Election 2014: Will It Ever End?

First the Bad News

If you have ever been stuck in traffic especially on a long trip, you have probably wondered whether the ordeal would ever end. Marathons (no I have never done one) and hundred mile bike rides (yes I have done several) cause all but the fittest athletes to ask themselves will it ever end?

Following advice that I have often given to myself — “if you are going to be late call early” — it is unlikely that you will know which party will control the Senate when you go to bed on Tuesday night.

This year, the 3R’s — rural, recount and runoff seem likely to prolong the agony for at least a few days and at worst until January.

The Road Map

The results in 10 states will determine which party controls the United States Senate for the next two years. At first glance, the Democrats appear to have an advantage because they only need to win five to get to the Vice President Joe Biden tiebreaker, while the Republicans need six to avoid it.

Each party begins with 45 seats before you get to the close races. For the Democrats, that means 34 in which there is no election, four that are safe and seven that are likely. Democrats now hold all of them. The Republicans have 30 in which there is no election, 12 that are safe and three that are likely. Of their 45, South Dakota and West Virginia were formerly held by Democrats. Nobody’s paying attention to any of these.

The Landscape

The Hill, widely read among the pros, recently published an article called “How red or blue is your state?” It ranks all 50 from the most liberal –Washington (1) — to the most conservative – Alabama (50). If control of the Senate is to be determined in only 10 states, one might expect that the 10 would be pretty much middle-of-the-road, perhaps ranked between numbers 20 and 30 on the liberal to conservative scale.

They are not. Beginning with the most left-leaning as number one and the most right-leaning as number 50, only Iowa (18), New Hampshire (21) and Colorado (25) are “home games” for the Democrats, while Arkansas (29), Kentucky (30), Louisiana (31), North Carolina (35), Georgia (36), Kansas (47) and Alaska (49) are “home games” for the Republicans.

This is a bad class of Senate seats for Democrats and a good class for Republicans. No matter who loses, there will be recriminations but it will have been a far worse outcome for the Republicans if they end up licking their wounds. Circular firing squads are expected.

A Little Background

In mid-September, LibertyPell began following eight races that seemed likely to determine the outcome. We should have added Kentucky and Louisiana to get to the 10 now in play. Two mistakes so far but the other eight were good choices.

We followed three traditional pollsters, three statistical modelers, one renegade, one aggregator and the British bookies, which are required to put their money where their mouths are. From these sources, we developed the LibertyPell Nyah Nyah Senate Majority Index.

Since September 20, there have been six weekly stories: LibertyPell Nyah Nyah Senate Majority Index, A Bad Nyah Nyah Week for Greg Orman, Will It Ever End?, Nyah Nyah Senate Majority Index # 4, Crash, Pestilence and Boredom vs. Sucking and Ultimate Political Cage Fighting Continues.

The Ten States That Matter

With the election only three days away, here is a review of the Senate races in the 10 most meaningful states, beginning with the most liberal and moving to the most conservative.

Remember, the Democrats need five and the Republicans need six.

Iowa (18) – Beginning in late September, the pattern among the analysts has been strongly in favor of the Republican, Joni Ernst, with more ties (too close to call) than wins for the Democrat, Bruce Braley. The outlier in Iowa is the Rothenberg Political Report that has shown the race as a tie from start to finish. It is hard to explain the consistent certainty for the Republican among the other sources when the latest polls show Ernst either tied or leading by 1 point.

Prediction: A softly whispered R.

New Hampshire (21) – Incumbent Democrat, Jeanne Shaheen leads Republican, Scott Brown by 49 pundit picks to none over the seven-week period. In the most recent polls, she leads by 3.4% and 7%. If she loses it will be a very long night for the Democrats.

Prediction: D if not the circular firing squad will wear blue.

Colorado (25) – Republican, Cory Gardner has been the pundits’ choice over incumbent Democrat, Mark Udall, since early October, though both Rothenberg and the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato have generally found the race too close to call. Udall picked up the best nickname of the year — Mark Uterus — with his endless harping on women’s issues.

Prediction: R followed by much disgruntled pot smoking.

Arkansas (29) – This was supposed to be close but it wasn’t. Republican, Tom Cotton, has led consistently over Democrat, Mark Pryor and is 7% ahead in the most recent polls.

Prediction: R

Kentucky (30) – After not selecting Kentucky as a battleground, we began following it anecdotally because of the prospect that Republican, Mitch McConnell, might lose to Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes. It looks like he won’t but it would have been ironic if the GOP had won the Senate but left its likely Majority Leader at the gate.

Prediction: R

Louisiana (31) – This is the other state we began following anecdotally when it got exciting. There are three candidates: Democrat, Mary Landrieu; Republican Bill Cassidy; and Republican, Rob Maness. Under the State’s “jungle primary” system, if no candidate gets 50% of the vote (and it is unlikely that any of them will), a runoff will be held on December 6. On current form, Landrieu should win on Tuesday but not by enough to avoid losing to Cassidy a month later.

