The Democrats’ Path

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 25, 2018 — Most of the contemporary political talk surrounds the Democrats’ ability to gain the US House majority, but is there a viable path for a power shift in the Senate? Their road to a new Senate majority is much rockier than for the House, but at least a mathematical chance of that becoming reality does exist.

senate 2018 midterm election competitionLast week we reviewed the status of the 17 states that see legitimate competition for the in-cycle Senate seats. Now, looking at the latest Fox News Senate ratings, we can draw some conclusions about the Democrats’ victory chances.

It is important to remember that the minority Dems must defend 26 of the 35 in-cycle Senate races in the current election cycle. Thus, the party’s least complicated path is to run the table of their current 26 seats, and then take two of the five GOP states where they are fielding credible opposition candidates. Doing so would give the Dems a 51-49 majority.

But, this is easier said than done. According to Fox, and virtually all other media prognosticators, one of the Democratic seats, North Dakota, is already leaning to the Republicans, while three more (Florida, Indiana, and Missouri) reside in the “Toss-up” column.

Of the nine seats the Republicans need to defend, three reside in the Toss-up category (Arizona, Nevada, and Tennessee), while one is classified as a Lean Republican (Texas), and the remaining five (Nebraska, the two Mississippi seats, Utah, and Wyoming) are rated as Likely Republican. (Fox does not use a “safe” designation. The best a candidate of either party can achieve from a Fox News political rating is “likely.”)

A couple of points about the Fox News classifications need commenting upon, however: Currently, Fox shows Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) as landing in the “Lean Democrat” category. Recent polls suggest that this race could quickly move into the Toss-up column, however. Fox also rates the two special elections in the “Likely” categories for the respective parties. Both the Minnesota and Mississippi special elections feature sound competition, and a rating of Lean Democratic for Minnesota and Lean Republican for Mississippi might be more in order. There appears to be little disagreement on all other rating subsets.

Casting possible rating differences aside, it is unrealistic to believe that the Democrats can rebound in all of their 26 seats to score a unanimous slate of victories. With North Dakota already leaning Republican, and the GOP conservatively taking one of the three Democratic toss-ups, the Ds would then be realistically tasked with winning Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee, in addition to scoring a big upset win in Texas. Though possible, achieving all of this while experiencing no other leakage must be deemed unlikely, and perhaps highly unlikely, as we approach the Election Day minus-40 mark.

Even if the Senate Rs drop one of their two main defense toss-ups (Arizona or Nevada), a gain of North Dakota and any one of the remaining Dem toss-ups would still give the GOP a one-seat gain.

While the House outcome remains very much in doubt and more people believe the Democrats will claim at least a small majority in that chamber, the Senate appears poised to move in the opposite direction.

Today, the Republicans are in a position to gain, and will likely, albeit slightly, exceed the minimum one-seat addition. Seeing a 53R or possibly even 54R conference when all the dust clears remains a realistic potential outcome. Remember, on the map of the 17 competitive seats, the GOP need only win four to retain the majority. Therefore, even on a bad night for the party nationally, establishing a 4-13 record in the competitive Senate contests will prove enough to hold at least the barest of majorities.

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