This situation will go on past Nov. 4.

Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Five States May Elect a Huge Senate Muddle

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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Americans expect to wake up Nov. 5 and know who won the battle for the Senate. They may be in for a surprise, with up to five seats uncertain.

Republicans need a net win of six seats to take a majority. There are up to 10 races now generally are considered within the margin of error, so any shift, nationally or in those states, could be decisive.

With that caveat, here is a plausible scenario -- not a prediction -- for Election Day: Republicans have slam dunks in Democratic-held seats in West Virginia and Montana, and win close contests in Iowa and Arkansas. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell hangs on in Kentucky. Democrats retain New Hampshire, North Carolina and Colorado. 

That gets Republicans within two of their target. There are runoffs in two states that require a 50 percent majority: Georgia, currently a Republican seat, and Louisiana, a Democratic one. Moreover, the morning after the election, Republican Dan Sullivan is 87 votes ahead of Democratic Senator Mark Begich in Alaska, but with close to 1,000 votes outstanding in the outer reaches; it's a tossup.

However, dashing Republican optimism are two states once considered reliably red: Kansas, where independent Greg Orman defeats unpopular Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, and South Dakota, where a Democrat is retiring, and independent Larry Pressler pulls a stunning upset in a four-way race. Pressler was a Republican senator, who later said he voted for Barack Obama, and ran as a centrist.

It isn't clear whether Orman and/or Pressler would caucus with the Democrats or the Republicans, maybe the highest bidder.

The end result of this scenario: 48 Democratic Senators, 47 Republicans and five uncertainties.

And the politics of November, much of it inside the Beltway, could make October look like a garden party.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R. Hunt at

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at