It's looking a lot like post-November 6 Washington will bear a striking resemblance to pre-November 6 Washington. I caught former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who used to run the National Republican Congressional Committee, and former Texas Rep. Martin Frost, who used to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, at the Bipartisan Policy Center this morning, and that was more or less there consensus. Odds are that we're looking at a status quo election across the board.
They agreed, for example, that Democrats are likely to retain control of the Senate. Frost estimated that Democrats will stay at their current level of 53 seats and could even end up with a net gain of one seat. "On election night in the Eastern time zone, in the polls that close earliest you'll really be able to figure out what's going on," he said, pointing to the Senate races in Massachusetts (incumbent Republican Scott Brown is facing Democrat Elizabeth Warren), Indiana (an open seat which has featured controversial comments about rape from GOP nominee Richard Mourdock), and Maine (where independent Angus King is favored and widely expected to caucus with Democrats) as bellwethers which could indicate a big night for Democrats. Frost said that the Republicans' best hopes lie in flipping Democratic seats in Virginia (Sen. Jim Webb is retiring), North Dakota (Sen. Kent Conrad is retiring), Nebraska (Sen. Ben Nelson is retiring), Montana (incumbent Sen. Jon Tester is up for re-election), and Wisconsin (Sen. Herb Kohl is retiring).
Davis said that "if Romney wins the presidency … it says something about your turnout models and I think Republicans would end up picking up seats." But, he acknowledged, in order for the GOP to net the three seats necessary to win the chamber, "everything would just have to fall into line at this point, given the Missouri and Indiana situations that just went out of control." He also held out the possibility that Maine's King could still caucus with the GOP.
Interestingly, both men pointed to Nebraska, where former Sen. Bob Kerrey is trying to make a comeback after spending several years living in New York City, as a race that's gotten very close. "The race has clearly tightened," Davis said, noting that not only has former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, endorsed Kerrey, but so has former Rep. Tom Osborne, also a Republican and an enormously popular former University of Nebraska football coach.
Frost and Davis also said that it is very unlikely at this point that the Democrats retake the House of Representatives. "The House is much tougher for Democrats," Frost, a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, acknowledged. He said this election reminded him of 1996, when he was running House Democrats' campaign efforts, and an incumbent Democrat was re-elected and House Democrats netted nine seats. "I'm not sure the Democrats even pick up nine seats this time. I think probably a good night for the Democrats would be a net gain of five, six, or seven seats," he said. "I don't think the Republicans are going to gain the seats in the House but I think it could be very close to a status quo election."
Davis agreed that "the House looks pretty good for Republicans right now." He too compared the situation to the mid-1990s: "Voters by the way, they're not enamored with either Romney or Obama—they make their picks accordingly," he said. "I always said in 1994 my constituents in northern Virginia elected me to protect them from Bill Clinton and two years later they elected him to protect them from me. There is some of this at this point where that balance plays into voter behavior. I think Republicans are pretty solid and Democrats will make miniscule gains in the House if any. … More likely than not Democrats pick up a handful of votes but I wouldn't be shocked if Republicans ended up with a net gain of a couple of seats."
They weren't in quite as much agreement regarding the White House. Frost was confident of Obama's chances, predicting a 310 electoral vote victory, including wins in Ohio and Wisconsin (Colorado and Virginia, he said, are too close to call). "On election night what you have to look at [is] Virginia, you have to look at Ohio, and you have to look at Florida," he said. "If lightning were to strike and Romney were to carry all three of those states then he's very much in the game to win the election. If on the other hand Obama were to take at least two of those three states then I believe Romney can't win the election. If Romney carries two, Obama carries one of those three states then I believe we're going to be up late watching the Electoral College vote, see how those things turn out. I'm not sure this election has to drag on into the wee hours. I think we may have a pretty good indication by midnight at least as to where we stand."
Davis cautioned that while pundits may be ready to award the election to the incumbent, it's still too close to call. He said that he expects Romney to narrowly win Virginia, for example. "Seven o'clock Florida and Virginia come in," he said. "Those are two must states for us. Then you move to Ohio. If you lose Ohio you still have Colorado, and Wisconsin and some other stuff. Keep an eye on Pennsylvania—I know it disappoints us every time," but, he said, unlike in Ohio, Romney doesn't have to "get out from under" tens of millions of dollars of negative advertising in the Keystone State."They're all close enough that whatever the pundits say doesn't matter," Davis said. "Voters are going to have a say."