The Republican path to a Senate majority runs through a handful of hostile states, most of which are so deep blue that they haven’t sent a member to the upper chamber in more than a decade.
Boiled down, the problem is this: The first six or seven seats of the 10 necessary for a takeover are within the GOP’s grasp. Winning the final three or four, however, will require something close to a historic wave.
It’s that cold math that has even Republicans acknowledging that their dream of regaining the Senate is just that — even in an election year marked by impressive fundraising tallies, encouraging poll numbers and an exceptionally favorable election environment.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, acknowledged Sunday that he views a Senate takeover as a longer-term initiative.
“I think it’s going to be a two-cycle process,” he said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program.
Republicans are well-positioned to pick up seats in North Dakota, Indiana and Delaware — where incumbent Democrats are retiring — and in Arkansas, where polls show Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln far behind in her reelection bid. And the GOP is going toe to toe in traditional battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Colorado and Nevada.
But the hard slog for the GOP will most likely come down to a batch of blue states that Barack Obama carried with ease two years ago: Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington and California.
Obama won these four states by an average of 20 percentage points in 2008. In the president’s home state of Illinois, Democrats control both Senate seats, the governorship, both chambers of the state Legislature and a majority of the congressional delegation. Washington state hasn’t voted for a Republican senator since 1994, when Sen. Slade Gorton won his last term. And it’s been almost two decades since a Republican represented Wisconsin or California in the Senate.
Yet the White House’s decision Sunday to deploy the president to Chicago next month to headline a fundraiser for Alexi Giannoulias, the hobbled Democratic nominee attempting to retain Obama’s old seat, is the latest indication of how the GOP has worked to expand the electoral map.
“I think this development says more about the national landscape and the serious problems Senate Democrats must feel they have holding their majority,” said Chicago-based political consultant Thom Serafin, who has worked for candidates in both parties.
Almost everyone agrees that Republicans will finish Election Day with Senate gains. But the exact number will depend on several variables, including whether the GOP can hold the deadlocked Missouri seat and the Florida seat that is the subject of a three-way fight — and how many of the four deep-blue seats the party can turn.
“It’s going to be tough, no question about it. The conventional wisdom is we’ll pick up five to seven. I think it’s seven to eight,” said GOP strategist John Feehery.
“For them to get to 10, that means they have to win everything across the board. That means everything about these states [is] thrown out the window. I don’t think it’s the kind of year where you’re going to wipe out everything that’s happened and have wholesale change,” said Sachin Chheda, a Milwaukee-based Democratic consultant.
California GOP consultant Josh Trevino, a former Bush administration speechwriter, called it a goal that’s almost certainly out of reach.
“Winning the 10 seats is extremely unlikely. Republicans will get halfway there and maybe even more than that. It would be a pretty extraordinary outcome for Republicans to take control,” he said.