Who will control the US Senate after November? A prediction

The biggest political question this November is whether Republicans will win control of the US Senate.  It seems like a no-brainer.  Democrats are deeply unpopular right now, thanks in part to President Barack Obama’s lackluster second term, and the unpopularity of Congress, for which voters give much of the blame to Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

He'll get close but will he get his majority?  Photo:  US Senate

He’ll get close but will he get his majority? Photo: US Senate

Democrats are also defending a lot of seats in states that have become fairly bright red, places like Arkansas and Louisiana.  Call it good old fashioned horse race journalism, but I’m going to go out on an early limb and predict — against the grain of conventional wisdom — that the Senate will remain in the control of Democrats.  Here’s why.

A good GOP year but maybe not a great one…

First, the Republicans just plain have a huge amount of ground to make up.  Democrats and their Independent allies in the Senate hold a whopping 55 seats.  The GOP, in order to gain a clear majority, needs to capture six US Senate seats.  That’s a tall order even in a wave year. 

Republicans are going to have a great November.  They’re almost sure to gain Democratic seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.  But they still have to find three more pick-ups, without losing any seats of their own.

Second, while the national mood on Democrats is sour and that affects state-by-state contests to some degree, Senate races are not in the final equation a referendum.  Mr. Obama isn’t on the ballot.  Neither are generic Republicans and Democrats.  Which means that when voters go to the polls, they have to choose between real candidates, real people.

And the truth is that in many states where Senate control will be decided, Democrats are fielding strong, well-funded candidates, some of them incumbents.  Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Mark Begich in Alaska are both running capable, hard-driving re-election bids and both have a real shot at squeaking through.  Begich is outspending his rival on campaign ads.  Hagan is polling consistently ahead of her Republican challenger.

Even in Louisiana, where one would think a GOP pick-up would be a cake walk, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu has kept the race competitive, thanks in part to a third-party bid by a Tea Party candidate.  A GOP win there is by no means assured.

A Republican year faces some bigger trends

The third advantage for Democrats is that parts of the US continue to trend purple, or even blue, despite the zeitgeist of the moment, thanks in part to the growth of Hispanic voting power, increasing urbanization, as well as strong support for Dems among women and younger voters.  Those patterns are helping Hagan, but they’re also boosting the hopes of Mark Udall, the Colorado Democrat seeking another term.

In Iowa, a rural-heavy state which has trended Democratic — voting for Democrats in four out of the the last five presidential elections — Democrat Bruce Braley is running consistently (if narrowly) ahead of Republican Joni Ernst.  (A recent poll shows Ernst surging past Braley…)

The final advantage for Democrats is that they only need to win five of the big battleground Senate races to hold their majority.  That’s because in a tie Vice President Joe Biden is empowered to cast deciding votes.  The GOP, meanwhile, has to win six contests to gain a clear majority.  In the end, that one-seat structural advantage could make all the difference.

So here’s my mid-September scorecard

In the key battleground states, Democrats will win Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina, giving them the 50 seats they need to hold control.  They also have two longer-shot win possibilities in Arkansas — where incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor is still within a few points of his GOP rival — and Kansas, where incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts faces a surprisingly stiff challenge from Independent candidate Greg Orman.  If Orman wins, he’s expected to caucus with the Democrats.

Meanwhile, I see Louisiana as a complete toss-up.

Republicans can count on winning Georgia and Kentucky.  But to give Mitch McConnell the gavel, they need to find more big wins against solid incumbent candidates.  In the case of Roberts they’ll have to overcome his significant missteps early in the campaign to hold that traditionally Republican seat.

Granted, all this plays out against a very tough season for Democrats.  The president’s party traditionally gets whalloped in elections held in his sixth term and Mr. Obama is deeply unpopular in many of the states where control of the Senate will be decided.

It’s also only fair to point out that my predictions tend to be wildly and hopelessly wrong.  With those caveats, I’m predicting that it’s going to be a squeaker, but on a state-by-state basis Democrats still have the edge.

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26 Comments on “Who will control the US Senate after November? A prediction”

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  1. Paul says:

    I agree at this point. What is happening in the middle east could change that very easily.

