- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2014

Democrats’ election chances are dim enough that their hopes for keeping a majority in the Senate rest in part on candidates who won’t even have a “D” next to their names on the ballots.

It’s another sign of voter dissatisfaction dominating the midterm elections, and that’s driving independent candidates in races from Kansas to North Carolina to South Dakota, where those candidates could win seats or serve as spoilers, according to the latest polls, which signal the depths of despair with what both major parties are offering.

For the most part, that dissatisfaction will hurt President Obama and his allies, leaving Republicans to benefit, though not because voters are any happier with the GOP — indeed, congressional Republican approval is abysmal — but because Mr. Obama makes a more salient target.

“This election is going to be a referendum on the president,” Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday. “Even he acknowledged his policies will be on the ballot. And he will be indirectly on the ballot.”

In a few key races, the frustration with Washington will dent Republicans. In Kansas, the Democratic candidate dropped out, leaving all of this year’s anti-incumbent furor directed at Republican Sen. Pat Roberts in a seat that could end up determining control of the chamber.

The latest polls there give independent challenger Greg Orman a razor-thin lead, in one of the reddest states in the union.

SEE ALSO: D.C. mayor’s race may turn on independents, disaffected Democrats

Republicans need to net six seats Tuesday in order to claim the Senate, and a loss in Kansas would set them back substantially. Conservative or libertarian candidates in Georgia and Louisiana could likewise send those races into unpredictable runoffs, while one in North Carolina could end up costing the GOP what had been a good pickup opportunity.

Still, the latest indications are that Republicans will win enough seats — possibly needing overtime in those runoffs — to take control of the Senate, giving them majorities in both chambers of Congress for the first time in eight years and ensuring Mr. Obama’s final two years in office will consist of playing defense.

Anything less would be a failure for the GOP at this point, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told ABC’s “This Week” program.

“I think we have to take the Senate,” he said.

Democrats are counting on a last-minute boost from the “ground game” of identifying and pushing party supporters to the polls.

“Going into Tuesday, I’ll stack up our ground game against Reince’s ground game,” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told ABC. “He’s been trying to throw as much money as he could to stand up a ground game. I know he’d take ours over theirs.”

Democrats’ expected losses in Congress will be almost entirely because of the unpopularity of Mr. Obama, which voters are taking out on senators in his party. Those senators have been unable to carve out their own agendas or prove their independence through votes, leaving them linked to the president.

But in governor’s races, where chief executives have their own independent records to run on, the picture is better for Democrats. They are almost certain to unseat a GOP incumbent in Pennsylvania and have pickup opportunities in blue states such as Michigan and Maine, purple states like Florida and Wisconsin, and the red states of Alaska, Georgia and — stunningly — in Kansas.

Just as stunning is that Republican candidates are making solid plays for some of the bluest states in the country in Illinois and Maryland and a host of New England states: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and, especially, Connecticut.

It’s also in governor’s races where independents were having the biggest effects.

On Sunday, conservative independent Joe Visconti dropped out of the Connecticut governor’s race Sunday, saying he didn’t want to play spoiler and keep Republicans from unseating Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy.

In Maine, independent candidate Eliot Cutler last week told his supporters not to throw away their vote on him, giving a boost to Democratic candidate Mike Michaud, who is trying to unseat Gov. Paul LePage.

In Alaska, a conservative independent could cost incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican, his re-election bid.

House races have been the sleepers this year, though late-season swings appear to be putting Democrats in danger of losing more than the half-dozen seats they were all but conceding just a month or so ago.

The generic ballot test, in which voters are asked whether they plan to vote for a Democrat or a Republican in their congressional district, tilts slightly to Republicans right now.

But that belies what appears to be a significant, though not tidal wave, shift toward Republicans in many of the key races for Congress.

In the past few weeks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has put substantial distance between himself and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, while Republican nominees have opened up significant leads in Arkansas, Alaska, Colorado and Iowa.

Three other states currently held by Democrats — West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota — are considered to be as good as in GOP hands, giving them a three-seat head start on their six-seat quest for the majority.

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