The fundamentals of the 2014 Senate map are tilted toward the Republicans, with Democrats defending seven seats in states that Mitt Romney won.
And yet, with only four days until Election Day (and many already taking advantage of early voting), the polls are all tied up.
In The Huffington Post poll averages, the margin in six Senate races is three points or less, well within the margin of error: Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, New Hampshire and North Carolina. Half are Obama states, half are Romney states. Republicans hold the slight edge in all but blue New Hampshire and red North Carolina.
In four others, the spread is only 4 or 5 points in favor of the Republican: Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky and Louisiana. (The Alaska polling has been all over the map, with two recent polls showing Begich significantly ahead.)
Yes, it is possible that Republican will win the lion’s share of these toss ups – if the Democratic base is depressed nationwide, it won’t be able to use a strong ground game and “beat the spread” established by these polls.
But such a broad yet thin victory – on a skewed map with low turnout relative to a presidential election year – hardly is evidence of a major ideological shift, let alone a policy mandate. Why aren’t Republicans finishing the campaign stronger?
First, the Republican Party remains more unpopular than President Obama and the Democratic Party. They had two years to prove they had learned from past mistakes and were serious about governing, and they failed.
Second, Republican difficulties – not only on their own Senate turf of Kentucky, Kansas, Georgia and South Dakota but also in the gubernatorial races of Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – suggest that we are seeing an anti-incumbent sentiment, not an anti-Democratic sentiment, among the electorate.
Third, Republicans are running on a non-existent agenda. There is no legislative item that they have pledged to pass, let alone one popular enough to generate real enthusiasm.
It may be that Tuesday will be a bad day for Democrats. But any Republican victory will come with an expectation from the public to govern in a cooperative manner with President Obama, and there is no platform, agenda, strategy or recent history that points toward meeting that exceedingly minimalist goal. Deep down, Republicans may be hoping they come up short, to avoid having their simmering civil war play out on the big stage of the Senate.