Senate Republicans had been doing a pretty solid job of maintaining their distance from GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump by running their own campaign that focused largely on more local issues or those issues that motivate their base. The strategy was working fine and it looked as if Republicans would be able to keep their losses low. That is until October 7 when The Washington Post reported on the existence of the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump described sexually assaulting women. Then things started to unravel, albeit slowly.
Assuming that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton wins the White House, the party needs four seats to tie the chamber, leaving the Vice President as the tie breaking vote. For much of the cycle, we have expected Democrats to score a net gain of between four and six seats. Since the release of the Access Hollywood tape, Senate Republicans have seen their fortunes dip, particularly in states like Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada and Pennsylvania where Clinton has established a lead. In fact, of the Senate seats in the Toss Up column, Trump only leads in Indiana and Missouri where both Republicans are running a few points behind him.
Early voting is underway in 27 states, so Republicans don’t really have much time to turn things around, and Trump won’t be any help, especially his campaign doesn’t really have a ground game to speak of. The GOP’s only hope is to start running a checks-and-balances message, or more blatantly, a don’t-give-Clinton-a-blank-check message to motivate their base, particularly what one strategist called “casual Republicans,” to the polls. We are starting to see that message in some red and purple states as candidates work to tie Democratic candidate to Clinton.
History shows that races in the Toss Up column never split down the middle; one party tends to win the lion’s share of them. Since 1998, no party has won less than 67 percent of the seats in Toss Up. While the 2016 election has broken every political science rule and trend, we’d be surprised if this becomes one of them.
As such, we are increasing the range of expected Democratic pick ups to five to seven seats. This means that we feel that the prospect that Democrats will have at least 51 seats is greater than the odds of a tied Senate, or of Republicans somehow holding their majority.