As of Friday afternoon, the FiveThirtyEight Senate model’s Lite forecast, which relies on just state and national polls, gives Menendez a 7 in 8 chance of winning re-election, or 87 percent. To put this in perspective, we give Republicans a 5 in 6 chance (83 percent) of winning Mississippi’s special election — and no one is calling that a toss-up.2 The other two versions of our Senate model — the Classic, which adds in race fundamentals, and the Deluxe, which adds fundamentals and expert handicapping — put Menendez’s chances at 9 in 10 or better. But while the Menendez scandals have helped Hugin’s chances — we account for scandals in our fundamentals-based forecasts — the effect (R+8.2) doesn’t appear large enough to overcome the Democratic leans in the other components of the fundamentals.
If the national environment were more like, say, 2010 — an excellent Republican cycle — then Hugin’s chances probably would be stronger. Just consider Republican Mark Kirk’s 2010 victory in Illinois, a deeply blue state3 that also had a raging Democratic scandal. After Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich used the appointment process for filling Obama’s Senate seat to enrich himself.4 With that scandalous backdrop and the strongly GOP-leaning national environment, Kirk won the open-seat contest against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias by fewer than 2 percentage points.5