WaPo projection on likelihood of GOP Senate takeover: 82 percent

Not eighty-three, mind you.   Eighty-two percent.  Because this is science.  That level of presumed precision deserves to be met with skepticism, but Republicans will happily take it — if only to wield it as a cudgel to further demoralize Democrats.  We’re still six full months out from November’s midterms — a proverbial eternity in politics — yet data points like this and this are causing this conventional wisdom to congeal: The Senate is Republicans’ to lose. Democrats freaked out in March when their beloved statistical wunderkind predicted that Gramps & Co. are probably headed for the minority after November (though they’d have an excellent shot at regaining their majority in 2016), so this pronouncement from the Washington Post’s political team will no doubt inspire much teeth gnashing and pearl clutching:

Republicans are strong favorites to retake the Senate majority this fall, according to The Post’s new Election Lab model. According to the model, which was built for The Post by political scientist and Monkey Cage blog author John Sides, Republicans have an 82 percent chance of claiming the six seats they need to move back into the majority. Of the two Republican seats seen as potential pickups for Democrats, neither look promising. Republicans have a 94.37 percent chance of holding onto the open Georgia seat and upwards of a 97 percent chance of keeping the Kentucky seat. On the other hand, there are currently eight Democratic-held seats where the Election Lab gives Republicans a better than 50 percent chance of winning.

Here’s their map, based on the current calculus:

WaPo projects the GOP will hold both “vulnerable” seats they currently control, a thesis that relies on the notion that when push comes to shove, voters in Georgia and Kentucky won’t send Barack Obama any reinforcements this fall.  That seems like a fairly safe bet, though Republicans will privately concede that neither race is a slam dunk.  The Post anticipates the GOP will pick off eight seats that currently sit in Democratic hands.  That outcome would give Republicans a 52-48 edge, with the potential to expand to 53-47 if Maine’s Angus King chooses to caucus with the new majority.  As you know by now, Republicans need to net six seats in order to hit the magic number 51.  The second step down that path (after holding serve in GA and KY) entails prevailing in a trifecta of open races in West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana — in which Republicans enjoy double-digit leads.  The WaPo model expects the GOP to execute the first two steps, then knock off Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and Mark Begich in Alaska.  There are your requisite six seats.

So how do they get up to eight?  This is where things get a little suspect: By giving Republicans better-than-even odds in the contests for open seats in Iowa and Michigan.  Sure, Republicans look poised to field strong female candidates in each of those races — and the likely Democratic nominees aren’t exactly world-beaters — but labeling Terri Lynn Land or Joni Ernst “frontrunners” at this stage feels like a real stretch.  Especially when the Post’s calculations show Kay Hagan and Mark Udall surviving stiff challenges in North Carolina and Colorado, respectively.  Those two incumbents look mighty vulnerable; I’m not sure it’s accurate to rank either of the Midwestern races as better opportunities for the GOP.  WaPo’s math also shows New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen and Oregon’s Jeff Merkley winning re-election.  Fair enough, but those incumbents are each facing talented and impressive challengers.  Either one could conceivably get swept away if the gathering red wave gets tall enough.  Based on conversations I’ve had with Republican operatives and early polling, I’d tentatively put all five “must have” races in the W column, followed by an eminently-winnable top tier of Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska and North Carolina.  Next would be Colorado and Michigan, followed by Iowa, New Hampshire and Oregon.  A miraculous clean sweep would net Republicans a dozen seats. But they only need half of that total to win — and if WaPo’s data nerds are to be believed, Minority Leader Reid isn’t just a possibility; it’s a firm likelihood.  I’ll close with a cheerful reminder from yours truly:

You may recall that Republicans were supposed to have a decent chance to capture the Senate two years ago.  They managed to lose two seats.  This round, if the party were to relinquish any of the 45 seats they currently control or fail to secure the trio of aforementioned low-hanging pick-ups, it’s probably game over right out of the gate.  Moral of the story: Take nothing for granted.