The conventional wisdom (as of September 28, 2010) is that the Republicans will probably take control of the House of Representatives but that Democrats will hold on to power in the Senate. But since all politics, even Republican-wave elections, are local, a closer inspection of the polls and the trends is warranted. And, shit, it's not like any other site on the internet is doing this.
Every seat in the House of Representatives is up for reelection, of course, and while the premise that the Republicans will easily take the chamber over may be overblown, I'm not going to question it for now. But the Senate is analyzable, so I shall analyze it.
There are 37 seats up for reelection (20 Democrat-held and 17 Republican-held). Subtracting these from the current configuration of the Senate gives us our baseline:
Now let's add in safe seats. For Republicans, there are an awful lot of safe seats.
RED STATE INCUMBENTS
All are incumbents who will breeze through to another term, even scandal-plagued David Vitter of Louisiana.
There are fewer safe Democrats
BLUE STATE INCUMBENTS
Oh, but there are more safe seats for Republicans.
RED STATE NEWBIES.
In these four states, relatively unknown candidates face each other in the general election. In red states like Utah, North Dakota, Kansas and Indiana, this generally favors the Republican, and polls back this assumption up.
FAILED MONKEY WRENCHES
In both of these states, the Tea Party overthrew the establishment Republican, and the establishment Republican decided to go it alone with an independent candidacy (Crist of Florida) or a write-in campaign (Murkowski of Alaska). The typical result of intra-party squabbling is that the other party comes in (Democrats in this case) and sweeps up the vote. That won't happen this time: both Rubio and Miller are leading handily in the polls despite the monkey-wrench candidacies of Murkowski and Crist.
DEMOCRATS FADING FAST
Both of these purple states had open seat races that were considered to be close at one point. The Republican in each case has now opened up a lead in the polls consistently greater than 10 percentage points.
DEMOCRATS FADING SLOW
Richard Blumenthal, who once enjoyed a 30 point lead over all Republicans, is now just 5 points ahead of his Republican challenger for Chris Dodd's seat. Will the lead last? I kinda sorta think so in this blue state, but it's not like Blumenthal is the perfect candidate. All I know about him is that he claimed he served in active combat duty in the military when he didn't really. And that's not the kind of thing you want to be known for.
THE LEFT COAST
Both of these blue state incumbents have challenging reelections ahead of them, and both have been surprisingly free of Tea Party turmoil. Both Democrats are leading in the polls, but not by all that much.
Blanche Lincoln, Democrat Senator of Arkansas, will be the first Democratic incumbent to fall on election night. She has been consistently down in the polls despite her attempts to sever herself from the Democratic establishment. It's a little different in Missouri, where a well-known popular Republican will simply beat a less well-known less popular Democrat.
The rest of the races are tossups really.
THE SURPRISINGLY STRONG
Millionaire Ron Johnson is just an average guy from Wisconsin, he'll tell you in his campaign ads, but he's polling extremely well against "mavericky" Democratic senator Russ Feingold. Republican Pat Toomey hasn't trailed in a poll against Arlen Spector-beating Democrat Joe Sestak since May.
THE TEA PARTY EFFECT
All three candidates have said crazy things. All three candidates are Tea Party insurgents. All three candidates were expected to be the easier opponent for Democrats than the Republican establisment candidates. And all three candidates are leading (just barely) in the polls. If all three get elected, it will be a bad night for Democrats. I'm predicting a bad night for Democrats.
THE WHY ISN'T THIS GUY LEADING BY MORE STATE
Extremely-popular Democratic governor Joe Manchin threw his hat into the ring for the seat of the deceased extremely-popular Democratic senator Robert C. Byrd, and it was expected to be a landslide for him. But he hasn't polled as well as expected against a perennial candidate named John Raese; Manchin is only up by about 5 points, and it's possible he may lose. I sort of doubt it though.
HOLD YOUR NOSE AND PULL THE LEVER
Two scandal plagued candidates go up against each other. The democrat is a sleazy banker named Alexi Giannoulias, and the Republican is a confirmed liar named Mark Kirk. They have been tied in the polls for months, but Kirk is slightly ahead in almost every poll.
The last senate seat left to be discussed is Delaware.
THE SARAH PALIN EFFECT
Christine O'Donnell looks like Sarah Palin, says ridiculous things like Sarah Palin, and is backed by Sarah Palin. She is skilled at playing the "look how the mainstream media persecutes me, the outsider" card. This is an excellent way of not having to explain yourself or the charges against you. It was thought that it would be a landslide for balding low-profile candidate Chris Coons, but since the primary, O'Donnell is closing in the polls, down by 9 points from 16 a couple of weeks ago. People love celebrity. So therefore my guess is:
I mean, come on, she's ridiculous.
VP Biden will break all ties and keep the Senate in Democratic hands, at least until Joe Lieberman switches parties for good.