- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 24, 2010

It’s official: A week before the midterm elections, odds are that Republicans will win control of the House but Democrats will keep control of the Senate, according to the overseas bookmakers taking bets on this sort of thing.

Ireland-based Paddy Power says Republicans are “hot favorites” at 1-33 odds to capture the lower chamber, though they are not favored to win the Senate, with bettors getting odds of 11-4 against it.

Ken Robertson, communications manager for Paddy Power, said Republicans had the edge in the Senate until July, when Democrats’ momentum pushed them to become the odds-on favorite at 2-9, meaning a bettor placing a $9 wager stands to win just $2 if Democrats keep the 50 seats needed to control the upper house.

If the election bears out those predictions, it will be the first time since World War II that the House flipped control without the Senate also changing hands. But political prognosticators in the U.S. say that’s increasingly looking likely, with the Republicans riding voter anger to capture at least 39 seats needed in the House, but having a tougher time in the Senate.

“It is mathematically possible for the GOP to score a net gain of 10 seats, but it is a very difficult proposition, practically speaking,” the Cook Political Report said late last week.

The problem for oddsmakers and prognosticators alike is that polls in the Senate races show an unsettled picture.

The Nevada, Colorado, Illinois and West Virginia seats have been impossible to predict for some time, while Democrat Joe Sestak has turned Pennsylvania into a competitive race and Democrat Jack Conway did the same in Kentucky, even as Republican challengers are putting renewed heat on Democratic incumbents in Washington and California.

Desperation — whether real or exaggerated for fundraising purposes — showed in a donor solicitation e-mail from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over the weekend. Online communications director Jason Rosenbaum pleaded for money to hold the line in some of the races that are surprisingly close.

“Keeping CA blue is just about a requirement if we’re going to keep the Senate,” Mr. Rosenbaum wrote, pointing to a public poll that showed Republican Carly Fiorina within 2 percentage points of incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Still, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said Sunday that Republicans will struggle to topple Senate Democrats.

“Four or five months ago, the Republicans thought they had a great chance to taking both houses,” he told ABC’s “This Week” program. “For a variety of reasons, the Senate has gotten much more difficult for them.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he thinks Republicans will gain the number of seats needed to win control of the House but acknowledged “the Senate’s a little bit tougher.”

To get control of the Senate, Republicans must take 10 seats from Democrats to push their number to 51. A 50-50 split in the Senate would leave control in Democrats’ hands because of the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Republicans may have lost the chance for a vital pickup when Delaware voters chose Christine O’Donnell over Rep. Michael N. Castle to be the party’s nominee. Paddy Power says the odds are 10-1 against her.

Now, Republicans must win nearly every seat in play in order to control the Senate.

Thanks to those sorts of missteps and to late Democratic surges, prognosticators such as the Cook Political Report and RealClearPolitics.com say Democrats have the edge to hold on to at least 48 seats and Republicans have at least 44, with eight seats as pure tossups.

That’s the same breakdown RealClearPolitics found nearly two months ago, on Labor Day, which signals the volatility of the field.

RealClearPolitics’ House projections are ever-gloomier for Democrats, though. As of Sunday, it projected that the GOP is favored for 222 seats, with another 36 pure tossups, while Democrats have the edge for 177 seats.

That’s a Democratic drop of 16 seats from Labor Day, when RealClearPolitics said Democrats were favored for 193 seats and Republicans for 206 seats.

Among the oddsmakers, meanwhile, Paddy Power’s 1-33 line that Republicans win the House this year are the highest of the overseas parlors, although the other odds are still overwhelming. Betting house Victor Chandler is offering 1-25 odds, while Betfair’s odds are 9-100.

Among individual races, Mr. Robertson said, the California race is one of Paddy Power’s most active.

“The majority has gone on Boxer, but Fiorina looks to be gaining in the past couple of days,” he said late last week.

The Nevada race has proved particularly volatile, he said, with the odds having gone back and forth between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican challenger Sharron Angle. Mr. Reid was at even money on Friday, while Mrs. Angle was 8-11 — an improvement from the 6-4 against odds at the outset.

In Washington, Mr. Robertson said “lots of money” has been flowing for Sen. Patty Murray, pushing her to be a 1-4 favorite. Republican challenger Dino Rossi, who was favored at 4-6, is now at 5-2 against winning the seat.

In West Virginia’s open Senate seat, Republican John Raese has gone from 15-8 underdog to 1-4 favorite in his race against Gov. Joe Manchin III.

Oddsmakers have a good track record for their predictions.

Two years ago, after the final debate between Sens. Barack Obama John McCain, Paddy Power took the shocking step of declaring the contest over and paid out more than $1 million to those who had bet on Mr. Obama. In January, 24 hours before the special election in Massachusetts to fill the Senate seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy, the bookmaker paid off all bets on Republican Scott Brown, who scored an upset victory.

“Enough is enough. It seems that Sen. Brown just has to get out of bed tomorrow to win convincingly. As far as we’re concerned, this race is well and truly over,” Paddy Power said at that time.

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