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Mississippi election mess could give Harry Reid another term as Majority Leader

Election mess in Mississippi could cost GOP a chance at Senate majority
Election mess in Mississippi could cost GOP a chance at Senate majority
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

South Carolina's two Republican Senators, Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, seem to be in good shape for getting reelected, according to polling numbers reported today by Real Clear Politics. Scott leads his Democratic opponent by 22 percent, 53 to 31, while Graham leads 49 to 30 percent over his Democratic opponent for November's election. The two South Carolina seats are among the several that Republicans must hold or win in order to have a chance at gaining a majority in the U.S. Senate after this Fall's elections.

After a divisive and controversional primary runoff won by incumbent Senator Thad Cochran, that is being challenged by TEA party backed-candidate Chris McDaniel, the political outlook on the Mississippi Senate seat is anything but settled at this time. Cochran was declared the winner by 7667 votes in the June 24 runoff, but allegations about illegal votes and questionable votes are the cause for McDaniel challenging the primary result.

A survey of Republican voters in Mississippi by Chism Strategies may not be good news for Senator Cochran. That survey of 832 Republican voters revealed 42 percent of them undecided, while 22 perent would vote for Democratic nominee Travis Childers and 21 percent would vote for Cochran. That same poll reveals that 16 percent of Repubicans (which could be almost one third of those who voted for McDaniel in the runoff) said they will not vote at all.

In the 2012 election, just more than 55 percent of Mississippi voters cast their ballots for Mitt Romney while just under 44 percent voted to reelect Barack Obama. Using those numbers as a baseline for the 2014 Senate race between Cochran and Childers, we can estimate that if 16 percent of Republicans abstain from voting in this race, and 22 percent vote for Childers, that would mean Childrers could defeat Cochran by a margin of 61.7 percent to 37.5 percent in November. That shows it only take a small percent of stay-at-home voters and defections for Childers to capture a narrow majority and defeat Cochran. While the anger of McDaniel voters is clearly fueling those poll numbers now, the key will be to see how many of those voters either stay home or vote for Childers if Cochran remains the GOP nominee. At this time, the degree of likely defections from Cochran suggest this seat is a tossup for November.

In the meantime, the senate seat in Kentucky remains quite close, as the Real Clear Politics average of polls gives Mitch McConnell a slim 1.5 point lead over Democrat nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes in the race for the Kentucky senate seat. McConnell first ran in 1984 for this senate seat, and by the end of 2014 he will have served 30 years as senator. McConnell was reelected with just 53 percent of the vote in 2008, and appears to heading for a close victory in his bid for reelection this year.

There are 36 seats up for election in 2014. Among the other 64 seats not up for election in 2014, Democrats hold 34 of them while Republicans hold 30. 25 of the seats up for election are considered likely or safe for either party, which includes 15 seats currently held by Republicans and 10 seats currently held by Democrats. With those seats added, Democrats will have 44 seats (including the two independents that caucus with the Democrats) and Republicans will have 45 seats. The remaining 11 seats will decide which party controls the senate after the 2014 elections.

With renewed polling strength for McConnell, overall the GOP appears at this time to be likely to gain six seats net and have 50 seats next year in the senate, while two of the seats are too close at this time and are rated as toss ups. Below are projections of the 11 seats that will likely decide the which party wins the majority.

The safe or likely seats are as follows:

Republicans: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, both Oklahoma seats, both South Carolina seats, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. In South Dakota, the retirement of Tim Johnson makes that seat a likely Republican gain.

Democrats: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

Adding those seats gives the Democrats 42 seats and the two Independents that caucus with them (total 44 seats) while the Republicans would have 45 total seats. The remaining 11, covered below, will decide which party will hold a majority in the senate after the 2014 election. Democrats need to win at least six of those 10 to hold a majority of the senate with Vice President Joe Biden's tie-breaking vote, or otherwise they need to win just seven of the 11 seats to hold a 51 seat majority.

Alaska: Incumbent Senator Mark Begich is running for reelection and could face one of three possible GOP candidates: 2010 nominee Joe Miller, Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, or Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Recent polls suggest Sullivan, who appears to be the strongest GOP candidate against Begich in hypothetical polls, is also taking the lead in the GOP contest. For now, this one leans Republican.

