The Democrats currently have 46 Senate seats, if you count Angus King and Bernie Sanders, who caucus with the Democrats. So, you need to pick up four seats to hit 50. There are three seats where the odds are strongly in their favor (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin), which takes us up to 49. That makes it sound like you only need to win one of the next three races to get to 50, but that’s not true. The problem is that Nevada is already a Democratic-held seat (it’s Harry Reid’s seat, but he’s retiring), so we need to hold it and pick up one more, or else we need to pick up two more to compensate for the loss of Nevada.
Here are the big 3 races right now. As you can see, they all find the two candidates separated by only a fraction of a point in the polling averages.
Nevada: Cortez Masto (D) 42.9, Heck (R) 42.5 (55 percent odds of Democratic win)
New Hampshire: Ayotte (R) 45.3, Hassan (D) 45.0 (52 percent odds of Democratic win)
Pennsylvania: Toomey (R) 43.1, McGinty (D) 43.0 (46 percent odds of Democratic win)
If you’re thinking hard about the math, and thinking of each of these 50-50 races as a coin toss, you might think that our overall odds in the Senate would be less than 59 percent. (Here’s an experiment you can try at home. Try flipping a coin three times in a row, and see if you can get “heads” two or three of the flips. Now do it a bunch of times; if you do it enough times, you should get to a point where you “win” 50 percent of the time when you aggregate your results, because you have eight possible permutations (HHH, THH, HTH, HHT, TTT, HTT, THT, TTH) and four of them give you the desired result.)
The reason the odds work out a little better than 50-50, though, is because the next three races after that … we’ll call them the “reach” races … look better for the Democrats than the three “must-win” races look for the Republicans. Here’s how that works, starting with the “reach” races:
Florida: Rubio (R) 46.3, Murphy (D) 41.1 (14 percent odds of Democratic win)
Missouri: Blunt (R) 44.3, Kander (D) 41.6 (34 percent odds of Democratic win)
North Carolina: Burr (R) 44.3, Ross (D) 41.9 (29 percent odds of Democratic win)
And here are the Demcrats’ “must-win” trio:
Illinois: Duckworth (D) 44.2, Kirk (R) 36.7 (95 percent odds of Democratic win)
Indiana: Bayh (D) 45.4, Young (R) 40.3 (82 percent odds of Democratic win)
Wisconsin: Feingold (D) 48.8, Johnson (R) 42.1 (91 percent odds of Democratic win)
So, as you can imagine, we’re getting a lot more permutations where the Democrats win only 1 out of 3 among Nevada, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, but then we also add in Missouri to get to 50, than permutations where the Democrats win 2 out of 3 among Nevada, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, but then lose Indiana anyway and are stuck at 49. (In other words, Jason Kander’s 34 percent odds beat Todd Young’s 18 percent odds, and Patrick Murphy’s 14 percent odds beat Mark Kirk’s 5 percent odds.) When you add up all those different permutations, the Democrats hit 50 seats or more in 59 out of 100 simulations.
On top of that, the Democrats have some “wild card” options that show up in a few permutations around the margins. There are three more races where the Republicans’ odds are slightly less than >99 percent (and remarkably, and sadly, none of those are Ohio, where ex-Gov. Ted Strickland actually led some very early polls but has basically vanished). Instead, they’re Arizona (where Ann Kirkpatrick has ticked up to 5 percent odds), Georgia (Jim Barksdale is at 3 percent), and, making its first appearance outside of the death zone, Kentucky (where Lexington mayor Jim Gray is also at 3 percent)! That’s all thanks to one recent poll in rarely polled Kentucky, that had Gray within single digits. Gray, who’s running against Rand Paul, is a relatively strong candidate, but ordinarily a Senate race in a presidential year in a state as red as Kentucky is going to be a very heavy lift.
By contrast, the Republicans don’t have any “wild card” options at all. The GOP’s next best offensive option after Nevada is Colorado, and we have Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet with a 50-38 lead against an underfunded, hard-right opponent, and at 99 percent odds.
It’d be nice, of course, to get up to 52 or 53 seats in the Senate, partly a) so the most centrist Democrats can be turned loose on non-cloture votes if need be, so that Bayh or Joe Manchin aren’t sitting in the driver’s seat at all times. But also, b) to have a small cushion going into 2018, where we’re quite likely to lose some seats; it’s not just a midterm with, in all likelihood, a Democratic president, but also an election where we’ll be defending some seats in red states where we did unexpectedly well in 2012 (Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota). Unfortunately, though, the model shows the median outcome is still 50 seats.
Finally, let’s turn to the House. As I mentioned last week, we don’t have the polling data that would enable us to model the House in such a way that we can identify the exact list of seats that will flip, or a percentage likelihood of flipping the House. What I can do, however, is take the average results from national generic House ballot polling (which, according to Huffington Post Pollster, is currently D+6, up from D+5 at this point last week), and plug it into the Abramowitz model for converting that to number of seats gained.
That D+6 figure works out to a gain of 18 seats. That’s a nice, solid gain, almost comparable to the gain in the House that the Democrats got in 2008. However, it’s still short of the 30 seats they need to retake the majority … or at least to retake it directly.
(I added that caveat because that’s the kind of number where Paul Ryan will be entirely at the mercy of the Freedom Caucus members and probably won’t be able to accomplish anything. In fact, it’s possible he won’t even be able to get the votes to be speaker any more, if the seat total falls into that gray area. Keep in mind that tradition dictates that the speaker must be elected by an absolute majority of House members, not just a plurality. So we could start next year with an endless Groundhog Day-style loop of failed speaker votes until someone cobbles together a coalition that works.)
Comments are closed on this story.