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South Dakota Blackout and Wisconsin Showdown

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Here's a recap of the race for a Senate majority, with a few other campaign 2014 items from the last several days. Remember, Election Day is 10 days away, but millions of people have already voted.

1. First, the Senate majority question. The outlook continues to hover between "leans toward Republicans" and "toss-up, slight edge to Republicans." As has been the case for a few weeks, only the Washington Post/Monkey Cage model is confident that Republicans will get 51 or more seats; the others range from a 50 percent chance to a 70 percent chance of a Republican majority. The big changes recently were solidified Republican leads in several states, most notably Colorado, and Democrat Michelle Nunn's real (but small) lead in Georgia.

2. Speaking of Georgia: that race is probably headed to a runoff. Drew Linzer's system at Daily Kos estimates a 61 percent chance this one goes to overtime. The runoff wouldn't be until January -- and if there's also a runoff in the gubernatorial election, it would be be held separately, in December. Who would win? That's well beyond the capacity of any forecasting model, or even any on-the-ground reporting. We're talking about the effects of two extra months of electioneering, all sorts of unpredictable changes in turnout and unknown changes in the national political environment. Normally, those things would have very small effects. But if it goes to a runoff that necessarily means the initial margin of victory wasn't large, so small effects will matter.

3. South Dakota continues to be a huge wild card. An internal poll released this week gives Mike Rounds, the Republican nominee, a commanding lead. But it's been 19 days since the last nonpartisan survey, which shows Rounds leading but in a tight race with both independent Larry Pressler and Democrat Rick Weiland. Multicandidate races can be very volatile, so it's possible that Rounds has surged ahead. But I'd like to have confirmation of that. I watched some of the South Dakota Senate debate last night; I hadn't realized that the fourth candidate, independent Gordon Howie, is basically running as a Tea Partyer. He probably doesn't have enough money to get very far, but to the extent Republican voters know about him, he could very well take a few ticks away from Rounds. I'll be looking for new numbers on this one.

4. I don't talk enough about governor elections, and this is a very good year for those who like close ones. I count seven states where the HuffPollster estimate has the lead at two percentage points or less, and another six where the lead is three, four or five points. That's a lot of uncertainty with less than two weeks to go. As Jonathan Chait discussed yesterday, the context in gubernatorial elections (mostly every four years, last election in Republican 2010) is very different than for Senate races (every six years, last time in Democratic 2008). Although we're relatively certain of solid Republican gains in the Senate -- the only question is how many seats -- the statehouses are still up for grabs.

5. The gubernatorial race with the most wide-reaching consequences might be in Wisconsin, where incumbent Republican Scott Walker appears to be in a dead heat with Democrat Mary Burke. For starters, a Walker defeat would end his 2016 presidential campaign. But beyond the effects on state policy, a Walker loss might also be a signal to other Republican governors about the dangers of extremism in a swing state. A Walker win, however, would solidify the idea that the risks of implementing a strong conservative platform are overrated. Mind you, drawing any serious lesson from the difference between a 51/49 win and a 49/51 loss would be silly ... but that's exactly how politicians "learn" things.

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:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net