Arkansas: While this state has turned heavily Republican in the last decade, incumbent Senator Mark Pryor still has a shot at reelection. The GOP nominee, Rep. Tom Cotton, is also running a strong campaign and has attracted strong support in the state and from conservative activists around the country. The polls show this race close, and as of now it leans Republican.

Colorado: Incumbent Senator Mark Udall is favored for reelection but he is likely to be challenged by Republican Cory Gardner. Gardner has cut Udall's lead to within the margin of error in recent polls, and could give the GOP a shot at this seat, but as of now this race leans Democrat.

Iowa: Senator Tom Harkin is retiring, leaving an open race for this seat. Democrats are likely to nominate Rep. Bruce Braley while Republicans nominated Joni Ernst. Braley has a small lead in the polls but Ernst could soon put this seat into play for the GOP. As of now, this race is too close to call and this seat is a toss up.

Kentucky: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is in a tough battle for his seat. McConnell seems to have gained some momentum after soundly defeating Matt Bevin in the primary, and with conservatives and Republicans uniting behind the nominee in the general election against Democrat nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes, this race moves back to leaning Republican.

Louisiana: Senator Mary Landrieu faces a very challenging reelection effort in a state that has turned heavily Republican. Republicans appear to have a contested primary between Rep. Bill Cassidy and retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness. Polls show Cassidy more likely to make the runoff and defeat Landrieu in a close race. This race leans Republican.

Michigan: Incumbent Senator Carl Levin is retiring, leaving Rep. Gary Peters as the likely Democratic nominee to run against Republican Terri Lynn Land. This seat leans Democrat.

Mississippi: This seat moves from likely Republican to tossup due to the messy political situation after the controversional runoff won by Senator Thad Cochran over TEA party supported challenger Chris McDaniel. A recent poll of Repubicans by Chism Strategies suggest that enough Republicans could stay home or vote for Democratic nominee Travis Childers. Until the picture becomes clear in the polls, this seat is a toss up.

Montana: Senator Max Baucus is retiring. Ex-Governor Brian Schweitzer will not be running for the seat, he has chosen to stay in Montana rather than go to Washington D.C. This race will be Democrat John Walsh running against Republican Steve Daines. As of now, this one leans Republican.

North Carolina: Senatior Kay Hagan is one of the most vulnerable incumbents for 2014, but the Republicans have a long list of potential candidates at this point. Thom Tillis won the GOP primary earlier this year, and will face off against Kay Hagan in November. Polling shows Hagan holding on to a small lead, three percent in the RCP average of polls. This seat lean Democrat.

New Hampshire: The voters in this state had elected Democratic majorities in both house of the state legislature in 2008 and turned both over to the Republicans in 2010. Democrats made substantial gains in 2012 while President Obama carried the state. While Republicans could make a come-back in 2014 much like they did in 2010, Senator Jeanne Shaheen seems to have sufficient popularity to win reelection. The likely Republican candidate appears to be former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. Brown seems to the heavy favorite to win the primary, and probably lose in November to Shaheen. As of now, this one leans Democrat.

Among those ten seats, as projected above, Democrats would win four of them while Republicans would win five. In total, this would leave the senate projected with 48 Democrats (including the two Independents that caucus with them), 50 Republicans, and two seats too close to call projected now as toss ups.

The Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi senate races in 2014 could decide which party controls the senate after the election. If the GOP wins all four, they would have a shot at least 50 seats and in need of winning just one more to obtain a majority.

But the GOP could still fail to win the majority. Remember, most predictions in 2012 had the GOP winning the Montana and North Dakota seats, and Democrats pulled off upsets to win them both. In 2014, the races in Montana and South Dakota repeat that result, which would give Democrats two more seats and a shot at holding the majority with 51 seats. But those upsets were part of the voting turnout momentum that helped drive the 2012 results, and in this mid-term election in 2014, where low turnout is very possible, it is unlikely that such a pair of upsets will happen again.

At this time, Republicans seem likely to come out of the 2014 election with 50 seats. If the Republicans fail to reach 51 seats, and lose the Mississippi seat to Democratic nominee Travis Childers because some Republican voters stay home or vote against Thad Cochran, then clearly the political mess in Mississippi could give Majority Leader Harry Reid another term running the United States Senate.

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