ENPR Prediction: Obama Narrow Win, Dems 58 Senate Seats, 254 House Seats


  1. Sen. Barack Obama is poised to be the nation’s first black president, winning by a narrow margin, and enjoying very large Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress–but short of 60 seats in the Senate.
  2. House Republicans face another slaughter. Democrats will make double-digit net gains, possibly pushing 30 seats. Many GOP incumbents are in danger, and Democrats are dominating in the open seats.
  3. In the Senate, Democrats start with a gain of 4 seats, with another 7 GOP-held seats in play. We predict 58 or 59 Senate Democrats in the next Congress, but 60 is within reach.
  4. Despite all this bad news, Sen. John McCain is not facing a blowout. Barring a last-minute Obama surge, McCain will post respectable numbers in the popular vote and the Electoral College. A McCain victory is not out of the question.


Overview: Obama has huge advantages in the polls, in enthusiasm, in organization, in media coverage, and in cash. He is certainly the favorite, but talk of a blowout ignores the details.

  1. National polls, which are only of indirect importance, don’t show a blowout. Also, while Obama has much of the challenger appeal that normally would indicate his picking up late undecided votes, McCain is actually more likely, in most parts of the country, to pick up the late undecideds. Expect an Obama total of around 52%.
  2. Many Electoral College counters are showing a huge Obama blowout on that score. This, too, is overblown (see Electoral College section, below). States like Ohio, Missouri, and North Carolina, where Obama posts small leads but comes in under 50%, still lean towards McCain, in fact. If McCain makes a late, desperate negative attack that plays wrong, we could see an Obama blowout, but as of now, Obama is looking at a big win, but not a Reaganesque one.
  3. The key for Obama is not exactly his enthusiasm edge–that helps, and has important trickle-down effects on congressional and Senate contests–but his organizational advantage. In states like Virginia, Obama has dozens of field offices, all with paid staff. This is the case in all swingable states.
  4. The election is still winnable for McCain. Remember that pollsters are factoring into their results an assumed higher black turnout and higher youth turnout than normal. Also, remember that Republican voters–especially this year, with Democratic politicians attributing opposition to Obama to racism or redneck prejudice–are far coyer about answering pollsters.

Electoral College: As in 2000 and 2004, the presidential focus is on Ohio and Florida in the final days, along with Pennsylvania, McCain’s Hail Mary Plan B.

  1. McCain has a good shot of winning one or two of these three states, but he is in the same position as the Tampa Bay Rays, currently in the World Series: He has to win all three, or he is done.
  2. With McCain apparently abandoning the West in these final weeks, Colorado and New Mexico are certainly leaning towards Obama. Even without Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, or Florida, Obama wins as long as he hangs onto Pennsylvania, which right now looks to be firmly in Obama’s column.
  3. Even if Obama were to lose Pennsylvania and Ohio, he could win by picking up Florida, or two of the following states: Virginia, North Carolina, or Nevada.
  4. Right now, we foresee McCain winning most of the closest states. Despite slim poll leads for Obama or statistical ties, we see McCain as the favorite in Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Montana, Nevada, Florida, and North Carolina. Obama, however, is poised to capture Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, and New Hampshire.
  5. Florida is the toughest state to read. Reuters/Zogby has a tie, while all other polls show Obama above 50%. McCain’s advantage among the senior vote has eroded, and the Cuban advantage has melted away. Still, barring a late Obama surge there, McCain will eke this one out.
  6. In Pennsylvania, McCain is making a strong, but long-shot push. He is skipping the Southwest corner of the state that includes Pittsburgh and Rep. John Murtha‘s “redneck” counties, focusing instead on Reagan Democrat territory–also known as Casey Country. With Sarah Palin by his side, can he rally pro-life conservative Democrats to his camp?
  7. Indiana, North Dakota, Montana, and Missouri have all moved into play, so if there is an Obama landslide, those states could fall. Probably, however, they will stay Red.
  8. On the other side of the ledger, New Hampshire is not quite as certain for Obama as it might seem. A McCain upset in the Granite State is possible–but it would matter only if he could hold onto Virginia, in which case we could be looking at an Electoral College tie.
  9. In our current read of the Electoral College, Obama wins on the strength of carrying all the Kerry 2004 states plus a few pickups in the middle of the country: New Mexico, Colorado, and Iowa–with Virginia as gravy.
  10. Despite all the sound and fury since our previous Electoral College count, the only change we see is Virginia moving into the Obama column, padding his lead in Electoral Votes. Obama 286, McCain 252.


Overview: Democrats will make big gains, but they would need to nearly run the table, carrying 10 of 11 competitive races, in order to reach 60 seats.

