Sunday, November 2, 2014

The 11 Most Interesting Senate Races of 2014

NYT says they are:

Alaska: “Notoriously Difficult to Poll

The race in Alaska has been one of the most volatile of the cycle, with forecasts swinging from the Democrat to the Republican and back again. But it’s difficult to separate the signal from the noise here. Public, live-interview polls of the state have been exceedingly rare, and, given the state’s history of polling miscues, it’s hard to tell whether the conditions of the race have genuinely changed, or the forecasts are just picking up on noise in the polling data.

Ultimately, it’s hard to say anything about the race with much confidence. Historically, voting returns from the state are slow to come in, and — given Alaska’s time zone — the race is another reason why partisan control of the Senate will most likely remain unknown until well after most East Coast election watchers have retired for the night.

Arkansas: Mark Pryor’s Tough Road to Re-Election

Up against a midterm electorate and a national environment that favors the G.O.P., this cycle's incumbent Democratic senators are finding a far more challenging path to election than the one they had amid the Obama wave of 2008. Perhaps no senator epitomizes this challenge more than Mark Pryor, who has spent much of the year trailing Tom Cotton in a very red state.

What seemed like a Republican-leaning tossup just a few months ago has drifted steadily toward the G.O.P. column, but there is still a lot of variability among the forecasts. Leo is skeptical of Mr. Pryor's chances, but a surprise win here would swing the forecast away from the G.O.P., making Democrats 70 percent favorites to keep Senate control.

Colorado: A Surprise in the West

Like Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Democrat Mark Udall first came to the Senate in 2008. Unlike Ms. Hagan, he was not expected to face a difficult re-election bid this year, as Republicans struggled to find a viable challenger. But when Cory Gardner announced his candidacy in early March, the race was transformed into one of the most competitive in the country.

The importance of Colorado for determining control of the Senate has waned over the past month as the state has drifted out of the tossup column and toward Mr. Gardner. But the race nevertheless remains a critical battleground, and the outcome of the election here could provide a key indicator of the political character of a state that is in many ways a microcosm of the nation at large.

Georgia: A Late Shift Toward Nunn, but Can She Break 50 Percent?

For much of the year, Georgia represented the lone possible pickup opportunity for Democrats in a cycle in which the party was mostly playing defense. But this possibility seemed to fade in August, as Republican voters consolidated around David Perdue after a contentious primary.

But after a spate of recent polling showed Democrat Michelle Nunn running even with, or even ahead of, Mr. Perdue, the race abruptly returned to tossup status in most models. Lurking in the background is the fact that if neither candidate breaks the 50 percent threshold, the race will go to a January runoff between the top two candidates, a contest that some argue would favor Mr. Perdue.

Iowa: The Most Tossup of the Tossups

owa is the linchpin of Senate control, one of only three states — along with Georgia and Kansas — to be on the most likely path to control of the Senate for both Democrats and Republicans. It has also been the race that has consistently and universally ranked as the most competitive in the country. Neither candidate has seen his or her win probability rise above 68 percent in The Upshot forecast, and, as the pool of undecided voters dwindles to zero, all indications are that this race will come down to the wire.

Kansas: Taylor Drops Out, Chaos Ensues

It’s rare that a Senate candidate’s biggest contribution to his or her party’s chances of winning a seat is dropping out of the race, but that’s exactly what happened in Kansas this year. The premature departure of the Democrat, Chad Taylor, on Sept. 3 allowed support to consolidate around the independent candidate, Greg Orman, and transformed a certain Republican seat into one of the most competitive races in the country.

It is far from the typical Senate race, and many models have not quite known what to make of it. Questions over Mr. Orman’s post-election intentions complicate things further. In several interviews, he has said that he would caucus with the majority party. But his intentions are not clear should the Senate end up with 49 Democrats and 50 Republicans, and Mr. Orman find himself playing the role of kingmaker. With Kansas well positioned to be the “tipping point” state this cycle, this is a very real possibility — there’s currently a 13 percent chance that partisan control of the chamber will fall to Mr. Orman.

Kentucky: McConnell’s Race to Lose

At the beginning of the election cycle, Kentucky was often mentioned in the same breath with Georgia as a possible pickup opportunity for Democrats. Whether the Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, ever truly stood much of a chance, she did not help her cause with a series of campaign missteps, most notably a cringe-worthy debate moment in which she repeatedly refused to say whether she voted for President Obama in 2012.

While some models suggest a more favorable outlook for Ms. Grimes, The Upshot forecast has consistently shown a race that is Mr. McConnell’s to lose, now giving the Republican a 95 percent chance to return to the Senate — quite possibly as majority leader.

Louisiana: Heading for a Runoff

Most of the models have been trending toward the Republicans over the past month in Louisiana, and The Upshot currently considers the Democratic incumbent, Mary Landrieu, to be a 14 percent underdog for re-election. The race will almost certainly be heading to a December runoff, however, which adds a measure of uncertainty to those numbers. If partisan control of the Senate hinges on the outcome of this race, it is difficult to say how that would affect her chances.

Michigan: A Solid Democratic Seat, but No Room for Error

While some races are notable for being surprisingly close, others, like the race in Michigan, are notable for the opposite reason. Many saw the seat as well within reach for the G.O.P., but the Republican candidate, Terri Lynn Land, has been unable to make much headway as the race has slowly but steadily progressed from tossup to likely or solid Democrat. That said, given the narrowness of the Democrats' path to 50 seats, a loss in Michigan would almost surely undermine their efforts to keep control of the Senate for another term. Democrats hold the Senate in only 4 percent of scenarios in which they lose in Michigan.

New Hampshire: Scott Brown Returns, One State to the North

In some ways, the race in New Hampshire is similar to that in North Carolina: one that Democrats should be able to win, and probably will have to in order to get the 50 seats they’ll need. The incumbent Democrat, Jeanne Shaheen, is relatively popular in the state and is flush with cash — she has raised more than three times as much as the challenger, Scott Brown — but her lead has gradually shrunk over the past few months.

The range in Ms. Shaheen’s win probability across the different models — from a low of 62 percent in The Huffington Post’s forecast to a high of 99 percent in The Washington Post’s — reflects varying levels of certainty regarding the bias and variability in the polls. Ms. Shaheen’s lead has been consistent, but underestimate Republican turnout by just a few points, and the seat, along with control of the Senate, could easily fall to Mr. Brown and the G.O.P.

North Carolina: Hagan’s Holding On... Barely... Maybe

Kay Hagan was swept into the Senate as part of the Obama wave in 2008, and early in the cycle, pundits pointed to the resurgence of Republicans in state politics and the decline in Mr. Obama’s popularity as foretelling the possibility of a Republican takeover of the seat. Contrary to expectations, after remaining a tossup for much of the summer, the race shifted markedly toward Ms. Hagan after the first debate on Sept. 3. The Republican candidate, state House speaker Thom Tillis, has kept the campaign close, however, with the Upshot forecast projecting a Hagan win by the slimmest of margins.

As Election Day approaches, some polling suggests that Mr. Tillis may have closed the gap, though this picture is complicated somewhat by the Libertarian candidate, Sean Haugh, whose down-to-earth campaign (featuring a series of homemade videos in which Mr. Haugh talks politics while enjoying a local craft beer) has been a welcome change of pace in what has been the most expensive Senate race in the country to date.

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