Prospects Of Republican Senate Dim

It's looking less and less likely that the GOP will gain control of the Senate, but they're going to come awfully close,, and that might be just as good from their point of view.

While projections from Larry Sabato, Charlie Cook, Scott Rasmussen, and Nate Silver all point toward a GOP takeover of the House of Representatives, the chances of a GOP Senate seem to be slipping away as we get closer to Election Day:

We’ve rerun the numbers for the Senate, and they show little change in the overall likelihood of a Republican takeover. The model gives Republicans a 17 percent chance of winding up with at least 51 Senators after Nov. 2. That’s essentially unchanged from our previous update, from last Wednesday, when they were given an 18 percent chance.


Republicans will most likely need to win two out of these three states — California, Washington and West Virginia — to take control of the Senate; the model remains largely unpersuaded about their chances in states like Delaware and Connecticut.

They will also need to win a number of other close states, like Illinois, Nevada and Colorado. As of today, they are slight favorites in all three, with Sharron Angle’s odds having improved slightly in Nevada since the last update, but Ken Buck’s having deteriorated some in Colorado, which is moving closer to being a genuine tossup.

Other states that theoretically remain on the Democrats’ radar, like Pennsylvania and Kentucky, have seen a dearth of public polling of late, but the Republicans remain solid favorites in each on the basis of the available information.

All of these states are toss-ups at this point, and the polls there have been within the margin of error so anything is possible. However, with candidates in Colorado and Nevada who seem to be doing everything possible to help their opponent win the election, it’s looking less and less likely that the GOP will in the Senate.

Nonetheless, there is this historical oddity — for the past seventy years, every time that control of the House has changed hands, the same has happened in the Senate.

Even if history doesn’t repeat itself, it’s fairly apparent that the 112th Congress version of the Senate will be very different regardless of which party gains control. Going by the projections that Nate Silver and Larry Sabato are currently making, we’re looking at a 52-48 or 51-49 division between the parties. Add to that the fact that Senators like Ben Nelson and, even if he wins, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, are not necessarily reliable Democratic votes and it’s fairly obvious that the GOP is going to have the ability to control the Senate agenda even if they don’t actually have majority control of the Senate. What this means, obviously, is either political compromise or gridlock. Personally, I’m betting on gridlock, and that may not necessarily be what the people heading to the polls in two weeks actually want.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tano says:

    That the Dems lose only a net 2 or 3 seats in the Senate is as likely an outcome as the GOP winning 10 and taking over.

    There are only three seats that seem locked into a takeover – ND, AK, and IN.

    WI and PA seem to be a bit too far for Dems to hold, but PA at least seems to show movement toward Sestak.

    CO, IL, NV, and WV are all complete tossups. A point or two or four either way means nothing, relative to what might happen 11/2.

    The other Dem seats all have a bit of breathing space – far from any guarantees, but tending D.

    KY is still winnable for the Dems.

  2. Dodd says:
  3. Tano says:

    ooops, I meant Arkansas as one of the locked in takeovers, not Alaska.

    Another couple of wildcards are Crist and Murkowski – if either or both win – not likely, but possible, especially the latter – then they might caucus with the Dems, making it effectively a takeover.

  4. jwest says:


    In years such as this, there always seems to be one race that hits people out of the blue. Some contest that wasn’t on anyone’s radar but when looked at in hindsight, had some indicators that a major swing was possible.

    As we know, a candidate doesn’t need a majority of the state to win, only a majority of who shows up to vote. In looking at races where a disproportionate demographic imbalance is possible, the Maryland Senate contest comes up. Why is this a possibility? First, Maryland has a higher than average minority population (35%). Maryland minorities voted stronger in the ’06 midterm than the state’s general population, but according to recent polls are less interested in this year’s election. This block of votes has no distribution curve to analyze, as it votes en mass purely democratic. If the minority voters don’t show up in the numbers modeled by the ’06 and ’08 elections, a large portion of the democrat vote will go missing.

    Next, the Maryland youth (18-29) vote historically seems to only show up in appreciable numbers during democrat wave years. If uninspired this cycle, they may stay home like in ’02, as opposed to flocking to polls as they did in ’06. Taken together, the minority and youth vote make up a large segment of the 42% of voting age population that normally participates in a midterm election.