  1. Currently, there are 49 Democrats in the Senate, with independents Bernie Sanders ( Vt.) and Joe Lieberman ( Conn.) caucusing with Democrats. Lieberman has earned excommunication from the Democratic Caucus for his endorsement of McCain, meaning Democrats begin from a base of 50 seats.
  2. No incumbent Democrats are legitimately in danger. Early hopes that the GOP could knock off Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) or Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) sputtered thanks to recruitment failures.
  3. The conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) throws that seat to the Democrats. Republicans’ failure to pick a different candidate reeks of the party’s 2006 willingness to stand behind disgraced incumbents.
  4. There are three categories of Senate races to consider: the four takeovers the Democrats have nearly locked up ( Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia), the four where Democrats are favored ( Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oregon), and the three where Republicans are barely hanging on ( Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi).
  5. The three GOP incumbents in the South are still favored, but are within striking distance for Democrats: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Sen. Saxby Chambliss ( Ga.), and appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.). Democrats would need to take two of these three upsets, while holding on to all eight races where they are favored, in order to reach 60 seats. Not impossible, but not likely.
  6. A 58- or 59-seat Democratic majority, however, would be formidable. Minority Republicans would find it nearly impossible to pick off enough votes to ever get a majority in that chamber. With the help of one or two Republican Senators–such as Olympia Snowe (Me.), Susan Collins (Me.), George Voinovich (Ohio), or Arlen Specter (Penn.)–Democrats could bust a filibuster. To break a judicial filibuster, Democrats could also count on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
  7. This week, we provide our final rundown of competitive U.S. Senate races. The forseeable outcomes range from a Democratic gain of 4 to a Democratic gain of 10. If each race turns out as we predict, the result would be Democrats +8, 57-41-2 (effectively 58-42).
Likely Democratic Leaning Democratic Leaning Republican Likely Republican
New Mexico (open) North Carolina (Dole) Kentucky (McConnell) Maine (Collins)
Virginia (open) Minnesota (Coleman) Georgia (Chambliss)  
Louisiana (Landrieu) New Hampshire (Sununu) Mississippi (Wicker)  
Alaska (Stevens) Oregon (Smith)    
Colorado (open)      

Alaska: Known for stubbornness, Sen. Ted Stevens (R) isn’t giving up after losing his battle with federal prosecutors. He remains on the ballot and is appealing his conviction. This hands a gift to Democrats, and in all likelihood catapults Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) into the U.S. Senate.

If Stevens were somehow to win, there is no law or rule prohibiting his being sworn in, but the upper chamber could refuse to seat him or could expel him when his appeals had run out. The vacancy would be filled by an immediate (within 90 days) special election.

As of Wednesday morning, with Stevens unwilling to withdraw, Republicans have no possible way to make a last-minute switcheroo in the arsenal. Likely Democratic Takeover.

Colorado: Republicans had held out hope that the Colorado open seat could be their bright shining upset on a very bad Election Day, but Rep. Mark Udall (D) looks pretty safe against former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R). This Senate seat, left open by the retirement of Sen. Wayne Allard (R), is the latest coup by the Democratic juggernaut in a state that is tacking hard to the Left, thanks to GOP donor fatigue combined with an orchestrated spending spree by liberal and Democratic millionaires. Likely Democratic Takeover.

Georgia: Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) could be the chief casualty of the Bush-Paulson-Bernanke bailout. Chambliss voted for the $700 bailout of Wall Street, and former state Rep. Jim Martin (D) is hammering away on that issue every day. As a result, he’s pulled within the margin of error in every poll since the bailout vote October 1.

In fact, Chambliss has hit 50 percent in only one survey since the bailout, and he was dropping before then. Georgia has seen an influx in black voter registration, and the question is whether Martin can capture that vote.

Chambliss, however, had outspent Martin by nearly a 5-to-1 margin as of September 30. The incumbent advantage looks like it will save Chambliss, but if this seat turns into the Democrats’ 60th, Harry Reid will have the Bush bailout to thank for his filibuster-proof majority. Leaning Republican Retention.

Kentucky: Looking for revenge for Republicans’ knocking off Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) in 2004, Democrats are gunning for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), and former state Commerce Secretary Bruce Lunsford (D) has a good chance of getting him.

With the economy bad, the President unpopular, and the state’s GOP struggling, McConnell is running on his record of pork. Mostly setting aside the issues of national security, taxes, and going light on abortion and gay marriage, McConnell is putting his eggs in the “clout” basket, pointing to his earmarking success as his chief virtue. This certainly isn’t harmonious with the message from the top of the ticket, and McCain is polling well ahead of McConnell here.

Lunsford, interestingly, is setting a similar context for this race: McConnell has been around for too long, and is part of the problem. Both candidates have granted that Lunsford is the candidate of change–they are just debating over whether change is good.

