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Senate Update: Democrats’ Chance Of Holding On Continues To Fall

SENATEUPDATEIn the latest FiveThirtyEight Senate forecast, Democrats still have a 27 percent chance of holding on to control of the chamber. But the more pressing question now may be the size of the Republican majority come next Congress. New polls out this weekend suggest that Republicans may not just win the six seats they need for control, but quite possibly eight seats — Republicans now have a 41.4 percent chance of doing just that.

Why? Let’s look at the map.

We’ve said all along that Republicans were expected to win Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. The next tier of seats to win are Arkansas and Louisiana. That would get the GOP to five, which would become eight with victories in Alaska, Colorado and Iowa. Finally, the party needed to hold on to Georgia and Kentucky. (Note: It would retain Kansas if it had a majority with the aforementioned seats, even if independent Greg Orman wins, because Orman said he would caucus with the majority.)

In Arkansas, we have Republican Tom Cotton up to a 94 percent chance of victory. He led Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor 50 percent to 43 percent in the latest Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey released Saturday. Cotton never was ahead by less than 2 percentage points in any nonpartisan sponsored poll taken in October and held an average lead of 6.6 percentage points in the polls. Cotton’s chance of winning is now greater than President Obama’s was on the final day of the 2012 campaign.

In Louisiana, the question has been who is going to win a December runoff, because no candidate will receive a majority of the vote on Election Day. In new polls out this weekend, Marist College had Republican Bill Cassidy up 5 percentage points and PPP had him up 1 point over Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. Cassidy held an edge in all nine nonpartisan sponsored polls taken in October for the runoff. His average lead in those polls was 5 points. FiveThirtyEight now gives Cassidy a 79 percent chance of defeating Landrieu.

How about Alaska, Colorado and Iowa? We probably won’t know about Alaska for a while, though, as I said Friday, I’d rather be Republican Dan Sullivan than Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. Sullivan is a 71 percent favorite.

In Colorado, one of the only pollsters to give Democratic Sen. Mark Udall a lead over Republican Cory Gardner now has Gardner ahead. YouGov, which had Udall up 1 percentage point as of two weeks ago, now gives Gardner a 43 to 42 percent lead. As my colleague Nate Silver pointed out this week, Gardner has led in almost all public polls taken over the past month. He has a 74 percent chance to win.

As for Iowa, Nate already spoke about the importance of the Des Moines Register poll that came out Saturday night, which showed Republican Joni Ernst up 51 to 44 percent over Democrat Bruce Braley. Even if that poll is too optimistic for Ernst, she has been ahead in the vast majority of public polls taken in October. FiveThirtyEight gives her a 71 percent chance to win.

But can Republicans hold on to Georgia and Kentucky? The answer, increasingly, looks to be yes.

In Georgia, the FiveThirtyEight model projects that we’re more likely to head to a runoff than not. Still, Republican David Perdue is getting closer to the 50 percent +1 mark, with a projected 49.5 percent of the Election Day vote. We can see why in the latest Marist poll, which shows Perdue at 48 percent, Democrat Michelle Nunn at 44 percent and Libertarian Amanda Swafford at 3 percent.

The key for Perdue is to lead Nunn by more points than the percentage of the vote Swafford receives. Marist shows him doing that. Indeed, Swafford’s percentage of the vote in polls taken over the past week show her vote percentage falling. She averaged just 2.7 percent in polls this week compared to 4.1 percent in polls two weeks ago. Perdue is now favored to win the seat 68 percent of the time.

Finally, in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a 97 percent chance of re-election. Both Marist and PPP have him up 9 percentage points in new polls out this weekend. He has trailed Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in only 1 of 26 public polls since July. His average lead in October polls was 4.9 percentage points. Barring a shocker, this race is over.

If we add up all the states where Republicans lead, they will win eight seats for 53 seats in the next Senate. Sure, Democrats still have chances in Alaska, Colorado, Georgia and Iowa. But the Republican position is holding steady, if not improving, in all the states they need for a majority.

Check out FiveThirtyEight’s latest Senate forecast.


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