When We May Know Who Wins the Senate

A few key poll closings and early calls could give early indications as to which party has the best chance of ultimately controlling the U.S. Senate.

This story contains corrected material, published Oct. 29, 2014

After spending much of the past week "playing with maps and clocks and abacuses," "With All Due Respect" hosts Mark Halperin and John Heilemann have concluded a couple of things about what may transpire on Election Day.  First, the chance that we'll know on Nov. 4 whether Republicans have actually won a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate is quite small. Second, the Democrats' shot of holding on to their Senate majority is better than most analysts are forecasting. 

Here's a recap on how the hosts reached those conclusions. 

Clock Watching

"We think about election night in terms of the overall map usually but another way to start thinking about it for everybody is the clock," Halperin said. "Because the poll closings are when races can be projected; when, in theory, the voting stops." 

"So we start in the contested Senate races. Georgia, 7 Eastern time," Halperin continued. "Two states we care about, Georgia and New Hampshire. Georgia, everybody agrees, almost certainly going into a runoff."

"New Hampshire also closes at seven," Halperin added. "Some Republicans we talk to say Scott Brown has closed the race, but Jeanne Shaheen is likely to win it. At this point so for the sake of our exercise here, lets assume Democrats hold that and lets assume that at 7:30, when North Carolina closes, Kay Hagan holds it." 

"Kansas at 8:00 is another poll closing we care about ... let's push it to the Republicans," Halperin said. "Democrats might win it, but lets push it that way." 

If those predictions were to hold, and Kansas independent candidate Greg Orman did indeed defeat Republican Senator Pat Roberts, the both Heilemann and Halperin pointed out that at this juncture on Nov. 4, the GOP would have yet to narrow the number of pickups it needs to take control of the Senate.  

"For the sake of argument West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota, those seem pretty safe [for the GOP] at this point," Halperin said.

"The magic number is now 3," Heilemann added. 

By the time Arkansas' polls close at 8:30, the hosts predicted the state will have broken for Republican Tom Cotton, bringing them just two seats away from a Senate takeover.

"Let's say they [Republicans] get Colorado," Halperin posited. 

"Now it's one," said Heilemann. 

"At 9 p.m., Louisiana is almost certainly another one going into overtime, even more likely than Georgia to go into overtime." 

"Let’s give them [Republicans] Iowa at 10 o'clock, and let’s give them Alaska at midnight Eastern time," Halperin predicted. 

"Which means they got one more than they need," Heilemann said. "And they are home."

"But, you got two overtimes right. You have the Louisiana overtime, the Democratic held seat, and you got Georgia. So if we give them, if we give the Republicans beside those two eastern ones, we let the Democrats hold, if we give them everything else and none of these go into overtime, not because of a runoff but because there is a recount or questions about the balloting, lawyers, lawsuits, etc., then they're plus seven and then they can afford to lose Georgia in the runoff, and then we know that night."

"Even if they [Republicans] are plus six, we will not know that night, assuming Georgia goes to a runoff," Heilemann said. "In fact, the situation is, in some ways, even more favorable for Democrats in this regard, in terms of knowing that night, we haven't talked about Kentucky. Kentucky is a race Democrats could win. Michelle Nun could break 50 percent in Georgia."

Republican Tsunami Alert

Halperin also cautioned that if early races that the hosts had predicted would go in the Democrats' column broke Republican early, it could be a sign of a GOP rout. 

"Now look, if those early poll closings in New Hampshire and North Carolina, if one or both of those goes to the Republicans, then it's pretty clear that there's a national tide and they could be plus eight, plus nine by the end of the night, Georgia wouldn't matter," Halperin said. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled the first name of Senator Jeanne Shaheen.