The House of Representatives has long been considered to be in play this year, but not the Senate. It was long thought that the Senate would be a bridge too far for the blue wave. But now new polls suggest that the Democrats have a chance to win both houses of Congress in a single election year.
The structure of the elections heavily favors Republicans to hold the Senate. Of 36 seats that are up for reelection, 26 are held by Democrats and one by a Democrat-leaning independent. The fact that Democrats are defending more than twice as many seats as Republicans would seem to mean that Republicans have about twice as many opportunities to flip seats for a gain and that Democrat funds for defending incumbents would be spread thin.
As the race takes shape, however, the chances for Republican gains seem more and more ephemeral. More Democrat seats are seeming safe while the Republican hold on many seats, such as that of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, is seeming shaky.
At this point, the Cook Political Report rates nine Democrat seats as “lean” or “tossup,” while four Republican seats are in those categories. This still favors the Republicans, but the statistics are a lot less friendly than at the beginning of the year. For the Democrats, the reverse is true with more and more Republican seats seeming possible for pickups. It would only take a net gain of two seats for Democrats to take control of the Senate.
Aside from Ted Cruz, whose seat is still rated as “lean Republican,” there are three tossup seats that provide the Democrats with an opportunity to win the two necessary seats. These are the seats of retiring Senators Jeff Flake in Arizona and Bob Corker in Tennessee as well the Nevada seat of incumbent Dean Heller.
Republicans have several opportunities to offset the loss of seats to the Democrats. Two seats (Tina Smith in Minnesota and Sherrod Brown in Ohio) lean Democrat while five Democrat incumbents in red states are considered tossups. These include Bill Nelson in Florida, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Clair McCaskill in Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Joe Manchin in West Virginia.
Larry Sabato reduces the tossups on both sides. In Sabato’s view, Corker’s seat in Tennessee is relatively safe for Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn even though most polls give Democrat Phil Bredesen an edge, but Arizona and Nevada are tossups for the Republicans. Sabato also considers Manchin to have the edge in West Virginia, but considers Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota to be too close to call.
CNN agrees that Florida and Missouri appear to be the best chance for Republican pickups. The last round of polls showed Donnelly in Indiana over Republican Mike Braun by six points while both Nelson and McCaskill are in dead heat races with their Republican challengers. No polls have been conducted in North Dakota since June.
Winning the Senate is a tall order that requires Democrats to almost run the table. They must win both of the seats considered tossups by both Cook and Sabato or pick up another seat elsewhere while at the same time defending all of their vulnerable seats. In any other year, this would not be considered realistic, but the anti-Trump wave that seems to be building for 2018 could make it possible.
While the Democrats have about a 70-80 percent chance of taking control of the House, depending on which forecaster you consider, the Republicans have about the same odds of retaining control of the Senate. Over the past few months, the odds for both have shifted in favor the Democrats and the situation will undoubtedly change further before Election Day. At the moment, however, the momentum is with Democrats.
With several very close races, it is possible that America won’t know who will control Congress until several weeks after the election. The bottom line is that that the fact that the possibility of a Democrat takeover of the Senate is being seriously considered is indicative of how bad 2018 looks for the Republicans.
Keep an eye on the races in Arizona, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, Nevada and Tennessee. These six races will likely hold the keys to control of the Senate.