Current Senate makeup: 51 Republicans, 49 Democrats (including “independent” Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who caucuses with the Democrats)
Number of Senate elections today: 34, including 19 currently held by Democrats and 15 by Republicans.
In the case of 50-50 tie, the vice president casts the deciding vote.
THE EARLY RETURN
One state may clue us in on everything else.
KENTUCKY: Polls close at 6:00 P.M., making the Bluegrass State one of the first to get colored red on Election Night. President Bush looks ready to win by about 15 points. That’s good news for Kentucky’s down-ballot Republicans, including Sen. Jim Bunning, who is facing an unexpectedly tough challenge from Democrat Dan Mongiardo. A Bunning defeat would be quite an upset–and if the result were to come fairly early in the evening, it could spell trouble for Bush later in the night, especially in Ohio. But if Bunning were to win here early and convincingly, then it may signal a Republican election nationally. Count on a Bunning victory, but not necessarily the big one than GOPers would like to see. BUNNING WINS–REPUBLICAN RETENTION
RACES THAT MATTER
These contests will determine control of the Senate.
ALASKA: The polls here have consistently shown a tight race–and the most recent ones have consistently shown Democrat Tony Knowles slightly ahead of Republican senator Lisa Murkowski. This is a GOP state that Bush will carry by about 25 points–but Alaskans seem comfortable with Knowles, their former governor, and he has done an effective job of presenting himself as a true moderate willing to break with his party on issues such as Arctic drilling. Meanwhile, Murkowski hasn’t been able to shake the suspicion that she got her current job because her daddy appointed her to it. KNOWLES WINS–DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER
COLORADO: When Republicans were desperately searching for a candidate to run for this open seat in the spring, many of them–including Gov. Bill Owens–believed that Pete Coors was their salvation. It turns out that he hasn’t been a spectacular candidate: A likeable guy and a better pol than he was a few months ago, but no shoe-in. Democrat Ken Salazar, the state attorney general, is formidable but not unbeatable. Yet he has already won two statewide elections and appears to be doing well in rural areas. Recent polls have shown him pulling away from Coors. Republicans insist that these opinion surveys undercount GOP voters, as they did two years ago in Sen. Wayne Allard’s reelection. COORS WINS–REPUBLICAN RETENTION
FLORIDA: The Sunshine State has trended Republican in recent years, and this will benefit GOP nominee Mel Martinez. Democrat Betty Castor may run ahead of Kerry, but Florida looks ready to vote for Bush and Martinez together. Martinez probably can’t win if Bush loses and Kerry probably can’t win if Castor loses. Heavy Cuban-American turnout–likely, though not guaranteed–would seal the deal for both GOP candidates. MARTINEZ WINS–REPUBLICAN TAKEOVER
LOUISIANA: This state is holding one of its weird open primaries, which means that if no candidate wins a majority today, the top two finishers will keep on campaigning until a runoff on December 4. There is only one candidate who has even an outside chance of winning the election today: Republican congressman David Vitter. He probably won’t get the majority he needs to avoid a runoff, though he may come close. His Democratic opponent will be either congressman Chris John or state treasurer John Kennedy. If there’s a runoff, it will be a close one–and the result will hinge in part on how the presidential race goes as well as who controls the Senate. NO WINNER TODAY–GOES TO RUNOFF
NORTH CAROLINA: If somebody were to give out a “most improved candidate” award, it would probably go to Democrat Erskine Bowles for running a much better race this year as compared to two years ago when Elizabeth Dole beat him. Yet improvement doesn’t spell victory, and Republican congressman Richard Burr hoarded his campaign cash over the summer for a splurge of spending over the last two months. He went from 8 or 10 points down to a tie and perhaps even ahead. With the possible exception of John Thune in South Dakota, no GOP Senate candidate has had more momentum in the final two weeks than Burr. This race will be close, but it also looks like Burr is peaking at exactly the right moment. BURR WINS–REPUBLICAN TAKEOVER
