Well, we end the year where we started. The 2014 Senate Map was favorable to the GOP from the outset. Even without converting a single Blue State from the 2012 election, the GOP could cruise to Senate control if they just converted all Dem Seats within the Red States. And that’s where we end. The GOP seems set to hit 48, likely 49. But, without pushing Toss-Ups, they’re stuck there: 48 or 49. If they sweep all the Toss-Ups tomorrow, they’d hit 54. If they sweep the Toss-Ups and the Leans Dem seats, they’d hit 55. Could 55 happen? Sure, but that would be quite the sweep for them. 53 seems to be a more likely peak. Meanwhile, can Dems still thread the needle and retain control of the Senate? At this point, their best case scenario is likely about 51 seats, and that would include a sweep of every Toss-Up other than Georgia, which has been fading for them. (With GA, they’d hit a miraculous 52.) This “Dem Sweep” option would also include KS-Senate, a state where we still can’t confirm whether Orman will ultimately caucus with Dems.
GOP at 52-53 would be the most likely bet, but 49-54 is all in play. Of course, GOP at 49 or 50 is quite a different effect than GOP at 51 or above. That’s why, though the GOP is certainly on the cusp of taking the Senate, there are enough close races that keep things interesting until the end. Dems should be nervous. Yet, the GOP shouldn’t be cocky. If the data in CO and IA were as off for Dems this year as they were in 2012 (and 2010 in the former as well), we may all wake up with Braley and Udall winning by a few tenths. Of course, that’s a big “If,” but that’s where it stands. Then there’s Alaska. Despite potentially controlling the future of the Senate, we have very little data there. Furthermore, the data that does exist is about as noisy as it gets. Either candidate could win by a decent margin. Or, we could be counting that race for weeks to come.
No matter what happens there tomorrow, the story of the year remains Kansas. While the GOP has run pretty efficiently this year, Kansas remains an exception. Even if Roberts pulls it out, this one shouldn’t have been in play. Even if Orman(I) wins, will he absolutely caucus with Dems? While it seems so if Dems are at 49 or above without him, meaning he’d be able to caucus with the majority, does he caucus with Dems if the GOP hits at least 51 tomorrow?
Then, there are Georgia and Louisiana. While Louisiana is likely to go GOP in a run-off, it’s likely to go to that run-off as no one is destined for 50% tomorrow. Thus, that GOP number will actually likely be between 48-53 tomorrow with Louisiana not solidifying for a few weeks. And what of Georgia? In the closing stretch, the odds of Perdue(R) hitting 50% suddenly seem very possible. Or, will Nunn(D) surprisingly over perform, based on Dems in that state finally becoming more engaged in a close election. Yet, even if she gains a few more points above the current forecast and beats Perdue tomorrow, her hitting 50% looks more remote.
And then there are North Carolina and New Hampshire. While I have North Carolina as a Toss-Up at the bell, it’s not meaningless that I’ve had Hagan up since summer. Though things have been on the decline for her, the hunch is that she hangs on. But a Toss-Up is a Toss-Up, meaning Tillis(R) could certainly take it and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Is New Hampshire really a Toss-Up? It certainly appears it has closed, but I’ve had Shaheen at or above 50% for the better part of the election. Even if Brown closes to 49% by swooping up all the remaining voters out there, still seems hard for him to top 49%. Surprising for Brown to win tomorrow? Yes. Shocking? Not quite.
And that’s our map. When we go to bed tomorrow night (on the East Coast), it seems likely we’ll have a run-off in Louisiana and Alaska may still be counting. Thus, we may yet to know who controls the Senate. Or, the GOP could blow by 51 without much trouble. Or, Dems somehow pull the rabbit out of the hat and sweep up all the races still in play. And thus, we wait just a little bit longer…
Now, some quick notes on the races in play:
This type of election data doesn’t happen in a presidential year. During a presidential year, all close states are pretty much polled to death. In an off-year election? You get a potentially close race with very little data. C’est la vie. Additionally, the data that does exist has about a 15% range in predicted results. Couple those two things together and anything can be expected tomorrow. Polls don’t close here until Wednesday Eastern time. Sullivan could win by 5% and this could be known a few hours into the wee am hours. Or, Begich could win by 5%. I have Begich up 1%, but with likely model lines that reach well into both candidate’s camps, you’d be ill-advised to read too much into the top line. So, sit back and watch Chris Nolan’s Insomnia as you wait for the results. It’ll put you in an Alaskan mood. One final interesting thing to ponder. If Louisiana goes to a run-off and other results are potentially not known or if Dems are over performing earlier in the night by holding NC and NH and picking up IA and CO, voters in Alaska are going to get about a million phone calls and knocks on their door in the final hours as voting will still be open in Alaska. The GOP may have already hit 51 before then, but if it looks like Dems still have a chance to control the Senate come about 9pm EST, those Alaskan ground games are really going to go into frantic mode.
