What the Senate race in Alaska lacked in mystery, it added in suspense, thanks to the state’s ultra-slow vote counting process. However, our partners at Decision Desk HQ have finally called the final Senate race of 2020, locking in the 50th seat for Republicans in the next session of Congress — and making the two runoff elections in Georgia even more critical for Democrats.

Or … maybe not:

It didn’t take this long because it was close. It took this long because Alaska is only about 80% through its ballots, even eight days after the election. Sullivan leads Democrat Al Gross by twenty points, 57/37, but no one could call the state because too many ballots were left to be counted.

Anyway, now we know that we’re looking at a Senate where the GOP have at least half of the chamber. With Joe Biden in the White House, that would leave Kamala Harris on hand to break any ties, including on leadership votes. Republicans have to win at least one of the two runoff elections in Georgia on January 5 to keep control of the floor and to ensure that Republicans have any leverage at all in legislation and Cabinet appointments.

Of course, there’s another way around that. Joe Manchin spent most of the last two days insisting that he won’t vote for Democrats’ “crazy stuff,” like court-packing and the Green New Deal. He also wants an “all of the above” approach to energy that’s not just out of line with extreme progressives but with the core of his party. He demurred on party switching in his interview with Bret Baier and in another with Salena Zito, but also made it clear that he wasn’t going to enable Democrats to take control of the agenda, either.

Sullivan’s win formalizes the environment for a party switch. Manchin had no reason to consider it until Republicans had a firm 50 seats, because otherwise McConnell didn’t have anything to give — such as a guaranteed committee chair seat — until a flip ensured McConnell the majority. Manchin only has a few weeks left in which his affiliation has an assured value to McConnell worth that kind of horse trade. If Manchin’s in a negotiating mood, Sullivan’s win makes this time to play Let’s Make a Deal.

Update: Let’s throw a monkey wrench into this, just for fun. Gil Reich came up with a Scenario 4, springboarding off of my post last night. What if Manchin is trying to goad Joe Biden into appointing him to the Cabinet? But wait, readers will object, that would reduce Democrats’ number in the Senate. Not really, as Gil points out:

He’s correct — Republican governor Jim Justice would be forced to appoint a Democrat in Manchin’s place. That would let Manchin off the hook and give Schumer a clearer shot at getting his agenda through a 50/50 Senate … theoretically, anyway.

In practice, though, it would replace one endangered Democrat with another, and one who will be equally loathe to go along with Schumer’s agenda for obvious reasons. It wouldn’t pay off for Manchin until after the Georgia runoffs, since Biden can’t start making formal appointments until January 20, two weeks later. And if the GOP wins those races, then there’s no upside for Manchin or Biden on pulling him out of the Senate. Republicans would easily win the seat in a 2022 special election and again in 2024, making it a total loss.

If Manchin wants to retire, he could go that route. But then why would he be selling himself as the brake against the progressives? All that does is make Biden’s job even more difficult. If that’s Manchin’s strategy, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. He’d have a much longer career as a Senate Republican.