5 Reasons We May Not Know Who Controls The Senate On Election Night


2014_Senate_ElectionThis Tuesday is Election Day and while many in the media are projecting that the Republicans will take control of the Senate, there are actually several reasons why they could be wrong. There is also a very real chance that we won’t know who has won control until long after Tuesday night.

According to Real Clear Politics (and most other polling sites) the projected count right now stands at 45 seats for the Dems and 48 for the Repubs, with 7 toss-up states. Obviously it’s going to be a harder climb for the Dems to maintain control, but it’s certainly not impossible. But what may make this mid-term election even more exciting is that it is likely that we actually won’t know the final results on Tuesday night. We might not even know who has won the Senate until next year. There are five big reasons why this election may well be decided long after election night.

  • One reason is Louisiana. Right now the Republicans are favored to win this seat, but even though the incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is a few points behind Republican challenger Bill Cassidy, the polling data still falls within the margin of error. Louisiana is also a state where the winner must receive over 50% of the vote, and right now it looks like neither of these candidates will reach that goal. This will send this race into a run-off election which will not be held until December.
  • Another state that could decide control of the Senate is Georgia. Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn are now in a virtual tie in the polls. But Georgia is another state that requires the winner to get over 50%. And just like Louisiana, Georgia will most likely go to a run-off. The interesting thing about Georgia is that their run-off date is not until next year on January 6. The new Senate takes over on January 5. This means that if it all comes down to Georgia, leadership would be in limbo for not only the rest of this year, but also for a full day AFTER the new Senate takes office.
  • We also have the problem of Alaska. Right now the Republican Dan Sullivan is beating Democrat Mark Begich. But Alaska is one state that has been known for surprises on election night. And even though Sullivan is ahead right now, this race is still within the margin of error. They also tend to count the votes very slowly in this state, and since the polls don’t even close until midnight (eastern time) we won’t know who won Alaska until sometime after Tuesday.
  • Colorado is another reason that we may not know who has won the Senate on election night. Colorado is a state that does all mail-in ballots, which means that as long as they were postmarked on time, ballots will continue to come in for several days after the election. Right now Republican Cory Gardner is slightly ahead of Democrat Mark Udall, but again this race is within the margin of error. If the Colorado race is as close as the polls say it will be, this means that we also won’t know the results for this state on election night.
  • One more unknown is in Kansas. In Kansas Republican Pat Roberts is facing an Independent Greg Orman, and right now Orman is slightly ahead of Roberts. If Orman goes on to win he is a bit of an unknown because he has said that he would caucus with whichever party is in the majority. So right now no one is quite sure which party that will be, and in all likelihood we still won’t know on election night.


And not only will we not know the final results on election night, but it really could be a year where we don’t know who controls the Senate until January 6. According to Democratic strategists, there are several possible scenarios that will leave the Senate in limbo until next year.

  1. The Republicans are expected to win races in South Dakota, Montana, and West Virginia. This would give both parties 45 seats.
  2. If Democrats can win in New Hampshire and North Carolina and then pull off surprise wins in 2 of 3 states where they are currently trailing in polls like Alaska, Iowa, and Colorado, we would then have 49 seats.
  3. If Republicans win in Kentucky and Kansas and they also win one of Alaska, Iowa, or Colorado, that would give them 48 seats to the Dems’ 49. If this happens it makes Louisiana and Georgia vitally important.

I would say that a good indicator of how the evening is going to go will come from watching the races in New Hampshire and North Carolina. If the Dems win there we have a chance to hold on to control of the Senate, if the races are called early for the Repubs, then we are in for a LONG couple years.