How the Senate's-in-play storyline was born

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

For the record, I have no idea how the midterm elections will turn out regarding the final Congressional head count after the November ballots are counted. Then again, neither do journalists. But that doesn't stop them from painting doomsday scenario for Democrats.

And the latest, doom-iest scenario of all features Republicans winning control of the U.S. Senate this year. For that to happen there would have to be an historic collapse of the Democratic Party between now and November, with Dems losing 16 of 18 competitive races nationwide on Election Day, which is why, up until recently, the press shied away from speculating about Democrats losing the senate.

But that seemed to change over the weekend when National Journal columnist, and full-time campaign-watcher, Charlie Cook published "The Senate's In Play," which lit up the blogosphere and Beltway newsrooms. Cook's column suddenly seemed to give pundits and reporters a green light to openly speculate about an electoral Armageddon facing Democrats.

Yet if you actually looked at Cook's work, that didn't seem to be the case. Yes, he published a very blunt, link-friendly headline ("The Senate's In Play"), clearly suggesting Democrats were in danger of losing the Senate in November. But in the end, Cook hedged his bets, suggesting Republicans couldn't actually pull it off. "The odds still favor Democrats holding their majority," Cook wrote, adding it was "fairly unlikely" that Republicans would prevail.

So the senate's not in play. But it kinda/sorta might be? (Of course it might be.)

What exactly was the point of the "The Senate's in Play" column? That, I don't know. But I do know the affect of the column-- journalists loved it and have used it to bolster the Dems-are-really-doomed storyline.

For instance, look at how the WashPost references Cook's column [emphasis added]:

Political handicappers now say it is conceivable that the Republicans could also win the 10 seats they need to take back the Senate. Not since 1930 has the House changed hands without the Senate following suit.

"Given the races in play - six for Republicans and 13 for Democrats - a plausible case can now be made that those 10 seats are within their reach," the nonpartisan Cook Political Report wrote last week. But it predicted that the GOP's gain will fall just short of that, at seven to nine seats.

Note that the Post claimed "handicappers" (plural) are now saying the senate could flip. But the Post only referenced a single handicapper, Cook. And it turns out that not even Cook thinks the GOP will win the senate. According to the Post, Cook predicts the Republican effort "will fall just short."

So if Cook doesn't think Republicans will win the Senate, who thinks they will? And why does the Post point to Cook as a handicapper who claims the Senate is in play?

Simple. Because Cook published a column headlined "The Senate's In Play," and the press loves that storyline.

The Washington Post
Charlie Cook
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.