Sabato's Crystal Ball

A “Deep Blue Sea” In the 2006 Midterms?

Small Craft Advisory becomes Gale Warning for GOP

Larry J. Sabato, Director, U.Va. Center for Politics October 12th, 2006

Just a few weeks ago, President Bush and the GOP appeared to be staging a remarkable comeback that would have enabled the Republicans to retain their congressional majorities. The Foley scandal and the deteriorating situation in Iraq have changed all that, and it is clear that as of mid-October, there is a Democratic gale a blowin’. We all hope that Samuel L. Jackson isn’t eaten by a shark again, but it’s looking like the GOP’s worst fear might be about to surface.

Democrats are moving up–some rapidly–in a wide range of competitive contests for the House, the Foley storm’s chamber of direct impact. For the first time this year, your cautious Crystal Ball now projects a Democratic majority of somewhere between 221 and 225 seats (with 218 needed for control). In fact, to reflect just how precipitously many GOP-held seats have drifted from safe harbor, we have had to jettison not only the “Dirty Thirty” but now the “Ferocious Forty” as well. In their place, meet the “Ferocious FIFTY” theaters of battle, 42 of which are currently held by Republicans. It is indeed noteworthy that since last month’s update, the Crystal Ball can now count an additional ten House districts as truly competitive (rated either as a Toss-up or “leaning” towards one party in our chart below).

In the Senate we believe that control of the body is up for grabs, with Democrats nearly sure to win 15 out of the 33 total seats up this year. Four more seats are on the edge but leaning slightly towards the Democrats. The five total toss-ups will determine which party organizes the upper chamber, and the Democrats will likely need to capture all five of them to take control, a reasonable possibility given the dynamics of each race in that category.

For Democrats, the best part of election night might be in the statehouses. The Crystal Ball believes that when the votes are counted, Democrats will have between 26 and 28 Governors, up from the current 22–and they are likely gaining seats in the vital states of Ohio and New York.

Can these forecasts change? Is the Pope German? But at this point, the probability is that the shifts will primarily be fine-tuning. There are only three possible outcomes in the House, for instance. Either the GOP will maintain its majority by a wafer-thin margin, or the Democrats will get their own small majority, or the Democrats will break through for a sizeable majority. Options two and three–or something in between them–now appear likely. In the Senate, the alternatives are dramatically diminished GOP control or the slimmest of Democratic majorities, with the fates pointing to the tiniest edge still for a Republican Majority Leader. In the statehouses, important Democratic gains are literally certain.

Please pay attention to this cautionary note: Just as the headlines, and the drift of this election, shifted almost overnight in a Democratic direction in the past two weeks, so too can events at home and abroad transform the headlines again. Do you really think Mark Foley will be Page One all the way to November 7th? Does anyone doubt that Karl Rove has some October surprises up his sleeve–surprises that will cause professionals to grin and chuckle in admiration, even if the pros are Bush adversaries? We all should fight the natural tendency to pull down the curtain on any election before the end of the last act. In the case of 2006, even fine-tuning has the potential to shift control of one or both houses of Congress over to Democrats or back to Republicans.

It’s also nearly certain now that we are headed for two years of presidential-legislative gridlock. Slim majorities of Republicans, or the same for Democrats, or a mixed result (one house for each party) guarantee that only incremental changes will occur in most policy areas. Should Democrats gain both houses of Congress, President Bush can look forward to the death of one enduring criticism during his White House years: that he hasn’t exercised his veto power enough.

What a fascinating final 25 days we are facing in this election, and what a rambunctious two years lay ahead. 2006 is turning into the “Full Employment Election” for political analysts–and for that, your Crystal Ball is grateful!

Here are our up-to-date “Crystal Ball HotRace Readings” for all Senate, House and Governor elections:

2006 Senate Crystal Ball HotRace Readings

Republican Held Seats up for Election in 2006: 15 (out of 55 held)

Solid R (7) Likely R (1) Leans R (1) Toss-up (4) Leans D (2) Likely D (0) Solid D (0)
IN (Lugar) AZ (Kyl) VA (Allen) MO (Talent) MT (Burns)
ME (Snowe) OH (DeWine) PA (Santorum)
MS (Lott) RI (Chafee)
NV (Ensign) TN (OPEN)
TX (Hutchison)
UT (Hatch)
WY (Thomas)
WV (Byrd)
WI (Kohl)
NY (Clinton)
NM (Bingaman)
ND (Conrad)
MA (Kennedy)
HI (Akaka)
FL (Nelson)
DE (Carper)
NE (Nelson) CT (Lieberman*)
WA (Cantwell) MN (OPEN) VT (OPEN)
NJ (Menendez) MD (OPEN) MI (Stabenow) CA (Feinstein)
Solid R (0) Likely R (0) Leans R (0) Toss-up (1) Leans D (2) Likely D (3) Solid D (12)

Democratic Held Seats up for Election: 18 (out of 45 held)

The Brutal B, October 2006: +3 to +6 D

Click here for individual Senate race analysis.

