Two Weeks Out: The Senate

Yesterday I found the Democrats still as small favorites to keep the House. How do I like their chances in the Senate? Let’s find out…

The Senate

Current composition:

Red = 2 RepublicansBlue = 2 DemocratsPurple = 1 of eachGreen = Independents caucusing with Democrats
  • Republicans: 51
  • Democrats: 47
  • Independents: 2 (both caucus with Democrats, effectively giving them 49)
  • Wrinkle: Vice-President Pence serves as a tie-breaking vote.
    • Therefore, Democrats need to hit 51 for the true majority.
    • Republicans would be satisfied with just 50.
  • Number of seats Republicans can lose to retain majority: 1
  • Number of seats Democrats must add to attain majority: 2
  • Number of seats up for grabs: 35
    • Number of those 35 seats that are Republican: 9
    • Number of those 35 seats that are Democratic: 26!
    • Number of those 35 seats Democrats need to win to take the Senate: 28!

I’ve too many times talked about the difficult Democratic map. Most recently, I identified the only nine Senate elections that can still tip in either direction; for the Democrats to take the Senate, they need to win seven of those nine. In my October 1 breakdown, I thought they might eke out six, but, despite narrow polling at the time in all nine states, I thought political gravity indicated that the GOP would pull deep red Tennessee, North Dakota, and Texas into its corner.

Without winning one of those three, the Democrats cannot win the Senate. (Even that’s assuming they win all other six tossups. If they drop one of the other six, then they need to win two of the three Republican-leaners.)

With that in mind, let’s take an updated look at the polling of the nine states, particularly how things have changed since my last Senate post on October 1.


That is some good news for the Republican Party! Needing to only win three of these nine races, they now hold polling leads in six of them, including sizable leads in the requisite three — the same three your beloved PPFA told you would end up in Republican hands despite their status as toss-ups three weeks ago. If they win the three, they keep the Senate.

Is there any hope for the Democrats here? To find out, we’ll need to take a brief closer look at each state, particularly what’s happened since October 1. Let’s go from best to worst Democratic polling.

What I said then: “I like [Tester’s] chances to hold on. His numbers are close to 50 percent, which means if only a third of the undecided voters break his way, he’ll be put over the top.”
The situation now: In the mold of West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Jon Tester knows how to win as a Democrat in a red state. However, President Trump has now visited the state three times, showing he’s targeting Senator Tester for defeat. I would not be surprised if a poll between now and Election Day shows a lead for his Republican challenger, Matt Rosendale. Even this, the safest of the toss-up states for the Democrats, is looking vulnerable. Tester should hold on, but it won’t be easy.

What I said then: “Senator Donnelly hopes [followers of third party candidate Lisa Brenton] defect to him by election day.”
The situation now: Have they? Not yet. In fact, they might be breaking in the opposite direction.UntitledFlorida
What I said then: “The incumbent Senator (Nelson) against the incumbent Governor (Scott) makes for a dramatic race, and those roller coaster polling figures confirm as much.”
The situation now: Unlike the rest of the Senate map, this looks to be the only state where the Democrats have a modicum of momentum. It’s still anyone’s game, though:


Though polling remains close, the polls slowly transitioned from showing Governor Scott at the advantage to Senator Nelson in the lead before the last two showed the race essentially tied.

We’re already in verrry shaky territory for Democrats. They might take Montana and Indiana by a few points each, and maybe even Florida too, but we’re talking coin flips decided by the last gust of wind.

What I said then: “Though the RCP average still uses two older polls to help buoy McSally’s numbers, Sinema seems to have taken control of the race in the last few weeks.”
The situation now: And then the Kavanaugh tide raised nearly all Republican boats. We’ve got a race:


What I said then: “What a race! Across 13 polls, there have been four leads for McCaskill, four leads for Hawley, and five ties! . . . Of these nine toss-up races, this one is the most tossy-uppy.”
The situation now: The last three polls: One lead for McCaskill, one lead for Hawley, and one tie. Tossy-uppy indeed.

What I said then: “Talk about too close to call! Every poll is well within the margin of error. I’m giving the edge to the Democrats due to something I mentioned earlier: this state was won by Hillary Clinton two years ago.”
The situation now: I’ll stick with that prediction, but Senator Heller has come on strong of late:


This state had been the most realistic “pick-up” for the Democrats — that is, it’s a state currently held by a Republican that a Democrat can win. To win control of the Senate, it’s essential to their cause. It’s not enough by itself, even if accompanied by the five previously listed states, but if the Democrats don’t win here, they’re sure as heck not winning in Tennessee, North Dakota, and Texas. They’ll hope the Emerson poll was off and Jackie Rosen can get back on track.

What I said then: “It looks like Volunteers are gradually coming home to the GOP.”
The situation now: Yep. The three polls after my October 1 post had Marsha Blackburn, the Republican, up by 5, 8, and 14. But then!


Vanderbilt gave a glimmer of hope to the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, PPFA sees that poll as an outlier. If it’s not, Tennessee is the final card of the Democrats’ improbable inside straight. Win all seven states thus far listed, win the Senate.

North Dakota
What I said then: “I see Cramer with the advantage here, especially since North Dakota was President Trump’s fourth strongest state in the 2016 election. Only about a quarter of its electorate voted for Hillary Clinton.”
The situation now: Though Cramer’s RCP average lead was only 1.6 on October 1, I saw North Dakota as  the second strongest Republican state of the nine competitive ones. Polls since then have proven me prophetic: in the last two surveys, Cramer has sported leads of 10, 12, and 16. I’d normally say that Heitkamp’s incumbency gives her a chance at a Democratic miracle — after all, she carried a majority of the vote six years ago, and then, as now, she was a Democrat in enemy territory — but with Trump whipping his supporters into a frenzy, it’s always felt like North Dakota would be safely red, and the polls finally reflect that.

What I said then: “Three of the last four polls have O’Rourke within or nearly within the polls’ margins-of-error. Nevertheless, though it’s not over, the smart bet is that the very Republican state re-elects its very Republican Senator.”
The situation now: Yep. Cruz is fine.


And that was before he kissed Trump’s ring at a Monday rally in Texas.

Senate Prediction: Not only does it look like the Democrats won’t take back the Senate, I now think it’s more likely that they lose ground. Of these nine states, the two I would feel most comfortable in calling is Texas and North Dakota — both for the GOP. That leaves seven, and the Democrats would need to win every single one to take a majority in the Senate. And one of those is Tennessee.

Instead, more likely is that of these seven remaining near coin-flip states, Democrats win about half — 3 or 4. We’re therefore looking at 52 or 53 Republican Senators (plus Vice President Pence) in the next Senate. Importantly, that would give Republicans more room to maneuver conservative bills through the chamber, with moderate Republican Senators Collins and Murkowski no longer needed to win votes.

Overall: It’s a testament to the worst Senate map ever that Democrats could win dozens of House seats and millions more Congressional votes… but still lose seats in the Senate. Yet, as of two weeks before election day, this is the most likely scenario.

What a weird time to be alive.


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