The bad GOP year and McConnell’s lack of ideological distinction from Lunsford spells trouble for McConnell. The campaign has been a negative one, and that, too, could hurt McConnell.

How will the presidential election play here? It’s complex. Obama did very poorly in the Kentucky primary, and his campaign has not set up an organization here. The black voters in Louisville will turn out higher than expected, and students will be a bit more active, but being an uncompetitive state on the presidential level, Kentucky doesn’t have the enthusiasm and organization as big as in Pennsylvania or Ohio.

The most recent Rasmussen and Research 2000 polls both showed McConnell ahead, but he often polls below 50%–very dangerous territory for incumbents. Leaning Republican Retention.

Louisiana: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) has a history of winning when she shouldn’t, and 2008 will be her third such Senate victory. Republicans failed to recruit a top-tier candidate, and so they nominated State Treasurer John Kennedy (R), who ran for Senate as a Democrat in 2004–and a liberal Democrat, at that.

With Republican spirits dampened by this nomination, and Landrieu running out to an early cash advantage, Kennedy has failed to gain traction. Likely Democratic Retention.

Maine: Sen. Susan Collins (R), for the second straight cycle, has faced a strong, well-funded Democratic challenger and pulled away by October. As races tightened in the South and Republican fortunes waned in October, liberal Republican Collins has padded her lead against Rep. Tom Allen. Likely Republican Retention.

Minnesota: Probably the wildest Senate race in the country (among those not featuring an convicted felon incumbent), the three-way contest among Sen. Norm Coleman (R), liberal comedian Al Franken (D), and Jesse Ventura-ally Dean Barkley (I), has been the most volatile on the polling front.

The campaigns have been very negative, which has helped Barkley, but on net probably hurt Coleman as the incumbent.

All four likely-voter polls over the past two weeks have shown the race to be within the margin of error between Coleman and Franken. Barkley pulls in 17 or 18 percent in these surveys, while Franken and Coleman both hover around 40 percent. Minnesota has same-day registration for voters, which gives Franken the edge, for now–though with the fluctuations in polls before this month, a late Coleman (or even Barkley) surge would not be surprising. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Mississippi: Sen. Trent Lott‘s (R) early resignation–presumably to dodge new restrictions on lobbying by former lawmakers–has already led to the loss of one GOP House seat, and it could lead to the loss of a Senate seat, as well.

To fill the vacancy Lott left, Gov. Haley Barbour (R) appointed Rep. Roger Wicker (R). Democrat Travis Childers (D) won Wicker’s House seat in a special election, and now Wicker is in danger of losing his Senate seat to former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D).

Polls show a dead-heat with both Wicker and Musgrove below 50%. Musgrove will benefit from a high black turnout driven by Obama. In Wicker’s favor, Musgrove has higher negatives, and is as well known as Wicker, meaning undecided voters are actually more likely to break for the incumbent in the this case. Leaning Republican Retention.

New Hampshire: Counting out Sen. John Sununu (R) is never a good idea, but the poll numbers are so bad this year that all the GOP confidence and pro-Sununu indicators are not enough to make the case that the freshman senator will defeat former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D).

Check out the recent polls: A Rasmussen poll last week of 700 Likely Voters shows Shaheen ahead 52% to 46% (with a margin of error of +/- 4%), Boston Globe polled 725 Likely Voters and found Shaheen up 49% to 36%, The Concord Monitor (600 LV) put Shaheen ahead 50% to 43%.

Sununu, however, could win. The consensus is that Sununu beat Shaheen in the debates and his current ads, painting Shaheen as an opportunistic polymorph, are catching on. Sununu boosters point out that his father was down by 25 points in October 1982 and won the gubernatorial race. If there is to be a bright-spot upset this Election Day, it could be John Sununu’s survival. Right now, however, the odds are too long. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

New Mexico: Rep. Tom Udall (D) is the prohibitive favorite over Rep. Steve Pearce (R). Democrats look likely to sweep all three House open seats here, too. The Land of Enchantment will be fully under Democratic control come January. Likely Democratic Takeover.

North Carolina: This race was on the periphery until this economically ugly October triggered a Democratic tsunami. Right now, Sen. Liddy Dole (R) looks like a casualty of our economy. All three polls show Dole in a statistical tie with state Sen. Kay Hagan (D), often well below 50%.

