The Battle For The Senate: What To Watch For On Election Night

At 6 p.m. Central Time, the ballot counting will begin in Kentucky. Recent polling has given Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a comfortable seven-to-nine point advantage over Democrat Alison Grimes. I don’t expect any surprises there – and you shouldn’t either.

What really counts in terms of who will control the Senate for the next two years will be results in races on the East Coast, in which the polls close at 7 p.m.

The Democrats need to win both New Hampshire and North Carolina if they are to retain control. There are few realistic paths – if any – to winning if they don’t hold those two states.

The good news for Democrats is that Kay Hagan in North Carolina has been maintaining a slight lead over Republican challenger Thom Tillis, though her edge is still within the margin of error. And Jeanne Shaheen has been doing the same in New Hampshire over Scott Brown.


If the Democrats don’t win at least one of these seats, it’s surely going to be a bleak night for them. To this end, as Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University commented, “If Tillis wins in North Carolina, that might be a harbinger of a good night for Republicans. If Hagan wins, the Democrats might hold out some hope that they can hold onto the Senate.”

Beyond these two key races, it’s important to pay attention to the other big two that Obama won and that are looking like they will go Republican this election.

In Colorado, Mark Udall is now trailing Cory Gardner after running a misguided campaign largely focusing on women’s issues that polarized the minority community – and actually alienated many female voters. And Joni Ernst looks poised to take a seat in Iowa for the GOP, becoming the first woman elected to Congress there.

The issue of minority turnout is crucial to contests across the nation, but especially in Colorado where both Republicans and Democrats have been claiming that the Latino voters will turn out for them. I will also be closely watching the turnout in urban areas vs. rural more generally – if voters in the suburbs are coming out in large numbers that definitely signifies a good night for the Republicans.

It’s also likely that we’re going to see runoff elections in both Georgia and Louisiana. Though there is a Republican path to control without these two seats, runoffs would certainly be a good sign for Democrats, who would have more time to build up their ground game. Michelle Nunn in Georgia is in better position if there is a runoff scenario than Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, who trails Bill Cassidy by more than five points in a head-to-head matchup. But six weeks is a long time in politics and those seats could go either way.