The 2014 midterm elections have essentially been going on since January of 2013, when many candidates initially announced their intentions to run for various offices. Over the last 22 months, many voters have been inundated with countless television ads, and are eagerly awaiting the conclusion of this election season on November 6th, 2014. Unfortunately, the outcome of many elections will not be known for weeks. In fact, several elections will likely be decided by run-off elections in the United States Senate. This will lead to an interesting dynamic where Americans will likely not know which political party controls the Senate until January of 2015.
Two hotly contested states have run off elections if no candidate gets the majority of the vote outright on election day-Louisiana and Georgia. In both of these states, the candidate leading in the polls appears unlikely to have a majority on election day.
Louisiana elections are different than elections in other states because all of the Democratic and Republican candidates appear on the same ballot on election day, a process known as the “Jungle Primary”. In Louisiana, incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu faces two Republican challengers, the first is Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is the most likely of the Republican opposition to advance to the runoff. The second challenger is retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness, who has received the endorsement of tea party linked groups and Sarah Palin. Recent polling shows Rob Maness garnering 9-13 percent of the vote, making it unlikely that Cassidy will secure over 50 percent of the vote on election day. In Louisiana, the top two vote-getters will compete yet again in a runoff election set for December 6th.
In Georgia, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff set for January 6th, 2015. Unlike in Louisiana, this election will take place after the new congress is sworn in on January 3rd.
When this Congress convenes, the new Congress will have to choose its leadership in both chambers by majority vote. In Georgia neither Republican candidate David Perdue or Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn look likely to cross the 50 percent threshold, thanks to a third party Libertarian candidate, Amanda Swafford who garners around 6 percent in most polling. Georgia’s Gubernatorial election is likely to go the same way. Incumbent Governor Nathan Deal, and his challenger Jason Carter remain deadlocked, also with a Libertarian candidate, Andrew Hunt, siphoning off roughly 5 percent of the vote.
Additionally, there is the possibility that one or more of the Senate elections will be too close to call until weeks after the election. In 2008, Minnesota’s Senate Election was so close that the winner of the election, Sen. Al Franken, was seated on July 7th, 2009 after months of litigation and recounts. Of the current most hotly contested races, many of them remain essentially coin flips, the two most likely to go to recount will be in Iowa and Colorado. Statistical models of the midterm elections owned by the Washington Post, The Princeton Election Consortium, New York Times, and ESPN all show that at least three races are poised to be decided by a margin of less than one percent, making a protracted recount in at least one state likely.
Further complicating matters is an Independent candidate in Kansas who is now leading in the polls. In Kansas, incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts faces off against Independent candidate Greg Orman. This seat complicates the Republican path to a Senate majority because it puts them on defense. Mr. Orman has remained coy on what party he will caucus with in Washington. In 2008 Orman voted for Barack Obama, and in 2012 he voted for Romney. Orman was set to meet with Milton Wolf, the conservative primary challenger who was narrowly defeated by Roberts earlier in the state’s Republican primary about a possible endorsement, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute for unnamed reasons. Orman is widely considered to favor caucusing with the Democratic Party. Orman briefly considered a run for Senate against Roberts as a Democrat in 2008, and some of his campaign personnel have ties to the Democratic Party. If Orman wins, it will be the Democratic candidate’s withdrawal from the race that paved the way for Orman’s unlikely victory. Reports have even surfaced that Sen. McCaskill, a leading Democratic Senator was one of the chief negotiators in getting the Democratic nominee to withdrawal from the race. These contradictory factors have made Greg Orman the ultimate question mark, and in a year where control of the Senate could come down to one seat, Greg Orman could play a key role in the last two years of the Obama Presidency.
For his part, Orman has not stated which party he will caucus with, stating “if one party is clearly in the majority, I will seek to caucus with the party that was in the majority as that would be in the best interest for the state of Kansas.” The problem for Orman is that it may be unclear just when either party has a clear, undisputed majority. There is a scenario where Greg Orman’s decision on which party to caucus with determines which party controls the Senate. Orman is also unlikely to make his decision until he knows the outcome of the other races.
And lastly, we have the state of Alaska. Alaska’s time zone difference alone makes it a state that is called late into the night. Alaska is also just a very large state, and physically getting all of the ballots to a central location to be counted takes time. In 2008, it took two whole weeks to call the Senate race there. In 2014, Alaska will have two closely watched elections-one for the Governorship, and the other for a Senate Seat-a seat that could determine what party controls Congress for the rest of the Obama Presidency.
Unfortunately, we may be in for a long night, week, and month.