2014 U.S. Senate Elections, September 17 2014

In terms of electoral politics the constant squawk is about how sure Republicans are to capture the six seats they need to retake control of the U.S. Senate. Even the normally level-headed FiveThirtyEight is piling on to the dogma. The problem I have with FiveThirtyEight’s model is that it weights probability of victory based off of how the state votes at the Presidential level, which I feel like doesn’t really capture the reality of what’s happening on the ground.  Looking at actual polling averages (courtesy of HuffPost Pollster), combined with the general trends in the actual Senate campaigns, provides an outlook that is less Republican-friendly. At this point, I am predicting that Democrats will in fact keep control of the Senate by a hair.

In order to gain control of the Senate, Republicans need to have a net gain of six seats. They’re almost certainly going to pick up Montana, West Virginia, and South Dakota from the Democrats. South Dakota has an outside chance of becoming competitive because it’s a crazy three-way race, but in the end the Republican is still favored to win (which is a shame since Democrat Rick Weiland is one of the best candidates running anywhere for U.S. Senate this year). So that’s three seats in the bag.

Where are the other three seats going to come from? I’m going to rank the competitive races for Democratic-held seats from least likely to most likely to flip.

New Hampshire, Michigan, Colorado, and North Carolina – These are all seats that the Republicans thought they had a chance to nab but have ended up slipping away from them. I predict Democratic victories in all four.

Iowa – After enjoying a small but solid lead for most of the cycle, Democrat Bruce Braley’s standing has fallen and this race has really tightened. That said, Braley still maintains a miniscule lead in the HuffPost average and I get the sense that Democrats’ ground game will be better than the Republicans’. I’m predicting this one for the Democrat in a squeaker.

Alaska – This is a lot like Iowa; Democrat Mark Begich seemed to have control over the race but Republican Dan Sullivan surged after his primary victory. That said, Begich still has the edge in the HuffPost average and by almost all accounts he’s running a better campaign than Sullivan is, and probably has a better ground game too, as he’s been reaching out to non-traditional voters like Native Americans. (Besides which, Alaska is a hard state to poll – or is it?) I predict the Democrat wins in a close one.

Louisiana – Republican Bill Cassidy has a super narrow lead over Democrat Mary Landrieu in the HuffPost average, but the real problem is that this race is likely to go to a December runoff, when the Democrats’ normal midterm turnout problems get compounded even more. Landrieu’s won a tight runoff before (in 2002) but I’m predicting the Republican wins this one.

Arkansas – Democrat Mark Pryor was enjoying a nice edge during the spring, but he’s fallen behind now. I’m predicting the Republican wins this one.

Republicans have to make sure to minimize their losses as well. Here are the three competitive Republican-held seats.

Kentucky and Georgia – The story in these two states is largely the same. The Democrat seemed to have a good shot at winning, but lately she’s been doing worse in the polling and the Republican looks largely favored at this point. Moreover, the Georgia race is likely to go to a runoff (in January, after the new Senate will have been seated), where Democrat Michelle Nunn will face the same problem that I wrote about earlier for Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. I predict Republicans keep these seats.

Kansas – This is probably the craziest race of the cycle. Democrat Chad Taylor has dropped out and independent Greg Orman has taken his place as the de facto Democratic candidate. Republican Pat Roberts is hugely vulnerable and seems to be a terrible campaigner. Orman has taken a slight lead in the HuffPost average, and while Roberts is getting a much-needed campaign overhaul, he’d have to completely reinvent himself to have a chance of holding on. I’m predicting an Orman win at this point.

This gets more complicated though, since Orman hasn’t committed to caucusing with either party in the Senate. He has said he’ll join whichever party already has a majority, but he hasn’t said what he would do if he’s in a kingmaker position (which could happen if Democrats have 49 seats and Republicans have 50). Orman has also said he wouldn’t vote for either Mitch McConnell or Harry Reid to be Majority Leader, and if he sticks to his guns he could be in an interesting spot. If he is the kingmaker, one or both of the parties may nominate new Majority Leaders to replace McConnell and Reid (but really, are guys like John Cornyn and Dick Durbin much better?). However, if one side already has a majority without him, and both sides keep their leaders, either he’ll have to break his promise and vote for McConnell or Reid, or he’ll have to caucus with no one and be a useless Senator. What a position to put himself in.

Bottom Line: Republicans will win Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Louisiana, and Arkansas, and lose Kansas, for a net gain of 4 seats. This will put them at 49 seats in the Senate, which no, does not put them in control, even if Orman ends up caucusing with them. Democrats will have 51 votes whether Orman caucuses with them or not (and given that they’ll already have the majority without him, presumably he’ll suck it down and vote for that damn Harry Reid).

So as of September 17 2014, I’m predicting Democrats keep control of the Senate with 51 votes. I’ll update this prediction a day or two before the November 4 election.

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