DSCC pushes back against Nate Silver

Senate Democrats' campaign arm is pushing back against data modeling whiz Nate Silver, who projects that Republicans are now favored to win the Senate majority.

In a memo released Monday morning, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee executive director Guy Cecil pointed to red states where Democrats surpassed expectations in 2012 in a rebuttal to Silver.

"Nate Silver and the staff at FiveThirtyEight are doing groundbreaking work, but, as they have noted, they have to base their forecasts on a scarce supply of public polls.  In some cases more than half of these polls come from GOP polling outfits," writes Cecil. "This was one reason why FiveThirtyEight forecasts in North Dakota and Montana were so far off in 2012. In fact, in August of 2012 Silver forecasted a 61% likelihood that Republicans would pick up enough seats to claim the majority. Three months later Democrats went on to win 55 seats."

In his latest Senate forecast, Silver writes that Republicans have seized the upper hand in the battle for the Senate, which last summer looked like a tossup.

"We think the Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber," Silver writes on fivethirtyeight.com. "The Democrats’ position has deteriorated somewhat since last summer, with President Obama’s approval ratings down to 42 or 43 percent from an average of about 45 percent before. Furthermore, as compared with 2010 or 2012, the GOP has done a better job of recruiting credible candidates, with some exceptions."

Appearing Sunday on ABC News's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," Silver said the GOP has about a 60 percent chance of picking up the six seats it needs to win the majority.

"You kind of imagine like a bell curve distribution, sort of where this is the most likely outcome. This is what Republicans would need to take over. This is 51 for them. So you see probably 60 percent of this pie is colored in here," said Silver.

National Journal's Scott Bland recently reported that the DSCC has sent at least 11 fundraising e-mails in the past four months with Silver in the subject line, an apparent attempt to secure donations by raising alarm bells about the landscape as Silver has pointed to danger for Democrats in the midterms.

Thus, the new memo could serve a dual purpose; it draws attention to Silver's projections once again, which could prompt some to give with more urgency; but it also pushes back against his projections, perhaps an effort to assuage donors who are worried about a lack of Democratic momentum.

Even as he disputes Silver's projections, Cecil acknowledges that Democrats have a lot of work to do.

"We don't minimize the challenges ahead. Rather, we view the latest projection as a reminder that we have a challenging map and important work still to do in order to preserve our majority," he writes.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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