What’s the status of the race to control the Senate? Well, despite retaking the upper chamber being one of Republicans’ great hopes this cycle, as the campaign has worn on, they’ve simply been unable to get over the top in some key races, despite Democrats being the ones with many more seats to defend.
The latest news out of Indiana is a perfect microcosm for the GOP plight when it comes to the Senate. State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, a Tea Party favorite who defeated long-time Republican Dick Lugar in a primary, shook up the race there by saying a pregnancy that results from rape is “something that God intended.” Even before that shocking statement, Mourdock was unable to pull away from conservative Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, in contest that was supposed to be a safe re-election for Lugar.
This is basically a repeat of the Missouri Senate race, where Republican candidate Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments drew enormous national scrutiny, causing National Republicans to disavow his candidacy, although some have since come back to his side. Sitting Sen. Claire McCaskill’s fortunes basically reversed after those comments, and she currently holds a solid lead in a race that Republicans really counted on winning.
A quick look at TPM’s Senate Scoreboard tells us two things. First, Democrats are defending their turf pretty well – re-election efforts for seats in Pennsylvania and Florida are on track for them, as is the open seat in New Mexico. Republicans have faced nominal opposition in their current seats and are also holding. But by our numbers, Democrats are already at 51 seats, and with 6 toss-ups on the map. Republicans need a sweep (including open seats in swing states Wisconsin and Virginia) to even make it close.
The bottom line is this – the Senate races are competitive, and coattails from the Presidential race in either direction could certainly make a difference. But Republicans are currently dealing with tough races where they didn’t expect them, and with such a thin margin to control the upper chamber, that can make all the difference.