The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Two major political handicappers are getting very bullish on Republicans’ chances

These elephants are smiling. You just can't see it.

Within the space of the last 24 hours, Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook -- the two best-known non-partisan political handicappers in Washington -- penned pieces with decidedly optimistic takes on Republicans' chances in the November election.

Here's Stu:

After looking at recent national, state and congressional survey data and comparing this election cycle to previous ones, I am currently expecting a sizable Republican Senate wave. The combination of an unpopular president and a midterm election (indeed, a second midterm) can produce disastrous results for the president’s party. President Barack Obama’s numbers could rally, of course, and that would change my expectations in the blink of an eye. But as long as his approval sits in the 40-percent range (the August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll), the signs are ominous for Democrats.

And, here's Charlie:

The Democrats whom I have talked and emailed with in recent weeks seem increasingly resigned to an ugly midterm election. Of course, it's not likely to be the wipeout that 2010 was—after all, in the House, the best news for Democrats is that you can't lose seats you don't have. After losing 63 seats in 2010 and getting only eight back in 2012, Democrats don't have that many more they can lose.

Both men draw on similar data points to reach their conclusion; President Obama's job approval is in the low 40s nationwide (and worse in some key Senate races), the perception of a still-sluggish economic recovery, a map in the Senate that heavily favors Republicans and historical numbers that show a president's second midterm election is almost always terrible for his side. (The president's party has lost an average of 29 House seats and five Senate seats in second term midterms since World War II.)

So, why the change in their confidence level?  Mostly Obama's approval problems, as Stu explains: "With the president looking weaker and the news getting worse, Democratic candidates in difficult and competitive districts are likely to have a truly burdensome albatross around their necks."

The bullishness of Stu and Charlie is at somewhat at odds with the predictions being made by the various election models.

As of this morning, WaPo's Election Lab model gave Republicans a 53 percent chance of winning the Senate, which is down from a better than 80 percent chance a few months ago. The Upshot's LEO model gives Republicans a 61 percent chance of taking Senate control; Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight model is the most optimistic about Republican chances -- giving the GOP nearly a 64 percent chance of winning the six seats they need.

In sum, everyone -- from the political handicappers to the political modelers -- see a Republican Senate as more likely than not. At issue is the magnitude of Republicans gains. Do Republicans squeak into the majority by a single seat -- as the Election Lab model suggests? Or do they surge into the majority with upwards of an eight (or even higher) seat gain as suggested by Rothenberg?

That's not just an academic question.  Remember that the 2016 Senate class tilts heavily in favor of Democratic opportunities -- Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Ohio are all Obama states currently held by a Republican senator -- which means that if the GOP wants to hold the Senate beyond the next two years, they need to win in the neighborhood of eight seats on Nov. 4.

Stu and Charlie see the possibility of 2014 being that good a year for Congressional Republicans. And that's a change that will make Republicans' day.