American Crossroads surveys say Republicans have a shot at winning control of Senate

We’ve heard plenty of speculation on Republicans riding a wave of discontent and anger back into control of the House in these midterms, so much so that even a pickup of 35 seats will be seen as a disappointing result.  Expectations have been more measured for the upper chamber, with Republicans discussing a pickup of four to six seats as a goal.  A new study by American Crossroads, the consultancy informally advised by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, hints that the GOP could do better — much better:

The Republican candidate leads on the ballot 47%-39% across the 13 Battleground Senate states. The lead is 45%-37% in the Republican-held states (Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Ohio), and 47%-40% in Democratic-held states (Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and
Washington).

This is not the same as a generic ballot. We tested the specific candidates by name and party in every state but Colorado (where there are no clear primary frontrunners) in which case we tested “Republican” versus “Democratic” candidate. In Florida, we included Charlie Crist as a no party affiliation candidate.

Key findings in the crosstabs include:

  • Independents are voting Republican by 47%-25% across the Battleground states.
  • In the four states John McCain won in 2008, the GOPer leads 46%-36%. In the nine states Barack Obama won, the GOPer still leads 47%-40%, including 50%-38% in the five states Obama won with less than 55%, and 43%-42% in the four Obama 55%+ states.
  • There is a 21 point gender gap. Men are voting GOP 52%-33%, while women split 42% GOP/44% Dem.
  • As seen nearly everywhere else, the Democratic candidates face a wide enthusiasm gap. The GOPer leads 52%-36% among high interest voters (rating their interest as 8-10 on a 1-10 scale, which is 74% of the sample).

American Crossroads used the same pollster and survey methods as the NPR survey in June, which showed that almost all of the competitive districts in the House were held by Democrats.  Politico breaks down the implications:

But taken together, the results suggest Republicans have an opening to make substantial gains this fall, even to the point of putting the Democrats’ 59-seat majority in peril. In eight seats currently held by Democrats – Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington – Republican candidates average an edge of seven points over their Democratic opponents, leading 47 percent to 40 percent.

In five Republican-held seats – Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio – GOP candidates hold an average lead of eight points, 45 percent to 37 percent. …

Bolger told POLITICO the American Crossroads poll gave a similar snapshot of the Senate campaign, explaining: “Individual races may turn out okay, but the overall wave is as strong against [Democrats] as it is against Democrats in the House.”

“You’ve got independents voting Republican, two to one, just like McDonnell, Brown and Christie had,” Bolger said, referring to the 2009 victories of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and the 2010 special election win of Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. “You have the high-interest voters much more supportive of Republicans than the overall electorate, even.”

Republican control of the Senate after this election is certainly possible; the mathematics of it work.  But is it likely?  I’m still skeptical, although not as much as I was earlier in the year.  The election would have to see a tidal wave of Republican activism, independent rejectionism, and Democratic defeatism to roll across the Senate to the extent that it leaves the GOP in charge.   There would be no room for error, either; Republicans have to run the table, winning tough campaigns in Nevada and California that look dicey at the moment.

I’d love to see it happen.  However, getting to 46 or 47 would be enough of a victory to force the Obama White House to the table to get Republican approval on anything getting through Congress in the final two years of Barack Obama’s term.  Reaching 48 or 4: 9 would force Democratic leadership to allow Republican proposals to come to votes on the floor.  Those kinds of numbers will put the GOP in good position to take back control after 2012, when Democrats have a disproportionate number of seats to defend.  With politics being in part a game of expectations, we should be careful not to set the bar too high in the midterms, or we run the risk of turning an actual strategic and tactical victory into a PR defeat.

Update: I got a nice note from Jonathan Collegio, the communications director for American Crossroads, who noted that Rove and Gillespie are informal advisers to AC, not board members or officers.  I’ve corrected the title and the first paragraph accordingly.