Sabato's Crystal Ball

U.s. Senate Update

Larry J. Sabato, Director, U.Va. Center for Politics October 16th, 2008

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The Crystal Ball’s ratings for the 25 U.S. Senate contests have held up nicely since we last published them on October 2. However, as is normal in any election campaign, late developments have changed the ratings in a couple of contests. In both cases, it is more bad news for Republicans.

GEORGIA: Here is a potential shocker, if the upset actually happens. One-term GOP Senator Saxby Chambliss, who was expected to win reelection handily in deeply Red Georgia, instead finds himself in a close race with an underfunded Democrat, former State Representative Jim Martin. There is no question that this is a reaction to Chambliss’ vote in favor of the rescue/bailout package passed by Congress a few weeks ago. Several polls show Chambliss barely ahead, sometimes within the statistical margin of error. Our Georgia sources suggest tentatively that Chambliss will pull out a narrow victory, but they are not confident in this prediction. They tell us that Chambliss’ television advertising is bland and does not address the key issues on the minds of voters. By contrast, the flush Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has been airing sharp, tough advertising aimed at Chambliss and on behalf of Martin. It would be phenomenal were this upset to occur, and it might be the 59th or 60th seat for Democrats, should it happen. We are watching on a daily basis. For now, SLIGHTLY LEANS REPUBLICAN.

MINNESOTA: Senator Norm Coleman faces the same challenge that so many of his GOP colleagues, that is, he is running for reelection in a difficult year for Republicans. Coleman was on thin ice anyway because Minnesota is deeply Blue in 2008, and Obama will win the state handily. Just as John McCain’s margin in Georgia might rescue Chambliss, Obama’s margin in Minnesota might elect Democrat Al Franken, the controversial satirist who would be difficult to elect in another year. Coleman has fallen to even or behind in several recent polls. Complicating the picture in Minnesota is the independent and Jesse Ventura-backed Dean Barkley, who actually served in the U.S. Senate for a few weeks after Ventura appointed him to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Paul Wellstone in late 2002. Barkley is actually winning about 14 percent of the vote. It is not impossible that he will go still higher. Many Minnesota observers believe that Barkely is helping Franken rather than Coleman–that is, Barkley is taking voters who are not keen on Franken, but who do not wish to vote Republican in 2008. It is simply impossible to say what will happen in this race at the moment, but Republicans can ill afford to lose this seat on top of their many other losses. TOSS UP.