The nice thing about election predictions is that there is always a good helping of easy calls. Republican Senators will be easily reelected in New Hampshire, Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Utah, Kentucky and Ohio, as will Democratic Senators in New York, Vermont, Oregon, Indiana, Maryland, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Washington, North Dakota, Connecticut, Arkansas, Nevada, and California. Likewise, the open seats in Georgia and Illinois will be easily taken by Republican Johnny Isakson and Democrat Barack Obama, respectively. In South Carolina, Republican Jim DeMint will beat Inez Tenenbaum, whom some Democrats once had high hopes for, possibly by a double-digit margin.
The less clear-cut calls: Tony Knowles will take Lisa Murkowski’s seat from her in Alaska, and Democrat Ken Salazar will probably beat Pete Coors in Colorado; Bush’s coattails may help Coors keep it close, but I’m betting it won’t be enough to overcome Salazar’s small lead. Republican Tom Coburn has opened up a healthy lead in Oklahoma, where he was trailing slightly in some polls as recently as a month ago, and is poised to win. I’ll also predict Republican victories for Richard Burr in North Carolina, Mel Martinez in Florida, and John Thune in South Dakota. This would equal a net gain of two Republican seats and make the Senate 53 to 45+1 pending the results of the run-off in Louisiana, where I expect David Vitter will fall just short of the 50% he needs to win outright in the Bayou State’s open primary system.
Republicans will expand their edge in the house from 23 seats to at least 30.
NOW, THE REALLY tough one.
John Kerry is not really in much danger in New Jersey, where his poll numbers have rebounded, or in Hawaii, where, despite the dead heat in two separate polls, the large pool of undecideds will almost certainly break Democratic. Nor should Bush be worried about losing in Arkansas, Virginia, Missouri, or West Virginia, all of which Democrats have at times fantasized about. There will be some changes from the 2000 map, though; Iowa and New Mexico are both likely to turn red while New Hampshire turns blue. Bush may or may not peel off Maine’s one in-reach electoral vote, but either way it’s unlikely to be decisive.
Pennsylvania, though, remains unlikely to move into Bush’s column; the only recent poll showing a Bush lead, the October 22-26 Quinnipiac poll, was within the margin of error, and seven other recent polls show Kerry leading. In Michigan — which some Republicans have lately started to look at hopefully — Kerry leads in all five polls since last week and will probably win. The predictions that some commentators are making of Bush’s electoral vote tally reaching into the mid-300s just aren’t very plausible.
But I am still predicting that President Bush will be reelected. In 2002, Jeb Bush was reelected by a 12-point margin, despite the Democrats’ heavy targeting of the state and polls that showed the race much closer. A large reason was the Republican get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort. Democrats have traditionally excelled in GOTV, and Kerry’s GOTV point-man, Michael Whouley, is among the best in the business (he is largely credited with Kerry’s surprise victory in the Iowa caucuses.) No one knows for sure which side will be able to turn out more of its voters. But I’m betting on the Republican organization in Florida to do very well. If I’m right about that and the rest of the analysis above, then Bush needs to win either Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Ohio. All of those are within reach. (If you think I’m overly pessimistic, add New Hampshire, Hawaii, and/or Maine to the list: with Florida and the rest of the 2000 red states plus Iowa and New Mexico, Bush is just four electoral votes away from the needed 270.)
Can Kerry win? Sure. Like I said, he has a good GOTV operation of his own. And while Osama bin Laden’s reemergence helps Bush if it helps anyone, it’s the sort of thing that tends to harden opinions on either side rather than changing many minds. But the shape of the battleground makes his task the harder one, and that makes Bush the better bet. My prediction: Bush by 276-262 in the electoral college, Bush by 50%-49% in the popular vote.
Oh, and will we know who the winner is on Wednesday? God, I hope so.