What is going on here (Part 1)? It sure seems like Cory Gardner is ahead by a handful of points. That said, the model is ending at about Gardner +1%. That’s well with the MOE. While some will say just look at the polling averages, such is a lazy (and poor) form of data analysis. The data in CO (and IA) have some funky dynamics. While clean data will have a traditional bell curve indicating a likely final result somewhere around an average, the data in CO has two peaks of frequency. On one hand, there are many reasons to think Gardner is up about 3-5%. On the other hand, there’s a big spike of data showing the race as a Tie or within 1%. The result could go either way. I have the race a Toss-Up not only because I have it at about 1% but also because Udall is ahead in a few lines, though they are tiny. If Udall pulls it out, it’s likely to be very narrow. Additionally promising for Dems is that Udall really isn’t doing much better or worse than Bennett’s numbers in 2010 when he surprised most. Obama also over performed here in 2012. A strong ground game? English only polls missing Latino voters? The answer is a little bit of both. That said, that doesn’t mean that’ll happen again this cycle. Additionally, the early vote results are not devastating for Dems, but they do make it seem less likely Udall is going to over perform. Thus, either peak could end up happening, that being those data points at Gardner at say +4% or those showing it a virtual tie. The model is slightly favoring the notion that the race will end up being in that 1% category, but be prepared for a few options here. A final note? Gardner never really gets much over 48% in the polls. In the last two elections, GOP candidates have not over performed their apparent ceilings. Is that telling? Or just a mirage?
Georgia: What a difference two weeks make. In the middle of October, Nunn was surging. But, as the race closed, it’s shifted back toward a narrow Perdue edge. This is common as states often come home to their ideological bents in the end. Could Nunn still end up with more votes tomorrow? Certainly. Perdue is favored, but I still show some lines that could give her a narrow lead. That said, it’s looking very difficult for her to hit 50%, even if she pulls out more votes. That’d push things to a run-off. Meanwhile, some last minute polls show Perdue hitting 50% a real possibility. This race could thus be over tomorrow. It’s about 50/50 whether that happens. Early vote numbers, coupled with potential under sampling of Latino voters, could give Nunn a tid bit of cushion, so this race may still end up being quite interesting, even if it has seemingly been fading from Nunn as of late.
Iowa: What is going on here? (Part II). See Colorado. Again, there is no clean bell curve here. There are two peaks in the data. One showing Ernst up from 3-7%, the other showing it as a virtual tie. Which peak is correct? Like Colorado, the model thinks the peak showing a race within 1% is very likely. Could Ernst walk away winning by a few points? Sure. Could Braley pull it out? Yep. Like Udall, there are a few likely model lines showing a very narrow Dem victory as being well within the possibilities. Again, we have Dem GOTV efforts that sometimes surprise the data by a few points. That said, as polarizing as Ernst has been, it’s hard to bet against the candidate in a race that has the more passionate voters. Ernst elicits amazingly strong enthusiasm among her base. This type of effect happened in the 2013 VA Gov race. Even though Terry McAuliffe(D) ended up winning, it was by a much narrower margin then most data points showed. While Cuccinelli(R) was toxic to moderates and Democrats, McAuliffe, like Braley, failed to cause much passion with his base. Meanwhile, Cuccinelli had strongly passionate supporters. That seemed to get him a few extra points in a non-presidential cycle. Does a similar effect at least counter Dem GOTV strengths, resulting in Ernst performing as expected? Again, though the early voting data here is okay for Dems, it’s not great this cycle. I think the GOP enthusiasm for Ernst is represented by stronger early voting numbers. Thus, a few interesting dynamics remain at play. I’m not willing to call it.
Kansas: What to make of Kansas? This race should have never been. But when it was revealed that the long-time GOP Senator no longer even lived in his state, all hell broke lose. This race is so close in a state that is heavily GOP. It’d not be surprising if this state broke a few points to the right because of the state’s long standing bent. The other question is: what kind of ground game does Orman really have as an Independent. Then again, in the rare examples of when an Independent is actually viable, they can also have a history of outperforming. It’s really tough to say which dynamic will win out. As a result, with a model around a 1% margin, no one can really say.
North Carolina: Man, this one has closed as of late. While Hagan was riding a 3-5% margin for most of the last two months, GOP voters who have been very ‘meh’ on the deeply unpopular Thom Tillis have been coming home to their party. Hagan’s run about as strong as a campaign as could have been expected in a state where Romney won two years ago. Do I have a hunch that Hagan is still narrowly ahead? Yes. That kind of long but consistent narrow lead is historically very telling. Additionally, early vote totals have been pretty great for Dems. Yet, I have the state a Toss-Up because a few lines still show a Tillis victory as within an easy realm of possibility. Hagan could pull this off by a few points, or Tillis perhaps by a point or so. You could perhaps persuade me to at least bet a Coke Zero or other tasty treat on, but more than that and I wouldn’t wager. That said, if Hagan wins, she may be the only red state Democrat to survive if Udall, Begich, and Braley don’t pull it out.
New Hampshire: There’s not much to say here. Is it possible Brown wins? Sure. Do I really think it’s likely? No. As narrow as things have gotten, Shaheen’s simply been riding that 50% line all cycle. It’d take a mini-Brown wave to really flip this one. Possible, but it’d certainly be an upset.
Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana: Beyond the above states, the map gets small quickly. Arkansas has certainly faded. A Pryor victory doesn’t seem in the cards. Same goes with Kentucky. Even if the passion for Grimes leads to Dems over performing, I don’t see that big of an over performance happening. Then there’s Louisiana. The state is set for a run-off when anything can happen. Maybe we’ll revisit this one in a few days once the run-off kicks into gear, but for now, that’s all there is to say.
And there you have it! And with that, the 2014 Senate Models are a wrap!