It’s just a snapshot in time but, with just three weeks to go before voters head to the polls to cast their ballots in the midterm elections, Republicans may be in the best position to take control of the Senate than at any point in the 2014 election cycle.
Republicans’ biggest obstacles to retaking control in the upper chamber emerged in early fall not in their ability to unseat incumbent Democrats, but in the party’s challenges in defending GOP senators or previously GOP-held open seats. That problem is starting to fade as Republican voters begin to “come home” to unpopular GOP candidates for the sake of the Senate majority.
The most embattled Republican benefiting from this phenomenon is Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts who trailed Democrat-turned-independent Greg Orman for weeks following a Kansas court’s decision to order Democratic Senate nominee Chad Taylor off the ballot. For the first time since mid-September, a series of polls have begun to show Roberts reclaiming the GOP vote. He is now tied with Orman in the RCP average of polls and, with the tie going to the incumbent, RCP now suggests the Kansas race again leans toward Roberts.
With no Republican-held seats now in danger of falling into Democratic hands, according to the RCP averages of polls, the GOP is poised to pick up eight seats in the Senate after November 4. According to the polling averages, Republican candidates are poised to win their respective races in Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, Colorado, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Louisiana.
What’s more, there is still room for some improvement still in Republicans’ Senate prospects. In North Carolina, polls have consistently shown Sen. Kay Hagan’s lead over state House Speaker Thom Tillis shrinking. This week, the first poll since early September to show Tillis with a statistically negligible lead over Hagan was released. It immediately followed the release of a poll which showed the race tied, suggesting it may not have been an outlier.
That is not to say that all the news out of Real Clear Politics is entirely rosy for Republicans. Since October, almost all the status changes in the Senate landscape have been favorable to Democrats.
In Michigan and Minnesota, Senate races which were thought to be potentially competitive in a wildly good Republican year have begun to adopt their traditional Democratic lean. In New Hampshire, despite a glut of recent polling showing that race tightening, RCP still registers a consistent lead for incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). And, in Kentucky and South Dakota, seats the GOP needs to retain in order to secure a Senate majority, remain competitive and are even shifting toward Democrats (though Republican candidates in both races can afford to shed some support).
But while the path to a GOP majority is becoming clearer, conservatives will likely have to be patient before they can enjoy it.
According to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten, Republicans are not likely to enjoy the instant gratification of a firm Senate majority on the night of November 4. They will likely have to wait for several days or even weeks before a GOP majority in both chambers of the 114h Congress can be confirmed.
“Louisiana is very likely to go to a runoff, in which Republican Bill Cassidy has a 74 percent chance of winning,” Enten wrote. “So an instant-gratification GOP Senate majority will probably require winning in either Kansas or Georgia.”
The most likely scenario in which we know Nov. 5 that Republicans will control the next Senate requires a GOP sweep of Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado and Iowa, and then a win in either Kansas or Georgia.
That path might be relatively clear. But it’s also relatively unlikely. Prepare to be patient.
Given that the prospects for Republicans’ chances of retaking the Senate were appearing grim just a few weeks ago, they will be fine with delayed gratification for a few weeks.