- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2012

Republicans’ chances of gaining control of the Senate are improving, notwithstanding Missouri Senate candidate W. Todd Akin’s self-inflicted calamity.

Since Aug. 1, the prospects for Republican Senate candidates have improved in five hotly contested states while Democrats’ fortunes have risen in three races, including Missouri, according to Real Clear Politics.

That is part of the reason why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, predicted Monday that the GOP could win back the Senate even if Mr. Akin loses his race.

“We can take the Senate without Missouri,” Mr. McConnell said at a Gannett newsmaker session in Tampa, Fla., ahead of the Republican National Convention. “It’d be a lot easier to take it with Missouri.”

Democrats and independents who align with them now control the Senate, 53-47. But in the 33 Senate seats up for election in November, Democrats must defend 21, plus the two independents’ seats in Vermont and Connecticut.

Republicans must defend 10 seats.

As of Monday, Real Clear Politics’ projections based on the latest polling show that Republicans would pick up four Senate seats — in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Nebraska and Montana.

Democrats would pick up a seat in Maine held by retiring Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a Republican. The result would be a net gain of three seats for Republicans and a 50-50 balance in the Senate. Ties would be broken by the person elected as vice president, either Democrat Joseph R. Biden or Republican Paul Ryan.

“What’s tough for the Democrats is there are so many seats they’re defending,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “I don’t think it will be more than 52-48 either way.”

In Virginia, the race between Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine is as close as ever, Real Clear Politics’ average of polls shows Mr. Kaine leading by 0.6 percentage points — a statistical tie.

Since early July, neither candidate has been able to open up a lead of more than 2 percentage points in surveys.

“They’re both former governors, so they both have pretty broad name recognition,” Mr. Tobias said. “A lot will depend on what happens at the top of the ticket, and whether there are people who will split votes. The Republicans have done a pretty good job of tying Kaine to the president, and I think that has kept him from pulling away.”

President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney have been campaigning relentlessly in Virginia, which Mr. Obama won four years ago.

The latest poll in Virginia, conducted by Rasmussen on Thursday, showed a tie at 47 percent each. The Real Clear Politics average of state polls gives Mr. Obama the slightest of advantages, by 0.6 percentage points.

In a survey by Purple Strategies of Alexandria in mid-August, 52 percent of Virginia voters polled said they disapproved of the president’s job performance, while 42 percent said they approved.

Among other races responsible for Republicans’ cautious optimism about the Senate are the contest in Wisconsin, where former Gov. Tommy G. Thompson holds a comfortable lead over Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin, and Ohio, where Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel is tied with Sen. Sherrod Brown in the latest Columbus Dispatch poll of 1,758 likely voters. Of five Ohio polls in August, three show a virtual tie, with two surveys giving Mr. Brown leads of 10 points and 7 points.

Also, in Michigan, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow is in a tight race with former Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra. A poll by Mitchell Research on Thursday gave Mr. Hoekstra a narrow lead, 45 percent to 44 percent. That survey of 1,277 likely voters validated an earlier poll by a Democrat-leaning firm that showed Mr. Hoekstra with a 2-point lead over the incumbent.

In Connecticut, where independent Sen. Joe Lieberman is retiring, Republican nominee Linda McMahon leads by 3 percentage points over Democratic Rep. Christopher S. Murphy in the latest poll, conducted by Rasmussen. But Real Clear Politics’ average of state polls gives Mr. Murphy the edge, by 2.6 percentage points. He was elected to Congress in 2006.

Among the clear bright spots for Democrats is Florida, where Sen. Bill Nelson is widening his lead in polls over Republican Rep. Connie Mack. Mr. Nelson leads by 9 points, 50 percent to 41 percent, in the latest CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll of 1,241 likely voters conducted from Aug. 15 to Aug. 21.

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill has benefited from Mr. Akin’s controversial comment about women’s bodies rejecting pregnancies in cases of “legitimate rape.” Mrs. McCaskill is leading by 9 points in the latest Post-Dispatch/Mason-Dixon poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday, after trailing Mr. Akin by as much as 11 percentage points before he made the remark.

Republican leaders unsuccessfully urged Mr. Akin to quit the race.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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