TAMPA—Odds are that when the new House and Senate reconvene next January, they will look a lot like they do today. That was the assessment of the Cook Political Report's experts on each chamber, though the odds of a GOP takeover of the Senate are much stronger than a Democratic takeover of the House.
Todd Akin's zombie Senate candidacy in Missouri is dragging the GOP down said Cook's Jennifer Duffy, who gave Republicans a 45 percent chance of getting a majority. Pre-Akin, she said, she pegged it at around 50-50.
Republicans "started this cycle needing four seats and the path to those four seats was clear, but it's gotten a lot harder," said Duffy, speaking to a breakfast panel set up by The Atlantic, National Journal, and CBS News here. "The easiest path to majority for the Republicans went through Missouri. And as long as Todd Akin is the nominee there, Missouri is off the table and they've got to find another, more circuitous path." Appearing on an earlier panel, National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Jesmer had argued that the GOP has "a great shot at winning the Senate," pointing especially to their strong standing in defending the Massachusetts where Sen. Scott Brown is running for re-election and to picking up seats currently held by Democrats in Ohio and Virginia. And he handled the Akin matter with humor: When a member of the audience tried to ask him about the Missouri seat he jokingly tried to cut off the questioner by thanking moderator Reid Wilson of Hotline, as if to wrap up the program.
Duffy weighed in on other individual races as well:
- In Massachusetts, she said, incumbent Sen. Scott Brown is ahead in no small part because, she said, because the Bay State "doesn't begin and end in Boston" and there are a lot of places blue collar areas of Massachusetts where Brown does "resonate."
- In Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley has been hurt by revelations that she is facing a House Ethics Committee investigation but, Duffy said, "What I never dismiss in Nevada is the Democratic state party operation that Harry Reid has spent years putting together. I think it's going to be a close race."
- While Cook still has the Indiana Senate race rated as Lean Republican, Duffy described the race as "fairly even" because "I've never seen a candidate have a worse first 48 hours than [Republican nominee] Richard Mourdock," who stumbled out of the gate, including trying to define compromise as the other side completely capitulating. "Indiana … probably deserves a place in our toss-up column," she said.
- Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson remains the favorite in his re-election race, but Duffy said it will likely tighten. "I really haven't put it in toss-ups yet, but I could see it getting there."
- Recent polls showing Republican Linda McMahon running ahead in the Connecticut Senate race are for real. "She is running ahead," Duffy said.
- While Democrats argue that the Arizona open Senate seat, where they have nominated former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, should be a toss-up, she remains "a little bit dubious" and wants to see how Carmona does now that the GOP primary is over.
- On the House side, Duffy's counterpart David Wasserman foresees a lot of churn but little ultimate change. Wasserman said that Democrats are very slight favorites to pick up seats, but not nearly enough to switch control.
The House has gone through three consecutive wave elections, he said, and will "have a fourth wave election but it's not going to be a partisan wave, it's going to be a generational wave. We have 62 seats with no incumbent on the ballot in the House in November which is a record since 1992," he said. "I see 36 races that have some major vulnerabilities on both sides—21 Republican seats that are in our ratings toss-up or worse, 15 Democratic seats that are toss-up or worse, so the vulnerability is relatively evenly spread. I think we could have between 25 and 30 seats in the House that switch hands, but the net in the House could potentially be zero."
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas and Executive Director Guy Harrison had each predicted a 5-7 seat Republican pickup. And while Wasserman said that Harrison assessment of the state of play was "more or less on target, I'd probably take a little less bullish view" of GOP chances. Instead, he said Democrats were a slight favorite to end up netting a handful of seats.