  2. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    What is happening in the Middle East? Or the spin on what is happening?

    Foreign policy is, or should be, a long term thing. Jimmy Carter moved the world forward toward a more peaceful future with the Camp David accord, but then Reagan came in to office and moved us backwards. We need to stop with the see-saw foreign policy.

  3. Regardless of which major party controls it, you can be sure that they will work together in that sainted bipartisan fashion to dole out tax breaks and authorizes wars against entities who are no threat to Americans.

  4. TomL says:

    Brian, I agree with your analysis. It looks like the most probable outcome is a narrower Democratic Party hold on the Senate, and status quo Republican control in the House. The national Republicans have had an opportunity, but have failed to provide a credible alternative to the Democrats. They bet all their marbles on repealing the ACA, without providing a real alternative, and failed miserably.

  5. The Original Larry says:

    “Jimmy Carter moved the world forward toward a more peaceful future with the Camp David accord, but then Reagan came in to office and moved us backwards.”

    Are you for real? Your lack of basic understanding is staggering. Camp David accord? The last I saw, Jews and Muslims were still dedicated to wiping each other out, for the most part. And in case you missed the headlines, the US won the Cold War, largely thanks to Reagan’s foreign policy. No small thing, that.

  6. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Larry, you are simply wrong. the collapse of the Soviet Union was inevitable. Gorbachev did more to bring down the Iron Curtain than Reagan, and the fiasco of the Reagan administration in terms of the long term results in foreign policy has still not ended. Remember that Reagan funded bin Laden in Afghanistan and the whole Iran Contra deal which had us dealing in drug money and funding both sides of a war in the Middle East.

    Seriously, you don’t understand this as well as I do…just trust me on this.

  7. The Original Larry says:

    “…just trust me on this.”

    That’ll be the day! I’m still trying to understand the Camp David comment. Whatever progress may have been made, the Accords left Sadat dead and the Palestinians alienated. Some “peaceful future” they ushered in! Funny thing that Cold War: started and escalated by feckless Democrats and won by Republicans, yet you give the credit to Gorbachev, the loser. No history lessons from you!

  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Lesson number one for you Larry. Nobody won the Cold War. Everybody on earth lost.

  9. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Here is an analysis from 20 years after the Camp David Accord.

    If you read it you will see how important it was and also how unfortunate it has been that there hasn’t been a concerted effort to build on it.

  10. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Also, the Cold War never really ended. The Soviet Union collapsed from within, true, but many of the ongoing conflicts around the world are residual conflagrations ignited by the Cold War. India/Pakistan/Kashmir, Afghanistan, problems in Iran and Iraq, Syria, and many other problems in Latin America and Africa have deep roots in the Cold War.

    Heck, we still haven’t even made up with Cuba!

  11. The Original Larry says:

    I understand that liberal orthodoxy forbids giving any credit whatsoever to conservatives, especially Republicans. Anything achieved under conservative leadership is “inevitable” or a happy accident. By the same token, all liberal/ Democrats are misunderstood visionaries whose accomplishments can only be judged accurately by history. Still, it’s hard to argue with the facts, unless of course, you choose to ignore them. There is no peace in the Middle East and there’s not likely to be any time soon. Whatever small progress may have been made at Camp David, 35 years later the larger struggle continues unabated. Those are facts. Reagan didn’t win the Cold War (i.e., the constant threat of mutual nuclear destruction) single-handedly, but it cannot be denied that his foreign policy ultimately resulted in a substantial reduction in the threat level from what is was, say, under Kennedy. That’s a fact too.

  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I never said Reagan didnt do anything, let me check….no I didn’t. I did say that he moved us backward, and specifically I meant in respect to peace in the middle east.

    I don’t like a lot of what Reagan did, but it was much more of a mixed bag with Reagan…he did some good, he did some bad. In my view (and I think history will bear me out on this) some of the bad stuff he did was really really bad. I wouldn’t have a hard time finding good stuff to say about him. I don’t think Bush 1 was a terrible president, either, not a great one, and not as good as Reagan – though his faults weren’t as bad either. Bush 2 though, ugh! he was really really bad. And not a lot of good to say about him either.