2006 House Crystal Ball HotRace Readings

Republican Held Seats in Play: 62 (170 Safe/Solid R)

Likely R (20) Leans R (15) Toss-up (16) Leans D (11) Likely D (0)
AZ-01 (Renzi) AZ-05 (Hayworth) CT-02 (Simmons) AZ-08 (OPEN)
CA-04 (Doolittle) CA-11 (Pombo) CT-04 (Shays) CO-07 (OPEN)
CA-50 (Bilbray) CO-04 (Musgrave) FL-13 (OPEN) FL-16 (OPEN)
CO-05 (OPEN) CT-05 (Johnson) FL-22 (Shaw) IN-02 (Chocola)
FL-08 (Keller) KY-03 (Northup) IL-06 (OPEN) IN-08 (Hostettler)
FL-09 (OPEN) NV-02 (OPEN) IN-09 (Sodrel) IA-01 (OPEN)
ID-01 (OPEN) NV-03 (Porter) KY-04 (Davis) NY-26 (Reynolds)
IL-10 (Kirk) NJ-07 (Ferguson) MN-06 (OPEN) OH-18 (OPEN)
IL-19 (Shimkus) NY-20 (Sweeney) NM-01 (Wilson) PA-06 (Gerlach)
IA-02 (Leach) NY-29 (Kuhl) NC-11 (Taylor) PA-10 (Sherwood)
KY-02 (Lewis) OH-01 (Chabot) NY-24 (OPEN) TX-22 (OPEN)
MN-01 (Gutknecht) OH-02 (Schmidt) OH-15 (Pryce)
NE-01 (Fortenberry) PA-08 (Fitzpatrick) PA-07 (Weldon)
NH-02 (Bass) TX-23 (Bonilla) VA-02 (Drake)
NY-03 (King) WY-AL (Cubin) WA-08 (Reichert)
NY-19 (Kelly) WI-08 (OPEN)
NY-25 (Walsh)
NC-08 (Hayes)
PA-04 (Hart)
VA-10 (Wolf)
WV-01 (Mollohan)
VT-AL (OPEN)
TX-17 (Edwards)
OH-06 (OPEN) SC-05 (Spratt)
IA-03 (Boswell) LA-03 (Melancon)
IL-08 (Bean) LA-02 (Jefferson)
GA-12 (Barrow) IL-17 (OPEN)
GA-08 (Marshall) CO-03 (Salazar)
Likely R (0) Leans R (0) Toss-up (0) Leans D (8) Likely D (5)

Democratic Held Seats in Play: 13 (190 Safe/Solid D)

The Brutal B, October 2006: +18 to +22 D

Click here for individual House race analysis.

2006 Governor Crystal Ball HotRace Readings

Republican Held Seats up for Election in 2006: 22 (out of 28 held)

Solid R (6) Likely R (6) Leans R (3) Toss-up (2) Leans D (3) Likely D (1) Solid D (1)
CT (Rell) AL (Riley) AK (OPEN) MD (Ehrlich) AR (OPEN) OH (OPEN) NY (OPEN)
HI (Lingle) CA (Schwarzenegger) NV (OPEN) MN (Pawlenty) CO (OPEN)
NE (Heineman) FL (OPEN) RI (Carcieri) MA (OPEN)
SD (Rounds) GA (Perdue)
VT (Douglas) ID (OPEN)
TX (Perry) SC (Sanford)
WY (Freudenthal)
TN (Bredesen)
NM (Richardson)
OR (Kulongoski) WI (Doyle) NH (Lynch)
MI (Granholm) ME (Baldacci) PA (Rendell) OK (Henry)
IA (OPEN) IL (Blagojevich) KS (Sebelius) AZ (Napolitano)
Solid R (0) Likely R (0) Leans R (0) Toss-up (3) Leans D (3) Likely D (2) Solid D (6)

Democratic Held Seats up for Election: 14 (out of 22 held)

The Brutal B, October 2006: +4 to +6 D

Click here for individual Governor race analysis.