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Why Senate Control May Not Be Known by Wednesday

Landrieu rallies supporters Nov. 2 in Shreveport, La. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Landrieu rallies supporters Nov. 2 in Shreveport, La. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

There are enough Democratic seats in play for Republicans to secure the Senate majority Tuesday, but there is also a chance the outcome won’t be known for days, weeks or even a couple months.  

Needing to net six seats to win back control for the first time since George W. Bush’s second midterm in 2006, Republicans have taken advantage of a Democratic president in a similarly weak political position and have carved a path through 10 states . That means Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may be celebrating more than his own re-election in Louisville, Ky., on Tuesday night.  

Still, with runoffs likely in two competitive states, potentially razor-thin margins in a few races and vote-counting complications in Alaska, there are several hurdles to one party having clear control of the Senate by the time the sun rises Wednesday on the East Coast. One major cog in the complication is the Kansas Senate race , where independent Greg Orman was running even with Republican Sen. Pat Roberts in late polling. Some Republicans are skeptical Orman would actually consider caucusing with the GOP if it wins the majority convincingly, as the candidate says he would . But with his continued viability in an otherwise solidly Republican state, the uncertainty surrounding this seat could remain until Orman formally aligns with a party in the Senate.  

With so many races that could feature close finishes, both parties have attorneys prepared for potential recount situations . A recount could delay the calling of a race by weeks, but even a result not close enough to trigger a recount could remain uncalled for days as the final absentee or provisional ballots are counted.  

Either scenario may come to fruition in states such as North Carolina, where Republican Thom Tillis is challenging Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan; Colorado, where GOP Rep. Cory Gardner is taking on Democratic Sen. Mark Udall; and Georgia, where Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue are vying for an open, GOP-held seat.  

In Alaska, where Republican Dan Sullivan is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, both campaigns put a heavy focus on absentee voting to accommodate the significant number of voters who may have trouble getting to the polls on Election Day because of work or travel complications. If the candidates are separated by just a point or two on election night, the race may not be called for a couple weeks until the absentee ballots are counted.  

Beyond the close races, a couple others are likely to feature a second round of voting after Nov. 4. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu and Republican Bill Cassidy are expected to advance beyond the jungle primary to the Dec. 6 runoff. The same could happen in Georgia if neither Nunn nor Perdue are able to break 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, keeping control of the seat and perhaps the Senate unknown until Jan. 6.  

The number of Democratic seats Republicans need to win would increase if the party loses Kansas or Georgia. Republicans are likely to pick up the Democrat-held open seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, and are favored to defeat Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor. If those four seats are won, the GOP would need to add at least two more Democrat-held seats from a collection of states that includes Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina.  

Given their eastern location and Democrats’ legitimate chance to hold them, a GOP victory in either of the latter two would likely portend a Republican majority.  


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