The Most Likely Outcome in the Senate: A 50-50 Tie

While the Senate was preparing to vote on the Kavanaugh nomination, I decided that, since the outcome was a foregone conclusion, it would be a better use of my time to size up how things are looking for control of that body after the midterm elections. That’s because, in order to stop the confirmation of extremist and unqualified people to the bench, Democrats are going to have to gain a majority in the Senate.

Our friend Ed Kilgore recently documented the conventional wisdom that a Democratic House and Republican Senate are now the most likely midterm scenario.

FiveThirtyEight’s sophisticated model based on polls, fundraising, political history, and historical trends gives Republicans a 7-in-9 (or 78 percent) chance of maintaining control of the Senate, while Democrats have a 3-in-4 chance (or 74 percent) of retaking the House.

That’s why I decided to dig a little deeper into FiveThirtyEight’s predictions for the senate. Specifically, I wanted to go beyond their suggestion that Republicans are favored to maintain control of the Senate to see what they were predicting in individual races. As a lot of prognosticators do these days, they have them divided into strong, likely, lean, and toss-up.

Between races that aren’t up for election this year, combined with those that are strong, likely, or lean Democrat, the total number of seats for the blue team would be 47. Three races are listed as toss-ups: Florida, Missouri, and Nevada. In all three of those races, FiveThirtyEight currently gives the advantage to the Democrat. That means that right now, the site is predicting that the most likely outcome is a 50-50 tie, which would give the Republicans the smallest of edges, with Vice President Pence being the tie-breaker.

Keep that in mind as you continue to hear that Republicans are likely to keep control of the Senate. The truth is that their margin right now is razor thin.

Other than the toss-ups, FiveThirtyEight lists one race—Arizona—as leaning Democrat. There are three races that lean Republican—Texas, Tennessee, and North Dakota. If Democrats were to win all three toss-ups, they could take control of the senate if just one of those three races were logged into the blue column.

Just imagine what would happen if Beto O’Rourke were to beat Ted Cruz to give Democrats control of the senate. Not only would he be the first Democrat to win statewide in Texas since 1994, it would also mean that the only Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee that was up for re-election lost. Kavanaugh is likely to serve on the Supreme Court for a long time, but that would blunt the blow just a bit, wouldn’t it?

FiveThirtyEight is only giving that a 2-in-7 chance of happening, but it’s enough of a possibility that Texas ranks #1 in their “tipping point chance” (the probability that a race will decide whether the Democrats or Republicans are in the majority).

There will be a lot of races to watch on election night. But when it comes to control of the Senate, the ones to keep an eye on are Florida, Missouri, Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, and North Dakota. The truly surprising addition to that list is Texas. If Democrats win 5 or more of those 7 races (they currently lead in 4 of them), they’ll have a Senate majority in 2019-2020.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.