Jay Cost | Will the GOP Fumble at the Goal Line?

The race in South Dakota may also turn ugly. Polling remains sparse, but the Republican nominee, former governor Mike Rounds, is in a three-way race against Democrat Rick Weiland and Republican-turned-independent (and two-time Obama endorser) Larry Pressler. Rounds has held a lead all along, but he has begun to take on water, in part because of a controversial visa program run on his watch. The last couple of polls have shown Weiland or Pressler gaining, and just last week national Democrats pledged to pump $1 million into the state. This race should be an easy victory for Republicans. But the same thing was said about the North Dakota Senate battle in 2012; that year, Republican Rick Berg ran a lackadaisical campaign against Democrat Heidi Heitkamp. Despite Berg’s consistent lead in the handful of public polls, he narrowly lost on Election Day.

Add all this up and what do you get? The GOP probably has a clear lead in seven Democratic-held seats (Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia); there is a tie in Colorado; and the party is within striking distance in New Hampshire and North Carolina. It has yet to finish off challengers in Georgia and Kentucky, and it is behind in Kansas. The party needs a net six pickups to claim the majority. Midterm races often break in October, even late in the month, as low-information voters begin to engage. While Republicans have the edge for the Senate, there has not been a definitive break, and it is safest to consider control of the Senate a toss-up.

And even if they won, Republicans would be foolish to take victory as a vindication. At most, it would mean that the public wants to check Barack Obama. Polls show wide swaths of the population still view the Republican party as part of the problem, and one need look no further than deep-red Kansas to see the implications. Orman, though largely a cipher, may very well beat a Republican who has been in Congress for over 30 years—in a state that last voted Democratic for president in 1964. So, while capturing the Senate would be enormously helpful in stopping Obama in his final two years, it should not be mistaken for a vote of confidence in the GOP.

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