Do Or Die: What Dems Really Have To Do To Keep The Senate

With just a few weeks before the midterm elections, the election cycle has reached the point where Democrats and Republicans are shifting money in races. It’s a period that reveals where the most serious battleground states are in the remaining weeks of the cycle for control of the U.S. Senate: Georgia, North Carolina, Iowa, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Of those five races, TPM Polltracker averages show only two of them — North Carolina and Georgia —slightly favor Democrats. In that case, Republicans would control the Senate with 51 votes, but if just one of the others breaks the Democrats’ way, it’ll be a 50-50 tie.

A slightly expanded map shows several other states potentially in play. As TPM has been reporting, independent candidates have been mucking things up in both Kansas and South Dakota. And though things don’t look great for Democrats in Alaska and Colorado of late, the races there are still very close.

“As you get in to the last three weeks you’re polling in all these places and you have to figure ‘okay, where’s your money best spent,'” Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report told TPM. “And whoever’s on the defense side, in this case, that’s the side you practice triage. You basically say ‘okay, who’s gone?’ and you cut those people off.”

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This seems to be what happened to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes. On Tuesday Roll Call reported that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had decided to stop running ads in Kentucky. The DSCC however said it continues to “make targeted investments” on the ground game there.

Over the past few days Republicans have announced new spending in South Dakota to try to prevent Democrat Rick Weiland from surging ahead of longtime frontrunner former Gov. Mike Rounds (R). Meanwhile in Georgia, Democrats are dropping serious cash to help Democrat Michelle Nunn and polling suggests that while the race is by no means a sure thing, there might be a chance for her to win there.

Of the dozen states that have been deemed “battleground” states for control of the Senate this cycle, the number of real races to pay attention to now until Election Day (and possibly beyond), polling experts and strategists say, have fallen sharply.

Lately, North Carolina has appeared to move away from Republican control as Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) has held a small but consistent lead over Republican challenger Thom Tillis (R).

“If the Democrats have lost North Carolina, it’s going to be a miserable night,” Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons told TPM. “If the Democrats have won Georgia, things might be okay.”

Cook thinks that might be tough. “I think Michelle Nunn really needed Republicans to nominate Paul Broun or Phil Gingrey and that didn’t happen,” he said.

Arkansas may be considered a red state today, where Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) is running against an also formidable candidate in Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Republican strategist J. Hogan Gidley cautioned, but “it still has deep Democratic roots.”

Gidley added in states like Arkansas and North Carolina, Democrats have a history of being strong on getting voters to turn out on Election Day, even if recent polls suggest otherwise.

Then there’s Louisiana, where Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has at times polled ahead of the rest of the field in the state’s open primary but not strongly enough to show she’s not in serious danger of going into a runoff against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) under state law. That runoff could very conceivably mean that control of the Senate won’t be clear on Nov. 4.

“I’d put Landrieu in there because of their weird elections,” Gidley said when he listed which are the top Senate races to watch over the next few weeks. “Everybody else will be winding down when they start to gear up.”

Simmons said if you’re still considering Arkansas a key indicator of which way the midterms will go for control of the Senate, you have to consider Louisiana too, given that — like Pryor — Landrieu comes from a powerful political family there.

“The same thing with Landrieu in Louisiana. I think the polls matter,” Simmons said referring to polling that shows Landrieu in danger of going to a runoff and then losing in a head-to-head against Cassidy. But, Simmons added, “Mary Landrieu wins those runoffs.”

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