to 800,000 more voters, many Democrats or independents who favor Democrats.
Polls in the state show Obama with a hefty double-digit lead over Romney, a former Massachusetts governor. The same survey shows Brown and Warren in a tight race.
Not surprisingly, Brown tells viewers in a recent commercial, “To me, creating jobs is more important than what party you belong to. That’s why one of the first votes I took as a senator was for a Democratic jobs bill.”