OKLAHOMA: The Senate candidacy of Republican Tom Coburn is the one that conservatives care about more than any other. Coburn was an impressive three-term congressman in the 1990s, and there’s every reason to think he’d quickly emerge as a conservative leader in the Senate. But he’s in a tough race against Democratic congressman Brad Carson, who has waged a relentlessly negative campaign against Coburn. For a while, it looked like Carson’s mudslinging might sink the Republican. More recently, it appears to have had a boomerang effect–and voters are having doubts about Carson’s integrity. Still, recent polls have shown lots of undecided voters. Coburn’s hidden asset may be the fact that public-opinion surveys did not forecast his strong showing the GOP primary, when he outperformed most expectations. COBURN WINS–REPUBLICAN RETENTION
SOUTH CAROLINA: Democrat Inez Tenenbaum has run a decent race–but not an outstanding one, which is what she needed. Republican congressman Jim DeMint should win by several points here. The polls will close at 7:00 P.M. An early call for DeMint will bode well for Burr in North Carolina and possibly Bush nationally. A late call may mean that black turnout is higher than expected. DEMINT WINS–REPUBLICAN TAKEOVER
SOUTH DAKOTA: Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle is the GOP’s biggest target this year. With the exception of John Kerry, this is the Democrat that Republicans would most like to defeat. Their candidate, former congressman John Thune, has enjoyed a good October. A victory for him looks more plausible than it did a month ago. But he’ll still have to overcome the fact that many South Dakotans think they benefit from Daschle’s seniority. If Bush’s reelection were a foregone conclusion, Daschle would be in deeper trouble. Thune has a shot here, but it isn’t as good as the one he had two years ago against Tim Johnson. DASCHLE WINS–DEMOCRATIC RETENTION
These races could have been competitive, but didn’t turn out that way.
CALIFORNIA: Democratic senator Barbara Boxer will one of the most grating liberals in Congress, but Californians won’t oust her in favor of Republican Bill Jones. BOXER WINS–DEMOCRATIC RETENTION
GEORGIA: Republican congressman Johnny Isakson has run a terrifically effective race here. His opponent, Democratic congresswoman Denise Majette never really stood a chance. ISAKSON WINS–REPUBLICAN TAKEOVER
ILLINOIS: Democrat Barack Obama looks bound for stardom in the Senate. Republican Alan Keyes, however, comes away tarnished even in the eyes of many onetime admirers. The most exciting moment of this race came when Mike Ditka briefly considered jumping in. Too bad he didn’t. OBAMA WINS–DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER
MISSOURI: Before the surprise in Kentucky, Democrats were saying this was their dark-horse race. But Republican senator Kit Bond never broke a sweat fending off Democrat Nancy Farmer. BOND WINS–REPUBLICAN RETENTION
PENNSYLVANIA: Even if Republicans keep control of the Senate, Democrats may hold sway in the Judiciary Committee when Republican-In-Name-Only Arlen Specter takes assume the chairmanship in January. Will a reelected President Bush regret supporting Specter in the GOP primary when he realizes he needs to get one or more Supreme Court appointees though this man’s committee? Democrat Joe Hoeffel was too much of a leftist to take advantage of conservative dissatisfaction with Specter. SPECTER WINS–REPUBLICAN RETENTION
WASHINGTON: Republican congressman George Nethercutt was a giant-killer in his 1994 race against House Speaker Tom Foley. This year, he never gained traction against Democratic senator Patty Murray. MURRAY WINS–DEMOCRATIC RETENTION
WISCONSIN: Democratic senator Russ Feingold nearly lost reelection six years ago. This time, however, A-list Republicans stayed out of the race and GOP nominee Tim Michels hasn’t had enough time to establish himself against an incumbent that Wisconsin voters neither love nor hate. Michels may yet give Feingold an Election Night scare, but probably not a loss. FEINGOLD WINS–DEMOCRATIC RETENTION
If all the predictions above come true, Republicans will gain two seats–and then have a chance to gain a third in Louisiana in next month’s run-off.