Republicans are favored to retake the U.S. Senate, but to accomplish this feat on the night of November 4 requires that the party maintain control of all the seats they presently hold.
That is looking like a plausible outcome in states like Georgia and Kentucky. Once this cycle’s most vulnerable Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has maintained a consistent lead over his Democratic challenger. Likewise, Georgia Democrat Michelle Nunn’s mid-October surge in the polls has receded. While it is still likely that no candidate will win an outright majority on Tuesday night (though not impossible), it is reasonable to think that GOP candidate David Perdue will hold that seat for Republicans in a January runoff.
That leaves only Kansas where incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) is locked in a tight race against Democrat-turned-independent candidate Greg Orman. When Democrats manufactured the coup which allowed them to drop their party’s nominee and stealthily support the more viable independent candidate, Roberts’s number collapsed. He has since overcome a 10-point deficit and now polls evenly with Orman, but a fascinating phenomenon has been occurring in the final weeks before the polls open: Kansas voters are losing faith in both their Senate candidates.
Real Clear Politics analyst Sean Trende noted that he is not certain he has seen this happen before in any race. Traditionally, voters tune in to close races at the end of a campaign and undecided voters begin committing to support candidates. In Kansas, voters are becoming less committed to supporting either Roberts or Orman in the final hours of the 2014 campaign season. That is unique.
This condition makes it hard to predict how the undecided voters who do decide to turn out on Tuesday will vote. Orman has maintained a narrow lead in most polls over course of October, and he presently enjoys a 0.7 percent lead over Roberts in the Real Clear Politics average of Kansas surveys.
National Review’s Jim Geraghty wrote on Monday that the final polling averages tend to be correct and, in the same way that Democratic candidates are likely to hold seats in New Hampshire and North Carolina, Roberts is staring down the barrel of a narrow loss. Trende, another seasoned poll-watcher, agreed.
In the closing hours of this midterm season, Orman’s campaign is embroiled in a bit of a controversy. After former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole came out in support of Roberts, Orman called Dole and the other Republicans who have backed the incumbent members of the “Washington Establishment clown car.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been called a ‘clown’ before. I’m disappointed by Mr. Orman’s statement,” Dole said in response. On Sunday night, Dole told the press that Orman had apologized for his comment and he had accepted it, but the Orman camp swiftly denied that any apology had been issued. A memo obtained by Fox News reporter James Rosen indicated that the Orman camp is not only refusing to apologize to the elder statesman but is standing firmly behind the independent candidate’s comments.
“My opponent is ending his campaign the way he began it – trying to have it both ways and refusing to give a straight answer to Kansans on virtually everything, including whether or not he’s apologized for insulting Senator Dole,” read a Roberts statement attempting to take maximum advantage of the kerfuffle.
In a tight race, it is possible that last minute controversies like these might move a few votes in one direction or the other – particularly given the signal the polls are sending which indicates that voters are becoming less committed to their candidate of choice. Kansas is, however, as close to being a true tossup race as any of the 10 competitive Senate seats up on Tuesday.