  13. scratchy says:

    Corporate America.

  14. Mr. Kent says:

    And in 2016 a lot more republican seats are up and it will switch back to a democratic majority. It takes 60 votes to over ride a Presidential veto and that is not happening. just more of the same mess. gridlock and positioning for the next election cycle.

  15. Mr. Kent says:

    Original Larry- OK, here ya go. You want conservative republicans to get some credit? Here is Regan’s foreign policy. that is assuming he actually had one.
    He left 240+ Marines in the open in Beirut to get killed . Their mission? Well, Uh! Well. Regan’s response was. OK, we are outta here and don’t you worry about us trying to find those rascals who did this.

    How about this one? I give full credit to the deep thinkers of the conservative republicans- Regan foreign policy? Here is some more”Let’s sell weapons to our sworn enemy that just grabbed a bunch of Americans and held them hostage for along time ( weapons later used to kill more Americans) and use the money to fund a war down south with them there contras and all. Shhh! don’t tell congress or anyone else about it. Keep this on the PQ.”

    Imagine Obama pulling something something like that off. You kiddin’ me? If he did one tenth of the nonsense Regan pulled he would have been impeached years ago.

    Add in during the Regan years he doubled the size of government and tripled the deficit ( facts you could look up ) and it makes you laugh every time some clown tells the people he is a ” Regan Republican.”

  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mr Kent, I was trying to stay positive and not bring up the whole “selling drugs to fund buying weapons to sell to Iran who was fighting our at the time ally Saddam Hussein” thing. Or the training of Osama bin Laden through covert CIA/ISI operations. Bringing that stuff up makes Reagan look pretty bad and conservatives get cranky about it. So let’s just keep it between us, k?

  17. Mr. Kent says:

    knuckleheadedliberal .. I didn’t even begin to touch the damage he did world wide that we have been paying for every since. I was being nice and leaving out the training and militarizing the Osama Bin laden factions from those Afghan days of yore. Neither did I mention that it was Regan’s no response to the Marines being killed that inspired Osama to begin believing he could attack America without reprisal. I didn’t even mention Casper falling on the sword for the Iranian weapons mess and being pardoned by HW Bush, Ronnie’s right hand man, as soon as he took office. it was the lest he could do for his old CIA crony. heck, I did not even ask him to vote on who was the worst president in modern history Regan or GW Bush. An argument could be made for both so no clear winner really.

    Are we supposed to just forget the fact Republican administrations have been miserable failures not only at home but abroad? I guess so.

  18. The Original Larry says:

    Mr. Kent, you might at least learn to spell the man’s name correctly before you start to lecture us on history. Besides that, I’ll stick to what I said about liberal orthodoxy.

  19. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Yeah, Mr. Kent, you’re right. But look, now OL is cranky and lecturing you on spelling and complaining about “liberal orthodoxy” when the issue is “conservative incompetence” – and I’m being generous in calling it incompetence not something more in line with the insidious nature of their policies.

  20. seszoo says:

    “Who will control the US Senate after November?” ..Considering what’s running and the money being spent on all sides of the aisles ,one thing’s for sure it won’t be us ,The American People ……

  21. Mr. Kent says:

    Thank you Original Larry for the correction. Please substitute Reagan for Regan. And thank you for not arguing facts in the historically accurate overview of his administration. Some people and names you try to forget because they just bring up too many bad memories. apparently we can agree on that. Heave a great day.

  22. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “Heave” LOL!

  23. The Original Larry says:

    Gee, no comeback about Jimmy Carter? You guys disappoint me. I was looking forward to another good laugh.

  24. Mr. Kent says:

    Larry, I am surprised. You did not even attempt to defend Ronnie Reagan. That is your smartest decision in all of this. For once, you have chosen wisely. Salute.

  25. The Original Larry says:

    Don’t be surprised. There’s no point debating with people who clearly subscribe to a non-empirical version of reality. Like I said, liberal orthodoxy has its requirements.

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