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Senate Update: A Big Swing In North Carolina Improves Democrats’ Chances

Republican chances of winning back the Senate fell below 60 percent Thursday, dropping about 4 percentage points to 58.2 percent, thanks to several good polls for Democrats in North Carolina and Colorado. Republicans are still favored to pick up six seats they don’t hold currently, and that would still lead to a GOP-controlled Senate. But Republicans are left with little room for error, and the race in Kansas becomes even more crucial.

In North Carolina, a Rasmussen Reports poll found Democrat Kay Hagan ahead of Republican Thom Tillis 45 percent to 39 percent. Tillis had led in the previous Rasmussen survey by 5 percentage points. Another North Carolina poll released Thursday, by SurveyUSA, gave Hagan a 3-point lead (46 percent to 43 percent).

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The two polls together moved Hagan from a 45 percent underdog to a 61 percent percent favorite. With Hagan now leading, the FiveThirtyEight model does not project a single state in which President Obama won in either 2008 or 2012 to switch from Democratic to Republican control.

This includes Colorado, where a newly released SurveyUSA poll put Democratic Senator Mark Udall up 46 percent to 42 percent over Republican Cory Gardner. Of the four polls published in Colorado over the last week, Udall has led in every single one by margins from 2 to 6 percentage points. Gardner hasn’t led in a poll since the beginning of July. Udall has a 68 percent chance of winning, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight projection.

Put the latest polling data together, and you quickly recognize the importance of the Senate race in Kansas. The FiveThirtyEight model has Republican Pat Roberts as the slightest of favorites against independent Greg Orman, though the race is particularly unpredictable. And if Orman were to win, he has said he will caucus with whichever party holds the majority.

But here’s the problem: If Orman wins and every current favorite prevails, then Republicans would hold 50 seats. Democrats would have 49. That means Orman would decide which party would hold the majority. If he caucused with Democrats, the Senate would be split 50-50, and Vice President Joe Biden would break the tie. If Senate control is left up to Orman, the FiveThirtyEight model assumes there is a 75 percent chance he would caucus with the Democrats. That assumption is based on his ideology, past political donations and the fact that he nearly ran as a Democrat for the Senate in 2008. Still, we can’t get inside Orman’s head.

Millions of dollars will be spent in this year’s midterms, and control of the Senate could come down to one man’s whimsy.


Most news that happens during election season doesn’t make a dent in the race. That doesn’t mean it’s not juicy or interesting. These are the stories people are talking about.

  • In a fundamentally American display of bipartisanship, Sens. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, and Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, will appear on a Discovery Channel reality show. The pair — in fact, they’re friends — will be dropped on an island and must survive for a week. This is the only good political story this year, and it’s fantastic.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was booed off the stage at an event hosted by In Defense of Christians, a group that raises awareness of Christian communities persecuted in the Middle East.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger had ex-wife Maria Shriver crudely painted over in his official gubernatorial portrait. No word yet on whether he plans to replace the former first lady of California with Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Steve Austin, Terry Crews and Mickey Rourke.


Uh, this stuff might actually be kind of a big deal.

  • President Obama’s speech announcing a fuller campaign against ISIS elegantly infuriated groups that want full-out war and groups that want full-out peace. Obama’s speech came at a time when Americans are more hawkish than they have been in recent memory.


Every election, one goal is to forecast the eventual winner of the race. But in contested races, there’s always at least one other person who has to lose. Sometimes doom is certain, other times less so. Here, we celebrate these individuals and point you to the best local journalism about them.

Democrat Amanda Curtis is probably not going to win the Senate seat being vacated by John Walsh in Montana. The FiveThirtyEight model has her with a 1 percent chance of victory, which is rather charitable given her moneyed and experienced opponent, Republican Rep. Steve Daines. Videos from Curtis’s career as a vlogger have been highlighted in the national press; I assume something like that is everyone’s worst nightmare, and not just mine.

Check out the Billings Gazette’s early reporting on the then-unknown Curtis here and here.


Throwback Thursday edition:

EYE ON 2016

Your No. 1 source for what to expect in 2016.

The opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics will be held Aug. 5, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro.

That concludes this segment of EYE ON 2016.

Harry Enten is a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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