How This Election Could Go to January
The polls say Republicans will likely eke out a small majority in the Senate this Election Day. But hold on: Factor in the runoffs, and things get weird real fast.
You all know the old cliché “it’s gonna be a long election night.” Well, this one is going to be really long. Like, there’s a very much less-than-crazy chance it’ll last until January. For a reality that shocking and discombobulating, this situation has really flown well below most people’s radar, but it’s time to start focusing on it. Here’s the situation.
Georgia and Louisiana, as you probably know, are run-off states. If no candidate gets 50 percent on Election Day, there’s a later run-off between the top two finishers. The Senate races in both states are tight as a tick, with no candidate hitting 50 percent in any of the polls. In Georgia, RealClearPolitics has Michelle Nunn up literally 0.4 percent over David Perdue, 46.0 to 45.6. There’s a libertarian candidate drawing around 4 or 5 percent—she’s a recent high finisher on “America’s Next Top Model,” in fact, so let’s just say that she does not look like your typical politician, which, let’s face it, often matters more than it deserves to. So there’s every chance that neither Nunn nor Perdue hits the big five-oh.
Louisiana isn’t quite that close—RCP has the Republican, Bill Cassidy, leading Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu by 4.8 percent. But the most recent poll of the race, conducted for the Baton Rouge Fox affiliate, has Landrieu ahead of Cassidy 36 to 32 percent. Why are those numbers so low? Well, mostly due to a huge number of undecided voters, but also because, under Louisiana’s so-called “jungle primary” system, there’s a second Republican in this race, and he’s drawing 6 or so percent. So it’s virtually guaranteed that no one is hitting 50 in the old Bayou.
Louisiana, then, looks like it’s definitely going to a run-off. That will happen December 6. And Georgia appears to be headed to a run-off, too. But that wouldn’t happen until…ready?…January 6! Read that again. January 6. After the new Congress is sworn in!
Now of course, for these outcomes to matter, the races whose results we will learn on election night will have to fall a little short of the expected Republican run of the table. So let’s look at some Senate math. Five Thirty Eight’s latest model seems to think that the Republicans are going to control 52 seats. I’m not going to play out all the permutations here, because there are too many and frankly it confuses me. But let’s say this. Let’s say the Republicans, who now have 45 seats, pick up Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota (that’s tightened, but the Republican still leads), Colorado (less close than it once was), and Alaska (which, by the way, may not be known until a day or two after the voting).
That’s five, and it gets them to 50. And let’s say Mitch McConnell holds on, although that race is tighter than all the pros think, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which had said two weeks ago that it wouldn’t be making future ad buys in the state, is now back in for Alison Lundergan Grimes in a big way, and McConnell is getting dinged over this flap about paying people to generate “enthusiasm” at his rallies. But let’s say he finds a way. That’s just a “hold,” not a pick up, but it prevents Kentucky from flipping and keeps the GOP at 50.
Okay. Now let’s say that Kay Hagan holds on in North Carolina, and Jean Shaheen staves off Scott Brown in New Hampshire. And let’s even say—and I admit this might be a reach, but it’s close so who knows—that Bruce Braley ekes out a win over the tea party pig castrator in Iowa. That candidate, Joni Ernst, did herself no favors yesterday by blowing off the editorial board of The Des Moines Register. That’s the kind of thing that offends centrist voters, so it could hurt her.
Now, as with McConnell, those are all holds, not pickups, so they don’t change the math. But let’s turn now to Kansas. The most recent poll of Kansas has independent Greg Orman leading Republican Pat Roberts by 49 to 44 percent. If Roberts loses, the Republicans are back down to 49. Assuming the Georgia and Louisiana outcomes are unknown, that would leave us looking at Republicans 49, Democrats 48, newly elected Independents 1, and Undetermined 2.
At that point all the attention in the world will be turned on Orman, who hasn’t said which party he’d caucus with. What a game of chicken he’d have to play, eh? But let’s say that sometime in November he chooses the Republicans, which, not knowing the man, is my bet, because, well, it’s Kansas. So that would be Republicans 50, Democrats 48, with Louisiana and Georgia still to vote.
Wow. What an intense couple of months those will be. Imagine the dark, dirty millions—tens of millions, hundreds of millions—that are going to be thrown around in both of those states. Imagine living there and having to endure that. Bill Clinton is going to have to get apartments in New Orleans and Atlanta. But say Landrieu hangs on and wins. Republicans 50, Democrats 49, Georgia still to vote.
On January 3, the 114th Congress is sworn in. McConnell is the new majority leader, at least for three days—or more likely something like five or six days, before Nunn could be sworn in were she to win, after which Joe Biden would cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Democrats retaining the majority. What could the Republicans do to the rules in five or six days? You can be sure McConnell has given the matter some thought.
The experts say the odds favor the Republicans getting 52 seats. I guess they could get to that 52 on election night itself. Or the road to 52 might well have to pass through Louisiana and Georgia. It would be only fitting, the reductio ad absurdum of our divided age, for this election to take two extra months. And then who knows, maybe Nunn-Perdue will need a recount.
My head hurts.