A Closer Look at Northeast Senate Races: Part 1

By Brennan Robbins, PPN

Delaware Special Election Senate Race

The special election to fill Vice-President Joe Biden’s former Senate seat seems to have its own unique, internal logic: whatever is expected to happen will not happen. At the outset of the race, political observers expected Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden (D) to succeed his father’s temporary replacement, Senator Ted Kaufman (D). The seat seemed as safe as an open seat could be. But in October of 2009, moderate Republican Congressman Mike Castle surprised Republicans and Democrats alike when he announced that he would run for the Senate. The race then seemed to be a tossup.

In January, the Democrats’ position grew more perilous: Beau Biden declined to run for his father’s seat, saying that he wanted to focus on his responsibilities as Attorney General. By late summer, Democratic chances looked grim; Castle had a large lead in the polls and Delaware seemed to be an almost certain Republican pickup.

On September 14th, however, Democrats caught a major break: Republican, Tea Party backed candidate Christine O’ Donnell narrowly beat Castle in the Republican primary. O’ Donnell’s long history of bizarre statements – from moral indictments of masturbation to admissions of dabbling in witchcraft – gave largely unknown Democratic candidate and New Castle County executive Christopher Coons a massive advantage in the polls.

Polling expert Nate Silver now gives Coons a roughly 100 % chance of winning the election. Barring any further shocking developments – e.g. Coons is a witch! – Delaware will remain in the Democratic column. Though the outcome in Delaware seems nearly certain, O’Donnell may yet still have an impact on the midterms: her unorthodox positions and statements may hurt the Republican brand. Pennsylvania Senatorial candidate Pat Toomey has already made great pains to distance himself from O’Donnell. In a year when the Tea Party, on balance, seems to have largely benefitted Republican candidates, Delaware’s special election stands out as the prime example of a Tea Party insurgent inadvertently aiding the Democrats.

Connecticut Senate Race

The people of Connecticut might be forgiven for not voting: their two main Senate hopefuls to replace retiring Senator Christopher Dodd (D) have been dogged by scandal.

The Democratic candidate, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, repeatedly made references to his military service in Vietnam; his history of military service in Vietnam might have helped him if he had in fact served there. A NYTimes, expose, however, revealed that Blumenthal did not serve in Vietnam. In fact, his record indicated that he seemed to have taken active steps to avoid serving in Vietnam.  Against a typical Republican candidate, Blumenthal might have been doomed.

Linda McMahon (R), however, is not a typical Republican candidate. She is the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. Democrats are attacking McMahon for presiding over the WWE while many wrestlers took steroids, several underage ring boys made allegations of sexual abuse, and some wrestling events seemed to simulate rape and necrophilia. McMahon has spent millions of her personal fortune defending her reputation, but, at present, Blumenthal has a large lead.

Nate Silver estimates Blumenthal has a 99.5 % chance of winning the election. Other forecasters are less bold: the NYTimes, CQPolitics and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball all rate the Connecticut race as “lean Democrat.”

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