Midterm Election Predictions: 10 Surprises from Murkowski to Vitter

A GOP romp is still in the offing, but a number of individual races are defying expectations. From the invincible Vitter to Murkowski’s resurgence, The Daily Beast’s Election Oracle turns up 10 shockers.

Alaska’s Three-Way

Almost no one saw Joe Miller’s Republican primary victory over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski coming. But almost as shocking is how she’s managed to stick around as a credible write-in candidate. Our Election Oracle model still puts Miller as a 70 percent favorite to win, but multiple polls show Murkowski running shockingly close.

Ben Quayle Blowing It?

Ben Quayle, son of the former vice president, survived a difficult and scandal-plagued nominating contest to win the right to run for this Arizona congressional seat. It’s a conservative district in a Republican year and should be easy pickings, but the latest poll shows Quayle behind 46-44 against rival Jon Hulburd. An outlier, or is Quayle actually in trouble?

Delaware Off the Board

Tea Partier Christine O’Donnell’s upset victory over Mike Castle in the GOP Senate primary turned as close to a sure thing as Republicans could ask for into an unwinnable seat. Election Oracle now puts Coons as a 90-10 favorite over O’Donnell based on his overwhelming advantage in the polls.

The Nevada Deadlock

After Sharron Angle’s disastrous introduction to the press after winning the Republican primary in Nevada, many thought the election was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s to lose. But Angle has shown resilience and the Democrat Reid, even as he pockets the endorsement of the state’s top GOP legislator, cannot put this one away. Election Oracle shows the race couldn’t be closer—not only is it a coin flip as to who wins, but the online discussion is almost evenly divided on every issue save the deficit, where Angle has an advantage. Overall they split the Internet war almost exactly 50-50.

The Democrats’ ‘Conscience’ Falters

Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold has been dubbed the “Conscience of the Senate” for his work to rid Washington of special interests’ influence, and the conventional wisdom was that his independent streak had made him quite popular in his home state. But he seems to be going down with barely a whimper, consistently trailing badly in polls against Republican businessman Ron Johnson, who is a 60-40 favorite to win in our model.

Howard Kurtz: How the Media Blew the MidtermsJohn Avlon: 25 House WingnutsWest Virginia Surge for GOP

West Virginia voted overwhelmingly for both Hillary Clinton and John McCain in 2008, so perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a shock. But most politicos saw Gov. Joe Manchin as a safe bet to keep the Democrats’ Senate seat after Robert Byrd died this year. Instead, Republican challenger John Raese has run a self-financed and effective campaign, and is turning this one into a nail-biter. It’s rated at 50-50 odds on Election Oracle.

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Jerry Brown Returns

Meg Whitman has spent $140 million of her own money to win the California governor’s race in a Republican-favored year and what has it got her? She’s only a 40 percent bet to win in our Election Oracle, struggling to overcome Jerry Brown’s small but consistent polling lead. Has her huge cash advantage reached a point of diminishing returns?

David Vitter: Invincible

We really need to change our definition of a political scandal. Louisiana Sen. David Vitter was caught in a prostitution scandal in 2007, and then, right as election season heated up, one of his most trusted aides was arrested for attacking his girlfriend with a knife. Reports showed the aide had a criminal history of drunk driving and domestic abuse that his boss apparently ignored. Democrats weren’t afraid to go after Vitter for his troubles, but none of it seemed to stick. He’s a 90 percent favorite to win the race against challenger Charlie Melancon.

The Playing Field Expands

Political analysts peg the number of competitive seats at as many as 100, producing some surprises. Among them is Michigan Democratic Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving member of the House, who trails by 4 percentage points in the most recent poll in the race. At the same time, some Democrats thought to be seriously endangered are proving tough to knock out—West Virginia’s Nick Rahall, for example, is still a 90 percent favorite to win on Election Oracle based on his strong polling, despite a wave of anonymously funded, race-baiting ads running in his district.

Gay Rights Falls Off the Map

After being credited with pushing evangelicals to the polls in 2004, gay marriage seems to have faded almost entirely from the political conversation in 2010, despite more states legalizing same-sex unions over the last election cycle either through state legislatures or court decisions. With economic issues dominating, social conservatives are having trouble bringing attention to the cause even as the right’s grassroots are more powerful than ever. Could it be that the gay rights movement has reached its tipping point? Our Election Oracle shows that few races saw the issue occupy more than 3 percent of the online buzz and the few that saw disproportionate amounts of discussion were mostly blue states where gay marriage has been legalized or is being considered by the legislature.

Benjamin Sarlin is the Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast and edits the site's politics blog, Beltway Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.