A handful of tight races in states with quirky election laws make for the headache-inducing possibility that Election Day will come and go without deciding which party controls the Senate. This means it could be into next year before we know, as we do know Democrats will try every trick in the book to retain control, even if it means voter fraud.
If that happens, brace for a fierce runoff election and possible recounts that could make for an ugly holiday season in politics and government.
The main reason for uncertainty: Louisiana’s election laws. Strategists in both parties say a Dec. 6 runoff is likely because Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and top Republican challenger Bill Cassidy will struggle to exceed 50 percent on the crowded Nov. 4 ballot.
Republicans need six more seats to claim a 51-49 Senate majority. A 50-50 split would let Vice President Joe Biden break tie votes and keep Democrats in charge. Republicans are strongly favored to win three races where Democratic senators are retiring: West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana.
Their best hopes to pick up three more seats are in the four contests where Democrats seek re-election in states President Barack Obama lost: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.
Republicans are also making strong bids in Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire, which Obama carried.
If Republicans win two of those races, plus the three where they are heavily favored, then all eyes and lots of campaign money would turn to Louisiana if there’s a runoff.
“And I don’t think there’s any chance we don’t go into a runoff in Louisiana,” said Brian Walsh, a Republican adviser in Senate races.
Waiting for a make-or-break Louisiana outcome would deeply affect the postelection congressional session scheduled to start Nov. 12. Congress must appropriate money in November to keep the government running, and it may revisit the president’s continued authority to arm Syrian rebels, among other things.
If Republicans think they will control the Senate in the new Congress set to convene Jan. 3, they may want to limit action in the Democratic-controlled lame-duck session. It’s almost certain that Republicans will retain their House majority.
Generally, Republicans fare better in runoffs because their supporters tend to vote regardless of the date, weather or levels of publicity.
But an intensive, well-targeted get-out-the-vote operation could save Landrieu, Bennett said, “and the Democrats clearly dominate in the technology and coordination of their ground campaigns.”