What will happen to the US Senate next Tuesday?

The election is going to be close. It is quite possible that the Republicans will take the Senate. There is no way the Democratic caucus will obtain a super majority. I am especially embarrassed by Wisconsin. Here are the details ...

At present the US Senate has 59 members who are either Democrats or caucus with the Democrats, and 41 members who are Republicans or caucus with Republicans. Some of the 59 Democratic members are DINOs (Democrats in name only, also called Red Dog Democrats) who often vote with Republicans. If the Democratic caucus were to pick up one more seat, and the same rules regarding filibuster were implemented in the next session of congress, the majority party could actually carry out the business of governing the state. More likely, however, is that the Democrats will lose seats, as it is almost always the case that the president's party, especially when that party is in majority in Congress, loses seats during the "midterm" election. Therefore, the question is not whether or not the Democrats will manage a filibuster-proof majority, but whether or not the Democrats will retain a majority in the Senate at all.

Here are the numbers based on various polling sources (cited below). Of the 100 seats, 44 are very safe Democratic seats and 35 are very safe Republican seats. In most cases, they are "safe" because they are not up for election at all this year (can't get much safer than that). Of the remaining seats, the majority are likely to be taken by Republicans.

Open seats in Connecticut and Delaware are likely to go Democratic, as these are very blue states New York and Oregon have Democrats being challenged, but they will likely win. In other words, of the seats up for election, four are races in which there has been a serious challenge by the Republicans but that Democrats are likely to win anyway. D = D + 4

There are, on the obverse, five seats likely to go Republican, three open (Florida, Ohio and Indiana) and two not open (North Carolina and Louisiana). R = R + 5

Assuming this holds true, the expected distribution of seats can be restated as 48 Democratic vs. 40 Republican, with 12 up for grabs, with a strong Republican bias in likely wins.

Let's have a look at the races with somewhat less certainy. Barbara Boxer is likely to win in California, with a mere five point lead but an increasing one, having just passed through a period where her position seemed very strongly threatened. The open seats in Alaska, Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire seem likely to go Republican, though the statistical significance of the spreads is questionable. In Kentucky, Rand Paul is beating Jack Conway by a pretty good and increasing spread, but the recent event in which one of Rand Paul's campaing workers stomped on the heads of a moveon.org volunteer could change that. Will it decrease or increase the spread? An open question in a state with rather complex politics. One of the more astonishing races in this list of Republican leaning races is Wisconsin, where the very well established and powerful Russ Feingold is likely to get beat by Republican Ron Johnson.

If we take these races as they currently stand, all but one will go to the Republicans. This brings our count to 49 Democratic and 45 Republicans. The remaining 6 seats are highly contested. If they all went to the Republicans, they would control the Senate. This is a distinct possibility.

The most contested seats are Illinois, Pennsylvania and West Virginia (all open) and Colorado, Nevada and Washington (held by Democrats). Of these, the numbers look very strong for Republicans in Colorado, Illinois

If you would prefer to have something other than a stalled government, and more specifically, if you would prefer to not give the Republicans an absolute mandate (which, by their nature, they will demand with every victory even if it is not really a mandate) then you should send a small (or large!) donation to one of these candidates now:

Scott McAdams
Michael Bennet
Alexi Giannoulias
Harry Reid
Joe Sestak
Patty Murray
Joe Manchin

Please hurry.

I'll be looking at the House later.


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I'm not sure of the party affiliations of all of the folks on your list, but I do know two: Democrat Harry Reid, and Republican businessman Dino Rossi. Given your politics, Greg, I had assumed the list of folks who could use our help would be exclusively Democrat, so I'm surprised at the recommendation to donate to Rossi. Rossi's opponent is incumbent Democratic Senator Patty Murray.

Thought you'd want to know. If you're already aware of this and intentionally recommended Rossi over Murray would you be willing to articulate a reason to prefer Rossi? As a Seattle voter I've yet to hear a good one.

i mostly agree with your analysis, but I think you left one thing out. Joe Lieberman is probably going to start caucusing with the Republicans or officially become one.

My logic is this based on the assumption that Lieberman will run for another term in 2012. If he does, he can't count on the big Republican crossover vote that he got in 2006 and he can't count on any Democrats voting for him instead of the party's nominee. His only chance is to claim the nomination of one of the parties. There's enough bad blood among the Democrats over his 2006 behavior that he's unlikely to win their nomination if there is any credible alternative. But if he's able to run in the Republican primary as the incumbent, he has a shot at cinching the nomination.

The wild cards are the party establishments. If the Democratic establishment decides to support him and intimidates credible challengers into staying out of the race, he could get the nomination. But that would lead to massive staying home in November. On the other side, he could face a tea party insurrection if he goes for the Republican nomination.

He'll do his Hamlet routine of publicly agonizing over the decision, telling us over and over again how principled he is, and forcing both parties to court him. And there's no guarantee that he'll get the nomination of the party that bids the most for him, but I think he'll decide that his best chances lie with the Republicans and his BFFs McCain and Graham.

Then again, he might decide to quit the Senate and take a high paying slot as the other token "liberal" at Fox.

You left out Wisconsin. I am a left leaning, independent voter in WI. Democratic incumbent Feingold is in an extremely close race with the Republican challenger. Feingold happens to be the only US senator to vote against Patriot Act I. Why? He seems to be the only one who read the whole thing. I don't want to lose a candidate who actually reads the proposed legislation before voting! Especially since the challenger seems to be a rubber stamp of no particular merit.

I meant you left out some detail I thought was important. *sigh* Typing before I think.

John, good points about Leiberman.

George, is the race that close? The polls look kind of depressingly dismal.

Re Feingold-Johnson: As always, it depends on which polls you pick. But yes, the consensus seems to be that we cheeseheads are about to trade a principled, intelligent legislator for a guy whose vaunted "business expertise" consisted of being born to the right family, who set him up in the first place and then steered fat contracts his way, and who thinks climate change is caused by sunspots. FiveThirtyEight's model, for example, gives Johnson an 86% chance of winning (their prediction of the outcome is 47% to 51%).

Dismal doesn't begin to express the outlook if you live here.

The year I lived in Wis, I got to vote for Jesse Jackson in the primaries. That was the year the head of the parks ran for mayor of Milwaukee, IIRC.