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Mitch McConnell and the battle for Senate control

at 07:08 AM ET, 07/09/2012

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday that Republican chances of taking over the Senate in November stood at “50-50,” adding: “I think it’s going to be a very close, competitive election.”


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, accompanied by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, left, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks to reporters outside the Senate, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 26, 2012, following a political strategy session with other GOP Senate leaders. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
McConnell is among the most savvy strategists in either party and, unlike most politicians, tends toward directness and honesty when he speaks publicly. (Who could forget — Democrats won’t let you — McConnell’s famous pledge that the “single most important thing” for Republicans was to make Obama a one-term president.)

So, how much truth is there in McConnell’s statement to Crowley? Lots. And that marks a real change from the start of the 2012 election.

When the 2010 election ended, the conventional wisdom was that Republicans would almost certainly take over the Senate in two years time due to the daunting numbers facing Democrats: They had to defend 23 seats while Republicans only had 10 incumbents up for another term.

That CW hardened during 2011 as the likes of Democratic Sens. Herb Kohl (Wis.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and, perhaps most politically painful of all, Kent Conrad (N.D.), called it quits.

But in late February 2012, the Senate playing field pivoted when Republican Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, a shoo-in for re-election, announced she would retire, and former Gov. Angus King, an independent expected to caucus with Democrats, decided to run.

Suddenly, with King a near-certain pickup, the path to retaining the majority didn’t look so impossibly high for Democrats. Assuming King wins and picks the Democrats, Republicans would need four seats to take over the majority if former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney wins and five seats if President Obama is re-elected. (The vice president serves as President of the Senate and casts tie-breaking votes when necessary.)

So, how do Republicans get to four (or five)? Nebraska is an almost certain pickup, with polls showing state Sen. Deb Fischer (R) with a comfortable lead. North Dakota’s open seat is far more competitive than most people expected (including us) but it’s still a state that should go solidly for Romney in November, which will help Rep. Rick Berg (R). The Republican field in Missouri is mediocre, but Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) isn’t likely to be able to get enough distance from Obama to save herself.

Win all three of those — and that’s an easy scenario to imagine — and Republicans need either one (with the White House) or two (without it) to win the majority. That means winning one (or two) of Montana, Virginia and Wisconsin. The first two states will almost certainly be one- or two-point affairs, while the Wisconsin Republican primary will shape the party’s chances at a pickup.

New Mexico and Hawaii are races where Republicans have recruited their best possible candidate to run in Democratic open seats, but the demographics of both states work against them. In Florida, Michigan and Ohio, the Republican challengers against solid-if-not-spectacular Democratic incumbents are either untested or unimpressive (or both), but are running swing states at the presidential level.

Republicans also need to worry about their own incumbents in Massachusetts and Nevada. If Democrats win both of those seats — possible if not likely — then the magic number to the majority for Republicans goes up to six (with the White House) or seven (without it).

Given the number of seats where Republicans are playing offense, a six- or seven-seat pickup is possible, but it’s far less likely than a three- or four-seat pickup.

No matter what happens, it’s a near-certainty that it will be a thin majority for either side in 2013 — a point McConnell made to Crowley. “I think at the end of the day we’re going to have a very narrow Senate, one way or the other,” the Kentucky Republican said. He’s right.

Romney raised $106.1 million in June: Breaking news this morning, with Mitt Romney’s campaign announcing its June fundraising total: $106.1 million.

The sum is the biggest of the campaign so far. Romney now has $160 million cash on hand between his campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Obama hasn’t announced his totals yet.

For more, see our write-up.

Swing state poll shows tight battle: Obama leads Romney 47 percent to 45 percent in a poll of 12 key states conducted for USA Today by Gallup.

The poll tested Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In contrast to a swing state poll conducted last month by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, this poll actually shows Romney performing slightly better in swing states than nationwide. (Obama leads 48 percent to 44 percent in all 50 states.)

The NBC/WSJ poll showed Obama ahead by eight points in the same 12 states, but tied nationally. That had The Fix and others postulating that Obama was winning the early ad wars.

The USA Today/Gallup poll doesn’t show Obama doing better in swing states, but it does further the idea that he’s winning the ad war. Three-quarters of those who say ads have changed their mind about the candidates are voting for Obama, while just 16 percent pick Romney.

Of course, that could also simply be a symptom of the fact that basically everyone knows how they feel about Obama already. With Romney, there’s more room for defining him.

Obama launches ads, turns to tax cuts: The Obama campaign this weekend launched a pair of ads, one of them continuing attacks on outsourcing connected to Bain Capital and another on abortion.

The outsourcing ad notes that a company affiliated with Bain called itself a “one-stop shop for their outsource requirements” and closes by saying that Romney is “not the solution; he’s the problem.”

The abortion ad notes Romney’s position in favor of defunding planned parenthood and against Roe v. Wade. It also accuses him of supporting a law that would criminalize abortion even in the case of rape and incest.

In addition, Obama’s campaign this week will focus on the issue of tax cuts (i.e. extending the middle class tax cuts while ending those for the wealthy), traveling to battleground states and linking Romney’s offshore bank accounts with his support for extending tax cuts for the wealthy.

Donnelly raised $900,000 in second quarter: Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) ramped up his fundraising significantly in the second quarter and will soon announce that he raised $900,000 for the three-month period, The Fix has learned.

The fundraising sum should hearten Democrats, who are hopeful that Donnelly can compete for Indiana’s open Senate seat now that Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has lost his primary. Donnelly faces state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

Donnelly had been raising money at a very slow pace in previous quarters, pulling in less than $400,000 in each of the last three quarters. But he appeared to get a bump when Lugar lost the primary, and he’s likely to have more money in the bank than Mourdock, who spent heavily in the primary. Mourdock hasn’t announced his fundraising totals yet.

Fixbits:

Ron Paul will not attend the Paul Festival, which supporters are holding in the runup to the GOP convention in Tampa, but he will hold a separate event.

The House ethics committee could rule as early as today on an investigation into Senate candidate Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.).

The final count in Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) primary shows him up just a hair less than 1,000 votes. But a potential legal drama over the board of elections awaits.

Former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory (R) raised $2.2 million in the second quarter for his North Carolina gubernatorial campaign, and he has $4.4 million in the bank. Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton hasn’t announced his totals.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is up with an ad for her Senate campaign accusing Republicans of “slashing Medicare benefits instead of asking millionaires to pay their fair share.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will speak at the left-leaning Brookings Institution today.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) became the first member of Congress to marry someone of the same sex this weekend.

A congressional candidate from California, former astronaut Jose Hernandez (D), will carry the Olympic torch in London.

Must-reads:

North Dakota’s booming economy gives the political dynamic a rarefied air” — Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

We’re getting wildly differing assessments” — Tom Goldstein, SCOTUSblog

Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s 1-woman rapid response squad” — Lois Romano, Politico

Discord at Supreme Court is deep, and personal” — Jan Crawford, CBS News

American Action Network launches $10 million effort in ‘orphan states’” — Maggie Haberman, Politico

Romney, in final stages of ‘veepstakes,’ is weighing when to pick running mate” — Philip Rucker, Washington Post

 
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