In the midst of last week's Democratic panic over Nate Silver's forecast that Republicans were ever so slightly favored to take over the Senate in 2014, one bit of fine print was overlooked by all concerned---including Silver. If the battle for the Senate is as close as projected, we might not know whether Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell will be majority leader until December and not because of a recount.
One of the most tightly matched Senate races this year is the GOP attempt to defeat Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. She is matched up against two major Republican candidates, Rep. Bill Cassidy, a three-term congressman from Baton Rouge and retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness who has been backed by a number of right-wing groups, including the Senate Conservatives Fund. But, because of Louisiana's quirky election law, Maness and Cassidy won't face each other in a GOP primary. Instead, the two Republicans, along with Landrieu and anyone else who files will be thrown into a "jungle primary" which will be held on November 4. If any candidate recieves a majority of the vote, that person is elected. However, if no one does, then the top two candidates, who would likely be Landrieu and Cassidy, will go on to a December 6 runoff.
Every Senate seat is critically important and a runoff for Landrieu's seat would get national attention even if it didn't establish which party would control the Senate . But the current political situation means that as of now, according to Silver's rankings, the winner of the seat would determine whether Democrats would have 51 votes and effective governing control of the Senate. This doesn't necessarily affect whether Democrats have a majority because of the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Joe Biden but, if the Senate is 50-50, it would still require Biden's presence on Capitol Hill on every close vote. And, if things are ever so slightly worse, the seat could determine whether Harry Reid is able to maintain his position with Biden's tiebreaking vote or if Mitch McConnell becomes majority leader by 51-49 margin.
Regardless of what happens elsewhere in November, the Louisiana Senate race is sure to be nationalized as both parties to jump into the fray. But, if current trends hold and the Pelican State's runoff could determine control of the Senate, it could produce an election for the ages. Reporters will tramp across the bayous in numbers normally only seen in Iowa cornfields and New Hampshire mill towns and national attention will focus on Louisiana for an entire month. It would be a scenario that would transform the race from a statewide campaign to a national referendum and stretch the 2014 midterms right up into the start of the 2016 primary.