While Conservatives dream of taking the Senate, or at least taking a huge chunk out of the majority, the situation on the ground is far more fluid. So fluid, in fact, that Democratic gains are not out of the question.
From Nate Silver's latest Senate rankings:
According to Nate's numbers, the most likely outcome is 55 Democratic seats, 44 Republicans, and a Charlie Crist (who would likely caucus with Democrats). That would be a net loss of three seats, quite short of cataclysmic. But look at that probability chart above -- there's about a 14 percent chance that Dems gain a seat and end up at 60 votes, and a 27 percent chance that they gain 60 or more. Given the political climate, those are amazing odds.
It's not hard to see how that might happen. The Dems are pretty much guaranteed losers in Arkansas and North Dakota. There's been little recent polling out of Delaware and Indiana, but those of those seats will be tough holds at best. That's four probable losses. So how to offset them?
Ohio is looking like the Democrats' biggest pickup opportunity, along with Charlie Crist's indie bid in Florida (which Nate doesn't factor into the chart above). Democrats trail slightly in Missouri, but I agree with Nate's "tossup" rating in the Show Me State.
New Hampshire is a mess -- Democrat Paul Hodes is running a listless, shitty campaign. But Republicans will likely nominate a teabagger in the wake of establishment fave Kelly Ayotte's troubles (her attorney general's office was caught napping during a Ponzi scheme investigation, then deleted all email and calendar information to try and hide any evidence of wrongdoing). In Kentucky, Rand Paul is a gift, and North Carolina will be fully competitive in a seat that no incumbent has held since 1968.
That's six potential Democratic pickups. A seventh is possible in Arizona, if JD Hayworth can pick off John McCain in that primary.
Incumbent Democrats are certainly looking much better of late. Speaking of gifts, Sharron Angle in Nevada is the best thing to ever happen to Harry Reid. Mark Kirk's Walter Mitty schtick in Illinois has certainly upped our chances of holding Obama's old seat. Sestak's primary victory greatly increased our chances to hold Pennsylvania. And in Colorado, the teabaggers are set to nominate an Angle-Paul clone, once again boosting our chances.
Now to be clear, the GOP is still favored to pick up a net 3-4 seats. And the way these things go, one party will win all the close races. But as Nate notes,
Suppose on the other hand that the Democrats got a 3-point boost nationally (or the current average of polls is biased 3 points against them, which is effectively the same thing). In that case, they would have about a 27 percent chance of actually regaining a 60-seat majority, and closer to a 40 percent chance if they could persuade Charlie Crist to caucus with them.
That we have a 40 percent chance of hitting 60 is amazing, and symptomatic of the GOP's stunning failure to recruit electable, mainstream candidates.
We'd have an even better chance to get there if Democrats in DC did, you know, something about the unemployment picture.