According to the latest analysis from RealClearPolitics.com, the battle for control of the U.S. Senate remains up in the air. If voting were held today, it appears Republicans would hold the slimmest of majorities in Congress’ upper chamber.
Most of the 35 Senate races across the country are likely already decided. However, RealClearPolitics.com’s polls indicate as many as ten Senate races could be classified as toss-ups. Of the ten toss-ups, seats from eight states are currently held by Democrats (New Hampshire, North Carolina, Michigan, Louisiana, Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado, and Alaska). While the polls are very tight in all ten races, Republicans are currently projected to win six of those races.
The proceeding paragraphs will break down each of the ten toss-up races. Poll numbers and the leaders of each race is provided by RealClearPolitics.com (RCP), unless specified. Races will be listed in order of competitiveness (virtual deadlock to slight leads).
Colorado: Cory Gardner (R) leads Sen. Mark Udall (D) by 0.8%
Cory Gardner, who has represented Colorado in the U.S. House since 2010, just recently took the lead for the first time in his race against incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, although a very slim, virtually nonexistent lead at that. Most polls have had Udall in the lead throughout the race, but usually by no more than 3%, according to RCP.
Kansas: Greg Orman (I) leads Sen. Pat Roberts (R) by 1.2%
The Washington Post recently described the Kansas Senate race as the following: “Long seen as a safe Republican hold, Kansas has suddenly become competitive in recent weeks…” Three-term incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R) was thought to face a fairly easy re-election to a fourth term in the U.S. Senate. That was until the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Democratic challenger Chad Taylor (who had requested that the state remove him from ballots after he dropped out of the race in early September) had properly followed “the statutory requirements for withdrawal.” The state’s Republican secretary of state had argued that Taylor’s name should remain on the ballot. With Taylor’s official removal from ballots, that Roberts and Independent challenger Greg Orman as the only candidates for the seat. National Republicans fear that the reported 11% of voters who backed Taylor will now back Orman simply because he is not Sen. Roberts (the Post reported that even before Taylor dropped out, Orman and Roberts were in a virtual tie). The Post also reports that Orman has not yet said who he would caucus with if elected.
Iowa: Joni Ernst (R) leads Bruce Braley (D) by 2.2%
Democrat Tom Harkin is retiring after serving four terms in the Senate, making his seat officially up for grabs. RCP’s polls show Ernst and Baley have been flip-flopping slim leads since June, so it appears that this race will go right down to the wire.
Georgia: David Purdue (R) leads Michelle Nunn (D) by 3.4%
Since a RCP poll showing a tie at 42% in late July, Purdue (a former CEO of Reebok) has never trailed in the race for the seat left open by the retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Nunn, who is the daughter of former longtime U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-Georgia), has closed the gap somewhat after trailing by as much as 5% in mid-August.
North Carolina: Sen. Kay Hagan (D) leads Thom Tillis (R) by 3.5%
North Carolina’s Senate race seems to have seen more lead changes than a Kentucky Derby race. RCP’s polls showed Sen. Hagan with a fairly constant three-point lead from the end of June until the first few days of August. Then her challenger Thom Tillis jumped out to a couple point lead throughout the rest of August (with a high of 45%), only to drop back down into the low 40s as Hagan rebounded.
Arkansas: Tom Cotton (R) leads Sen. Mark Pryor (D) by 3.6%
Yet another Democratic incumbent who is in some trouble. Sen. Mark Pryor has not led, according to RCP’s polls, since the very end of June/early July. Cotton, who currently represents Arkansas in the U.S. House, has seen his lean fluctuate between 1.4 and 4%, but has not yet fallen behind in a while.
New Hampshire: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) leads Scott Brown (R) by 4.5%
Sen. Shaheen has never trailed since the first polls were released in January, but Brown, who took over the late-Sen. Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat in a special election in 2010 and eventually lost it to now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2012, has closed the once sizable lead over the past month. Shaheen’s lead was once as large as eleven points. It is now down to about 4.5%. So while he has tightened the deficit, Brown still has some catching up to do over the next month.
Alaska: Dan Sullivan (R) leads Sen. Mark Begich (D) by 4.7%
RealClearPolitic’s polls suggest Sullivan has come on very strong over the past month, overtaking the incumbent senator’s once six-point lead in late August to take an almost five-point lead as of the end of September. RCP does warn, however, that polling in Alaska is “notoriously inaccurate”, so what the polls say now and what actually happens on Nov. 4 could be two very different things.
Michigan: Gary Peters (D) leads Terri Lynn Land (R) by 4.7%
This seat is open after longtime senator Carl Levin announced last year he would not seek re-election. Levin had served as Michigan’s senator since 1979. Gary Peters has represented Michigan’s 14th district in the U.S. House for the past five years, while Terri Lynn Rand is a former Michigan Secretary of State. Peters had lead this race by as much as six points.
Now, you may be counting along in your head and wondering what happened to the tenth toss-up. This is where we come to the Senate race in Louisiana. The race in the Bayou State is one of the most fascinating and unusual races in the country, which is why it is getting its own, longer paragraph. According to CNN, Louisiana has nine (!) names on the ballot to become the state’s next senator. Nine.
How do nine names appear on voter’s ballots? The answer: something called the “jungle primary“. Essentially, this uncommon type of primary system allows for candidates of any party to run for an office within the same primary. That means there are no sole Democratic or sole Republican primaries, which also means multiple members of the same party could be running for the same office. This can cause problems for incumbents if a strong candidate within the incumbent’s own party emerges in a race. In Louisiana for example, candidates must receive over 50% of the vote to win the election. If no one candidate hits that benchmark, a runoff between the top two candidates in terms of votes received would take place in December. A runoff could theoretically have two candidates of the same party face off with each other.
Louisiana’s incumbent senator is Mary Landrieu, a Democrat. According to CNN, Landrieu is likely to fall short of the aforementioned 50% needed to avoid a runoff and retain her seat in the Senate (CNN’s latest poll has the three-term senator receiving 43% of the vote, +/- 4%). If her numbers remain at that level, she would enter in a runoff against Republican challenger Bill Cassidy, who currently represents Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives. Heading into the Nov. 4 elections, Cassidy stands to draw around 40% of the vote (also +/- 4%.
If those two candidates do indeed enter into a runoff, that could be bad news for Landrieu and Senate Democrats. With a strong Republican base in the state, RealClearPolitics.com’s polls show Cassidy with a 5% lead over Landrieu. If those numbers, and the numbers of the previously mentioned toss-up states, hold true, that would give Republicans the six seats necessary for them to regain control of the Senate.
Of course, a lot can happen between now and the Nov. 4 elections. Opinions can change, scandals can arise. What remains to be seen is whether new or returning senators can break the deadlock that has plagued Washington over the past several years.