Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why November Isn't the End for the Senate Majority Battle

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
In case you weren’t aware, there’s an election going on in a few weeks.  I would imagine that if you live in states like Alaska, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Iowa, all you’ve heard on your television screens has been a slew of campaigns directing to you how critical your vote is for control of the Senate (in an odd twist, thanks a scandal-plagued Democratic challenger for governor, Ohio is probably getting a pretty minimal amount of ads after decades of being the center of the political universe-enjoy your reprieve Buckeyes, 2016 is just around the corner).

Two states, however, are possibly going to be in for a rude awakening on November 5th-the election may not be over.  That’s because, in both Georgia and Louisiana, site to two of the cycles most competitive races, if no candidate receives 50%+1 of the vote, they will advance to a runoff (this is also true of Georgia’s competitive gubernatorial race).  As a result of this and a bizarre race in Kansas, there is an extremely strong chance that we won’t know the victors of the Senate for months.  Let’s take a look at all three of these races quickly before we get back to how this would play out.


The race most likely to result in a runoff would be the Bayou State.  About the only thing that everyone can agree on in regard to Louisiana is that three-term Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) will surely come out ahead in November.  With Republicans split between establishment favorite Rep. Bill Cassidy and Tea Party challenger Rob Maness, the GOP has no hope of avoiding the runoff.  Landrieu’s best course-of-action would be a heavy African-American turnout on Election Day, coupled with blue collar Democrats that can land her above 50%.  It’s by far the path of least resistance (and admittedly she hit 50% in her last election, though that was in the far more favorable year of 2002), and may be the only way that she wins reelection (polls have shown this race gaining ground for Landrieu in recent days, though that could change as polls tend to do).  If Landrieu doesn’t win a majority in November (this is the most likely outcome), then she and Cassidy (almost certain to get second) would advance to a runoff in December.  We’ll get to what problems would arise for her then once we go through Georgia and Kansas.

Michelle Nunn (D-GA)

In Georgia, things get even weirder.  While there is no Republican Tea Party challenger messing with this race like in Louisiana, there is a crucial Libertarian candidate in Amanda Swafford who could make life very interesting for candidates Michelle Nunn (D) and David Perdue (R).  Polls in the state have indicated that Perdue is in the lead, but have not shown him crossing that crucial 50% marker.  If he does, this race becomes something none of us talk about.  If he doesn’t, however (and there’s a decent chance he misses by a point or two if Swafford can cross the 3-4% mark), Perdue and Nunn would advance to a runoff election which (in a sign that clearly no one was thinking properly in the Peach State Secretary of State’s office) won’t be until January 6th, three days after the new Congress convenes (meaning that Harry Reid could well remain Majority Leader for a couple of days early on in the new session, though this would be essentially meaningless as the Republicans would filibuster anything that went through if they were about to have the majority).


There’s also the little matter of Kansas, where Sen. Pat Roberts (R) continues to struggle against Greg Orman (I).  Preliminary court hearings have been happening in the state to get Democrat Chad Taylor off the ballot (Taylor dropped out and endorsed Orman), and from political analysts inside the courtroom, it seems likely that Taylor will indeed be off the ballot, a move that hurts Roberts, who is already behind in the polls.  If Orman were to win, it may be several months before we realize which side he will caucus with.  Orman has said he’ll caucus with whomever wins the majority, but if he wins, there’s a decent chance he will decide the majority, which means both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell will be offering up their souls to a previously unknown businessman from Mankato, MN.

How Will This Affect the Majority?

Let’s take the Orman question out of the math for a second and assume that Roberts wins.  The path of least resistance for the Republicans continues to be to hold all of their seats and pickup Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Alaska.  The path of least resistance for the Democrats continues to be to hold their vulnerable Obama states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Colorado), keep marginal North Carolina, and either pickup a GOP seat (likely Kansas or Georgia) or get either Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, or (most likely) Mark Begich across the finish line.

You can see here how winning the runoff seats are more critical to the Republicans than the Democrats, right?  If the Democrats won their planned seats plus Alaska, even if Georgia, Kansas, and Louisiana were all question marks on November 5th they would still have their fifty seats-Georgia, Kansas, and Louisiana are not critical to their math.  However, if Alaska or Iowa goes to the GOP (or both), these three seats become crucial for both parties.

If this happened, a few things would occur.  For starters, Georgia and Louisiana would essentially sell all of their ad space for the ensuing few weeks to Super PAC’s and congressional committees.  Millions would be spent on trying to get the vote out for both sides of the aisle, and I would suspect that both the Republicans and the Democrats would trot out their entire roster in hopes of picking up one or both of the seats (the Clintons would essentially live in Atlanta and New Orleans).

Secondly, there would be a lot of talk about how a runoff doesn’t favor the Democrats, though that logic may not work if the majority of the Senate is up for debate.  Both Georgia and Louisiana have had recent runoffs, both with different results.  In 2002, Landrieu won a second term against Republican Suzie Terrell despite the Republicans clobbering the Democrats a month earlier.  Conversely, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss won a blow-out runoff against State Rep. Jim Martin despite the Democrats clobbering the Republicans a month earlier.  It’s worth noting that while Martin’s seat was the key to a Democratic supermajority (a term that means more now than it did then to the public consciousness), neither of these races were critical to holding the Senate majority.  One has to wonder what turnout would do if a House of Congress were up for control.

Either way, though, this is something to keep in mind as we approach the November elections for the Senate.  Despite all of the pressure to vote and win in November, the cycle’s not over until every crazy election loophole has been closed.

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