Prediction: R but you will have to wait a month to find out.

Now, imagine if Louisiana is the state that will determine which party controls the Senate. The entire national political arsenal will descend on a state not noted for election cleanliness. With a $5 Popeye’s Fried Chicken coupon as the going rate for the purchase of a vote in New Orleans, you might consider buying the stock.

North Carolina (35) – Democrat Kay Hagan led Republican Thom Tillis by a wide margin every week. Libertarian Sean Haugh is not a factor drawing only 4-5% of the vote. Hagan’s lead is down to 1%, well within the margin of error. A loss here would be a Democratic disaster.

Prediction: D with a decreasing level of confidence. Another Democratic circular firing squad opportunity.

Georgia (36) – David Perdue, a Republican, has led Michelle Nunn, a Democrat, and Amanda Swafford, a libertarian, most of the way. This is another state in which a runoff is required unless the candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. In the three-way race on Tuesday, Purdue is tied with Nunn at 47%. He leads fractionally in the two-way runoff, which is not scheduled to take place until January 6, 2015.

Prediction: R with no level of confidence whatever especially if it is the decider.

The runoff is after the date on which the Senate is supposed to convene and determine which party will be in control. If it comes down to Georgia in January, you might try to buy stock in the law firms that will be litigating it.

Kansas (47) – The most consequential race of them all has independent, Greg Orman a point ahead of incumbent Republican, Pat Roberts. Here, the outlier among the pundits is The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage, which has steadily called the race for Roberts. Most of the others see Orman winning though there are some ties.

Prediction: I

As an independent, Orman can sell himself to either party when it comes time to determine which one leads the upper chamber. That is quite a bargaining position and there is about a one in eight chance of it happening.

Alaska (49) — Republican, Dan Sullivan, has led incumbent Democrat, Mark Begich, since late September, but renegade analyst, Sam Wang of Princeton most recently called it a tie. Polling is notoriously unreliable in Alaska and counting the votes can take days.

Prediction: R, with a low level of confidence, a bad sign for the Republicans in the country’s second most conservative state.

According to an Alaska political pro, “Squeaker either way.  Sullivan should prevail if the potheads and environmentalist kooks stay home.  3 initiatives on the ballot may favor Begich turnout.”


What will you know and when will you know it?

Date                   D’s                      R’s                      Independent

Now                    45                       45                       (2 shown as Ds)

Election Night   2 (NH, NC)        4 (IA, CO, AR, KY)     1 (KS)

Late in the week                          1 (AK)

Early December                            1 (LA)

Early January                              1 (GA)

Total                           47                       52                                1

Will It Ever End?

Now, imagine if these scenarios play out as indicated. By the end of the week, the Republicans will have 50 seats, just enough to lose. The Democrats will have 47 and there will be one independent with a lot of bargaining chips. Two races will be headed for runoffs with the Democrats needing to win both and make the best offer to Greg Orman of Kansas.

Other Nuggets

Here are a few nuggets from some of those I’ve been following.

  • Rothenberg Political Report — “it could be a bigger night for Republicans than you expect”
  • Larry Sabato – “While many races remain close, it’s just getting harder and harder to envision a plausible path for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate. Many paths for the Republicans to get to 51.”
  • Sam Wang – “Six races are within less than 2 percentage points: Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina. Therefore all six of these races could be won by Republicans…or all six could be won by Democrats. However, the likely possibilities range anywhere from a Republican majority of 54-46 to a Democratic majority of 52-48. As of today, cranking through the math and the uncertainties gives a probability of 55% for a Republican takeover.
  • Nate Silver / 538 — 68.5% chance the Republicans will have a majority
  • Monkey Cage (The Washington Post) — 95% chance the Republicans will control the Senate. This has been the outlier by a wide margin for over a month.
  • Upshot (The New York Times) — 70% chance the Republicans will control the Senate
  • Huffington Post (generally viewed as left-leaning) –Republicans with a 69% chance. Odds are one in eight that Orman is the decider
  • Daily Kos (generally viewed as left-leaning) — Republicans with a 73% chance
  • The British bookies have consistently favored the Republicans with ever more certainty. And they have money on it.

Predicting Elections

The more we learned, the more difficult the process seemed. When the races get close – forget Rhode Island and Wyoming; those are too easy – it is not how many the pollsters get wrong that surprises. It is the number they get right – beyond the 50% they’d get just by flipping coins. There’s art and science in polling even after you have gotten past the people who hang up on you.

Enjoy the evening on Tuesday even if it is inconclusive and feel lucky if you don’t live in Louisiana or Georgia where the relentless ads and robocalls will go on for another month or two.



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