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EDITORIAL: Nate Silver, bearer of bad tidings for Democrats

Democrats don’t like star pundit’s latest prognostications

- - Friday, March 28, 2014

When Nate Silver, the young statistician and blogger, called the 2008 election for Barack Obama, his uncanny accuracy was celebrated. He correctly called the result in 49 of the 50 states.

Nor was his performance a fluke. His Senate picks and forecasts in 2012 were equally prescient. "And once again," said Mr. Obama two years ago, "Nate Silver completely nailed it. The guy is amazing." Or at least, he used to be amazing.

Now that Mr. Silver says the arithmetic favors Republicans to take the Senate in the fall midterm elections, he's no longer the left's favorite soothsayer.

Paul Krugman, the economics (and other things) columnist for The New York Times says he's "not impressed" with Mr. Silver, not since he fled the old gray lady to join ESPN, expanding his analysis to include the winners and losers of the national college basketball tournament.

Politics remains the focus of Mr. Silver's blog, FiveThirtyEight.com. "The Democrats' position has deteriorated somewhat since last summer," writes Mr. Silver, "with President Obama's approval ratings down to 42 or 43 percent from an average of about 45 percent before.

Furthermore, compared to the campaigns of 2010 or 2012, the GOP has done a better job of recruiting credible candidates, with some exceptions."

These are not bold predictions. Even the nearsighted can see what look suspiciously like vultures circling the headquarters of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The committee has dispatched nearly a dozen desperate fundraising appeals in the past four months with Mr. Silver's name in the subject line, the National Journal reports.

They're begging for a lot of money to "save" the Senate. Guy Cecil, the campaign's executive director, concedes the peril Democrats face. Indeed, he finds Mr. Silver's predictions something of a fundraiser's godsend.

"We view the latest projection as a reminder," he wrote in a recent memo, "that we have a challenging map and important work still to do in order to preserve our majority."

The president still gets polite applause at a fashionable Manhattan cocktail party or a Hollywood fundraiser, but in the rest of the country he's as welcome as the Ebola virus. No candidate with a "D" after his name wants to be seen with a politician, any politician, with a 59 percent disapproval rating.

That signals it's time to call the undertaker in red states such as West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana and Arkansas, where Democrats are being measured for shrouds. The Republicans need a net of six seats to win control of the Senate.

By Mr. Silver's calculations, that's within reach, but it won't be easy, and only foolish Republicans think it will be. "Republicans will also have to win at least two tossup races," he says, "perhaps in Alaska, North Carolina or Michigan, or to convert states such as New Hampshire into that category." That's plausible, but difficult.

No one who has been watching Mr. Obama's descent into the basement or its effect in the states can find Mr. Silver's predictions weird or outlandish. He's not a partisan. Democrats are learning how Republicans felt when Mr. Silver's projections warned the Republicans not to order the champagne for election night 2008. Nate Silver is just the messenger.