It’s Election Eve 2014, and since my last Senate post on October 10, nothing has materially changed. I am predicting that Republicans will pick up Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska, Colorado, and Iowa, for a net gain of 8 seats, which will give them a majority of 53 seats.
However, there is a caveat: the key is turnout, turnout, turnout. And this year, both Democrats and Republicans have upped their ground game, though not necessarily to the same degree. Turnout that gets non-conventional voters to vote will defy the public polls’ likely voter models, and can make a difference in close races in small states. What I’m saying is, while the polls are accurate for the voters the pollsters think will turn out, it won’t be accurate if new (read: Democratic, since Republicans usually have the turnout advantage in midterm elections) voters come out and vote. That could have consequences for a number of races.
But first, the ones that are already basically decided: Montana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. These are unlikely to hold any surprises on Election Night; the first four will go to the Republicans and the last two to the Democrats. Both of the last two have tightened in recent polling. Surprisingly, despite running a total head-up-his-ass campaign (one of his latest claims is that illegal immigrants are bringing polio, a long-eradicated disease, across the border), Scott Brown has managed to move within striking distance of Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire; Shaheen is leading him only by an average of 48-46. But in both New Hampshire and North Carolina it’s probably too little, too late.
Now, the races that are still uncertain, based on turnout: South Dakota, Alaska, Colorado, and Iowa.
South Dakota: Republican Mike Rounds is still likely to win here, as he’s recently bounced back from a bad October. Democrat Rick Weiland is one of my two favorite non-incumbent Senate candidates running this year (the other being Iowa’s Bruce Braley). He’s running an energetic, retail politics-style campaign that’s taken him to every small town in the state and, even more importantly, a number of Native American reservations. Native American voters could prove to be crucial (as they did in Tim Johnson’s slim victory in 2002) since they tend to not vote in large numbers and are underrepresented in likely voter models. That said, Rounds currently leads Weiland by an average of 44-30.
Alaska: The story is much the same in Alaska. Democrat Mark Begich is running a strong ground game, especially among Native Americans, and the Republicans may not be able to compete. Republican Dan Sullivan is leading him 50-46 in the polls but, again, if Begich can get non-conventional voters like Native Americans out, he may defy the polls.
Colorado: The big X-factor with Colorado is that, for the first time, they’re using an all-mail ballot voting system. That could dramatically increase participation among non-conventional voters – again, rendering the polls inaccurate. Republican Cory Gardner is currently leading Democrat Mark Udall 50-48, so a boost in participation from non-conventional voters voting by mail could allow Udall to close the gap.
Iowa: My other favorite non-incumbent Senate candidate, Democrat Bruce Braley is a decently strong liberal running to replace a liberal icon, Tom Harkin. His batshit insane Republican opponent Joni Ernst holds a 48-46 lead in the polls, and has led in far more recent polls than Braley has. A near-consistent Ernst lead would normally spell doom for Braley, but his side is claiming a superior ground game that’s turning out lots of non-conventional voters. Trouble is, Iowa Republicans have stepped up their ground game too, so this one is going down to the wire. Ernst is likely to win by no more than 2 or 3 points, but Braley has a shot at winning by maybe 0.1 points, following a grueling recount.
So I’m hedging my bets a bit. Republicans are favored to win the four races above, but, at least for Alaska, Colorado, and Iowa, the races are close enough that differences in turnout could produce Democratic victories in defiance of the polling.
The two races in Louisiana and Georgia are almost certainly going to go to a runoff, where the campaign dynamics and turnout could get even more unpredictable. Turnout among Democratic voters could be depressed (though not by much in Louisiana), but the two races are likely to get unlimited media attention, especially if control of the Senate is riding on them. I think the Republicans are still favored to win both runoffs, but my predictions are likely to change once the runoff campaigns get underway.
Georgia: While Republican David Perdue is still favored to win the runoff, Democrat Michelle Nunn could have a good shot, and it’s hard to say that Perdue has the same likelihood of success that, say, Republican Bill Cassidy has in Louisiana. In mid-October, it was revealed that Perdue was a callous job outsourcer during his Corporate America days, and for a few heady weeks Nunn bounced into a small lead in the polls. Then, Perdue retook a narrow 47-43 lead, because… people forgot about the outsourcing? Something something Obama? C’mon, Georgia! This was a guy who bragged about outsourcing and then made up some laughably pathetic bullshit to cover his ass, and he still somehow regained the lead. Honestly, I don’t understand voters sometimes. I swear, you could shove a hot poker up their ass and after the initial screaming they would forget about it as soon as you say a magic sentence containing the words Obama, Obamacare, illegals, ISIS, and Ebola.
The last race of interest is Kansas. Independent Greg Orman (who, by the way, has one of the most annoying voices I’ve ever heard in politics) was riding high a month and a half ago, but after a gazillion Republican attack ads painting him as an Obama clone, he’s now basically tied with Republican Pat Roberts. The HuffPo average has Roberts leading Orman 47-44, but it’s weird because most of the recent polls still show a slight Orman lead, so unless they’re counting a lot of old polls I don’t know how they got that average. In any case, I would say Orman is still the slight favorite.
If he does win, it’s an open question as to who Orman will caucus with. He’s been running a rather parochial campaign, and, in Angus King-esque fashion, he’s said he’s willing to go along with whoever has a clear majority for the good of Kansas, or whatever. I’m currently holding him to his word, which is why in my current prediction I have Orman winning Kansas and then caucusing with the Republicans anyway. On the other hand, Republicans have dragged his name through the mud, and Democrats are likely to retake the Senate majority in 2016 anyway*, so Orman could decide to go with the Democrats instead. On the other other hand, Orman could caucus with Republicans after 2014 and then switch to the Democrats after 2016, and keep switching back and forth with whoever controls the Senate; he seems like he’d be mercurial enough to do that. Plus it would be in keeping with the “fuck the country, Kansas comes first” theme of his campaign.
My current predictions for Orman’s caucusing decision are:
Democrats have 48 seats or less without him: He will caucus with the Republicans.
Democrats have 50 seats or more without him: He will caucus with the Democrats.
Democrats have 49 seats without him: In this case he would be the deciding vote for Senate control, in which case I think he sides with the Democrats, for the aforementioned reasons. This actually represents the most probable scenario for Democrats retaining the majority: win Colorado and Iowa to get to 49 seats, and then get Orman to caucus with them. This would also eliminate the need to win the difficult Louisiana and Georgia runoffs to maintain the majority.
*Besides the higher turnout that comes with being a Presidential election year, Democrats have a far more favorable map in 2016. They have conceivable pickups in Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina, and Georgia. Republican targets are likely to be limited to Nevada and Colorado. If Democrats hold 47 seats going into 2016 as my current prediction has them at, they need to net 4 seats to regain the majority. That means they could lose both Nevada and Colorado and they would still only need to pickup six of the nine targets to get a majority.