    Finally, when looking at crosstabs in the state, voter attitude on issues doesn’t seem to track within acceptable ranges to the disparity in candidate preferences. This coupled with the fact that no one seems to know who the republican candidate is makes a strong case for a Blitz style campaign in the last two weeks. This would leave the incumbent, who previously was fat, dumb and happy while cruising to an easy win, totally defensive and unprepared to counter.

    Watch for saturation ads on selected cable shows, local news, and shows popular with the over 40 crowd, along with heavy radio buys and coordinated direct mail. I would expect a poll to be released early in the week showing a 12-15 point gain by Wargotz to generate buzz, followed quickly by an influx of issue ads funded by (but definitely not in coordination with) outside interest groups.

    Crazier things have happened.

  5. Wayne says:

    Re “I’m betting on gridlock, and that may not necessarily be what the people heading to the polls in two weeks actually want”

    And maybe it is. It would certainly be better than what is going on now.

  6. Herb says:

    As usual, keen analysis…and the best part? No “news” is good news!

  7. jwest,

    I don’t think there’s any chance of a surprise in Maryland for a few reasons.

    First, there’s are those polls:

    Second, the Governor’s race in MD is also slipping away from the GOP:

    Third, the national GOP looks like it’s about to give up on Maryland:

    That’s for the Gov race. The NRSC doesn’t appear to be investing any money on behalf of Wargotz, which seems to be a prudent decisipon.

  8. John Burgess says:

    I did my best today to ensure that Crist doesn’t screw things up (any more than he already has). In fact, no one on my ballot with a (Dem) behind his or her name got my ink in early voting. Not all (Rep) did, either, but definitely not a (Dem). Even for school board.

    The bad part about early voting is I have to wait to see what (if any) effect my ballot had.

  9. jwest says:


    OMalley has enough in the bank for the last 2 weeks, so that’s not an issue. He’s looking at the same demographics as I outlined for the Senate race.

    You’ve got a disproportionate number of disinterested minorities who made up a large segment of the ’06 and ’08 voters, which pollsters have modeled their turnout on. If these people don’t show up in the same percentages as they did in the last two elections, it’s a whole new ballgame.

    An energized republican/tea party base is not going to split their ticket between O’Malley and Mikulski. If one wins, both republicans win.

    I’m not projecting a win for Wargotz, just saying that this race may be a lot more interesting than folks think.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    jwest proves to be completely ridiculous with this latest prediction…Mikulski, the most popular politician in the state, will crush her opponent…as for tea party influence, Maryland ain’t South Carolina or Alaska…say, wasn’t jwest telling us that O’Donnell still has a chance in Delaware…

  11. jwest says:

    Interested party,

    My scenario wasn’t a prediction that Wargotz would win, simply an exercise in reading beyond the poll headlines to see what is possible.

    Perhaps you’re right. Next to Barack Obama, I can’t think of any democrat that would excite the African American citizens of Maryland more than Barbara Mikulski. People in Prince George’s County and Baltimore will probably be dancing in the street and high-fiving each other when she wins.

    I’m not unsympathetic to your plight and can imagine what it must feel like to be facing a humiliating defeat of biblical proportions, but as I stated in my comment, there always seems to be one race that surprises everyone and I tried to look for indicators of where that race is. Let’s agree that from now on, we’ll take polls that show democrats ahead or gaining as scientific fact and those that show certain segments of voters as disinterested as conservative lies.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    jwest, continue trafficking in delusions if you like but you need not direct them at me…no one ever claimed that Mikulski would excite the African American citizens of Maryland to the point that they would be dancing in the streets, but, she has won each of her Senate runs with over 60% of the vote and there is no reason to believe that this election will be all that different, so your idea of what is suposedly possible really isn’t all that much…as for sympathy, you should probably save it for yourself, as your darling in Delaware is the one about to face a humiliating defeat of biblical proportions…oh, and even if the GOP is somehow able to take over the whole Congress, what will they be able to accomplish? Find out some phantom “crimes” of the Obama Administration? It’s not as though they will be able to pass any meaningful, important legislation unless they actually somehow manage to find a way to work with the president…