With just a few days left before election day, it’s getting more and more difficult to see a way that Democrats retain control of the Senate. In Montana and South Dakota, the Democratic candidate has essentially no chance. In Arkansas and Iowa, slim chances appear to be slipping away. Colorado, somewhat surprisingly, is moving in favor of Cory Gardner (R), even though Mark Udall seems to be a fairly popular incumbent. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana looks increasingly like a losing candidate. Lose those six states with no offsetting Democratic gains, and the Republicans take control of the Senate, 51-49. Of those, Colorado looks like the best chance for Democrats to hold on, but if the polls are correct, that chance is fading. And there are other states where Democrats could well lose their seats – Alaska, North Carolina, New Hampshire. Kay Hagan appeared to have stabilized her race in North Carolina, but the past few days have seen her lead shrinking. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is a couple of points behind in most polls, but Alaska polls are notoriously inaccurate, so nobody can really say what’s happening there. Jeanne Shaheen looks like she’s ahead in New Hampshire, but the race is tight. On the Republican side, two races that should be safe are surprisingly not, and the most surprising is in Kentucky, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a very tight race with Allison Lundergan Grimes. Georgia, a red state that is beginning to trend purple, wasn’t expected to be a problem for Republicans, but David Perdue (R) and Michelle Nunn (D) are probably headed to a January runoff. And then there’s Kansas, which will either re-elect a very unpopular Republican (Pat Roberts) or elect an independent (Greg Orman) who isn’t saying which party he would caucus with.
What’s the likely worst case for Democrats? Losing all six of the states where they’re in the most trouble, and adding one or more losses in North Carolina/New Hampshire/Alaska would put Republicans in control with somewhere between a 51-49 advantage and a 54-46 advantage. And given the factors lined up against Democrats – President Obama’s unpopularity, traditional mid-term losses by the President’s party in the mid-term of his last term, and the lack of gaffe-prone Republican candidates this time around – the most likely outcome is a Senate that ends up with 52 or 53 Republicans. But if Democrats somehow manage to hold on to their expected wins, and salvage victories in a couple of their endangered seats – say, Colorado and Iowa – or pull off upsets in Kentucky or Georgia, then they could retain control with 50 or 51 seats (a 50-50 tie keeps Democrats in charge with Vice-President Biden casting the tie-breaking vote). That would be a shocker, however. And given the advantages for Republicans this time around, a Senate still controlled by Democrats would be a crushing defeat for Republicans.
Why? Because 2016 could be a strong year for Senate Democrats. 23 Republicans will be up for re-election, compared to only 10 Democrats. And among those 23 Republicans are a number in traditionally blue states: Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. John McCain (Arizona) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) could well retire. And if a Republican Senate majority following 2014 starts playing hard to the Tea Party faction, they could turn many moderates against them. So a Republican win in 2014, while painful for Democrats, may be a short-lived pain, and could actually enhance Democratic prospects in both the 2016 Senate and Presidential races.