With Obama making a push for this state–and with field operations and media buys drumming up his base–we could see a very high black turnout. Some of those voters may stop after voting for President or President and governor, but Hagan will profit from the turnout machine, nonetheless. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Oregon: Six years ago, as the mainstream media predicted a Democratic tidal wave spurred by the collapse of Enron and concomitant financial scandals, the Evans-Novak Political Report resisted that sentiment, pointing to the reelection race of Sen. Gordon Smith (R) as the silent canary in the coal mine. If he stayed safely ahead in the polls while being abused as a heartless capitalist by a well-funded liberal opponent, we argued, there would be no Democratic surge. We were correct.

This year, he is perhaps the bellwether again, and his collapse in the last week of September signaled this year’s shift from modest Democratic gains to huge Democratic year. The last Republican senator on the West Coast, Smith could hang on, but right now, the odds are against him. Leaning Democratic Takeover.


Vulnerable Incumbents (GOP + 4)
Leaning Democratic Leaning Republican
Altmire (PA-4)  
Boyda (KS-2) Kanjorski (PA-11)
Carney (PA-10) Lampson (TX-22)
Cazayoux (LA-06) Mahoney (FL-16)
Childers (M S-1) Murtha (PA-12)
Foster (IL-14)  
Kagen (WI-08)  
Marshall (GA-8)  
McNerney (CA-11)  
Shea-Porter (NH-1)  
Competitive Open Seats (GOP + 1)
Leaning Democratic Leaning Republican
Oregon-5 (Hooley) Alabama-5 (Cramer)

Overview: House Republicans face their second consecutive very bad year.

  1. Losing the majority last year triggered a slew of GOP retirements, which have led to even more pickups. Most of the Democratic takeovers this year will likely be in open seats.
  2. About 24 Republican incumbents are on the chopping block. While most of them will probably survive, a Democratic surge wiping out nearly all of them is still possible.
  3. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans have made some gains in knocking off Democratic incumbents and picking up one open seat. Still, recruitment failures leave safe many Democratic freshmen who won in 2006 solely on corruption.
  4. Currently, Democrats hold a 235 to 199 advantage in the House, with the one vacancy being the safe Democratic seat held by the late Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D). We count this as a likely Democratic retention, meaning we begin from a baseline of 236 Democratic seats.
  5. The likely Democratic gains will be between 14 and 30 seats. If all the races turn out as we expect (see chart below), the outcome would be Democrats + 18, 254-181.

Florida-25: An era might be ending quietly in Southern Florida–the GOP vice-grip on the Cuban vote might be over, along with the Cuban hold on Florida’s Hispanic vote. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) now looks like the underdog to Democratic activist Joe Garcia in this Miami-based district.

In the 25th District, most Hispanics are not Cubans (although most Hispanic citizens are), and younger Cubans are not as motivated by anti-communism as their parents. Also, with Fidel Castro out of power, and Obama taking a middle-of-the-road stance on U.S. policy towards the dictatorship, Garcia has based his campaign on mocking Diaz-Balart as a one-trick pony who is inept on all other issues. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Georgia-8: On the relatively short list of endangered Democrats is Rep. Jim Marshall (D), with a history of close wins. His top-tier challenger this year, Rick Goddard (R), is close on his tail. One third of this sprawling congressional district is black, though, and Marshall might be the Democratic congressional candidate to most acutely benefit from Obama atop the ticket. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Vulnerable Incumbents (Dems +10)
Leaning Democratic Leaning Republican
Bachmann (MN-6) Brown (SC-1)
M. Diaz-Balart (FL-25) Chabot (OH-1)
Feeney (FL-24) L. Diaz-Balart (FL-21)
Hayes (NC-8) English (PA-3)
Kirk (IL-10) Garrett (NJ-5)
Knollenberg (MI-9) Graves (MO-6)
Kuhl (NY-29) Keller (FL-08)
Porter (NV-3) McCaul (TX-10)
Shays (CT-4) Musgrave (CO-4)
Young (AK-AL) Reichert (WA-08)
  Sali (ID-1)
  Schmidt (OH-2)
  Shadegg (AZ-3)
  Walberg (MI-7)
Competitive Open Seats (Dems +13)
Leaning Democratic Leaning Republican
Arizona-1 (Renzi) Alabama-2 (Everett)
Illinois-11 (Weller) California-4 (Doolittle)
Minnesota-3 (Ramstad) Illinois-18 (LaHood)
New Jersey-3 (Saxton) Kentucky-2 (Lewis)
New Jersey-7 (Ferguson) Louisiana-4 (McCrery)
New Mexico-1 (Wilson) Maryland-1 (Gilcrest)
New Mexico-2 (Pearce) Missouri-9 (Hulshof)
New York-13 (Fossella) Ohio-7 (Hobson)
New York-25 (Walsh) Wyoming-AL (Cubin)
New York-26 (Reynolds)  
Ohio-15 (Pryce)  
Ohio-16 (Regula)  
Virginia-11 (Davis)