Back in August I did a completely poll based version of the Senate seats most likely to change hands next year and this seems like a good time for a refresh.
This is not my opinion of the likelihood of seats to shift but just based on the polling data since August. For instance Arkansas is 8th on this list even though I think Blanche Lincoln is the incumbent most likely to lose next year. I'm also operating on the worst case scenario assumption for Democrats, which is that John Hoeven will run in North Dakota and Rudy Giuliani will in New York. They are actually at the top of the list, which shows that even though things already look bad for Democrats they could get worse with some Republican recruiting successes. The eight seats most likely to flip are all held by Democrats. When I did this back in August only three of the top eight were. Things have certainly changed a lot.
To the rankings:
1) North Dakota. This is a little iffy because it's based on a single Zogby poll but they found John Hoeven leading Byron Dorgan by 19 points. This race could play out in kind of a similar fashion to Bill Roth and Tom Carper in Delaware in 2000...Roth was not terribly unpopular but his party generally was not in favor in the state and Carper was more popular and cruised to a double digit victory. Democrats really need to hope Hoeven doesn't get in here.
2) New York. Rudy Giuliani has led Kristen Gillibrand by an average of 10 points in a series of recent polls. We know from the 2008 campaign that he peaks in the polls too early, and I would be surprised if he gets in. Nevertheless Gillibrand hasn't set the world on fire so far in the Senate, at least in the court of public opinion, so this will be a tough one if Rudy does end up running.
3) Colorado. Again this is based on a single poll- Rasmussen showed Jane Norton leading Michael Bennet by 9 points earlier in the fall. I'm not sure if the margin is really that much but Bennet has had middling approval ratings in our polling of the state, and Barack Obama's approval has lagged his vote share there even going all the way back to the spring. Declarations of Colorado as a blue state around this time last year were somewhat premature.
4) Connecticut. No lack of polling here. Rob Simmons has consistently led Chris Dodd in the polling, by an average of 8 points dating back to the start of August. We will definitely test Richard Blumenthal as a Dodd alternative if we ever get around to polling the state because if he would safely keep the seat in Democratic hands it might be time for Dodd to take one for the team and retire. Right now it looks like he's going to follow in his father's footsteps by leaving the Senate after losing reelection.
5) Nevada. Sue Lowden might not be particularly well known but she's led Harry Reid by an average of 7 points in recent surveys. Polls in Nevada last year consistently underestimated Democratic performance so things might not be as bad as they look but there's little doubt Reid is in trouble.
6) Delaware. Mike Castle is remarkably popular with independents and gets a fair amount of crossover support from Democrats, allowing him to hold an early modest advantage in this blue state.
7) Illinois. Neither Mark Kirk or Alexi Giannoulias is terribly well known at this point but the national political climate seems to be helping Kirk, as he held a small lead in an internal Democratic poll released a few weeks ago. Illinois is certainly heavily Democratic but remember that the last time there was a highly competitive Senate race in the state in a non-election year the Republicans won it in 1998. Certainly Carol Moseley-Braun had her issues, but it showed it can be done.
8) Arkansas. I've written plenty about Blanche Lincoln here lately.
9) Missouri. This is probably the best hope for a Democratic pickup next year because Robin Carnahan is considerably more popular at this point than Roy Blunt is. Still, she has to contend with the unpopularity of the President and her party in the state, and that's why she's only up by a point right now. If this was November 2007 I imagine her lead over Blunt would be double digits.
10) Pennsylvania. I still have a hard time understanding this one, but Arlen Specter has struggled with Pat Toomey in a number of recent polls. My sense is that once Democrats and independents in the state get a better sense of how extreme Toomey is these numbers will get better whether the nominee is Specter or Joe Sestak but for now it's looking close.
11) Ohio. This is probably the Democrats' second best opportunity to score a seat and it will be interesting to see if Rob Portman is able to overcome his Bush affiliation to keep it in the Republican column. This is another on where if it was 2006 or 2008 the Democrats have a strong advantage...but it's not anymore and Portman's poll position has improved steadily over the course of 2009.
12) New Hampshire. Five of the six seats between 12 and 17 are Democratic pick up opportunities but none of them look as promising as they did six months or a year ago. Of course the fact that the picture did look so different in June of 2009 shows it's possible that the picture in June of 2010 could look a lot different than it does now. We'll just have to wait and see.
15) North Carolina