In my first "prepping" post, I went over which of this year's Senate elections are for "safe," seats, which seats "lean" toward one party or the other, and which are "toss-ups." Now let's look at what has to happen for control of that body to switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.
The TL;DR is that the Republicans have to get a net gain of one seat. The Senate is currently split 50-50 ... sort of. Actually, it's composed of 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and two fake "independents" who are functionally (even to the extent of seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination twice in the case of Bernie Sanders) Democrats and caucus with the Democrats.
In terms of policy, a net gain of one seat wouldn't change that much at the raw final vote level. There are several "moderate" Republican Senators (three that come to mind are Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Susan Collins of Maine) who often vote with the Democrats (or, simply, with the party of the president, whichever party that might be). And there are at least two "moderate" Democrats (Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia) who often vote with the Republicans.
A small net gain also wouldn't change the math of cloture, in recent times used as a poor synonym for "filibuster." It takes 60 votes to move a bill to the floor for a final vote, so only 41 to block that final vote.
What it would change is "leadership" within the body, not just including positions like Majority Leader, but also committee chairmanships (and majorities). Which would mean bills Republicans didn't like wouldn't even make it to, let alone over, the cloture hurdle.
There's a lot of opportunity for gridlock here. Which would be a good thing if that opportunity got seized, but real gridlock doesn't happen much anymore. Instead of shutting down bad things, the majority and minority just trade away good things so that both sides get the bad things they want.
So, a net gain of one seat is required. Of the 35 seats in play, 23 are "safe" -- unlikely to change parties. Of the remaining 12, seven are "likely" to go to the same party they're already held by.
That leaves five seats as "toss-ups."
Two of those seats are currently held by Republicans (Pat Toomey in Pennslyvania, who isn't seeking re-election; and Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, who is).
Three are currently held by Democrats (Mark Kelly of Arizona, Ralph Warnock of Georgia, and Catherine Masto in Nevada -- all are seeking re-election).
If the "safe" seats remain "safe" and the "lean" seats continue to "lean," then the Democrats just have to win their own three "toss-up" states to retain control of the Senate, while the Republicans have to win both of their toss-ups AND one of the Democratic "toss-ups" to get where they want to go.
This looks like harder going for the Republicans than most analysts seem to think, for a couple of reasons:
- In Pennsylvania, the Republicans don't have an incumbent. It's an open seat.
- In Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona, as well as the "leans" states of Ohio and Missouri, "the Trump factor" seems to be working against, not for, Republican victory. That is, Trump himself has endorsed candidates who aren't the "Trumpiest" pleasers of his base, and/or who don't poll the best versus likely Democrats (Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and JD Vance in Ohio); he seems to be leaning toward endorsing the GOP's worst nightmare, Eric Greitens, in Missouri; and he's made it pretty clear that he won't endorse the Republicans' bet bet, Mark Brnovich, in Arizona.
A Greitens nomination in Missouri would move the state at least close to "toss-up" status, and Ohio may already be there. The Republicans are going to have to spend a lot of money just to keep one seat that they otherwise would have won in a walk and another that they wouldn't have likely had too much trouble with.
An Oz nomination in Pennslyvania versus Democratic Lt. Governor John Fetterman will move the state out of "toss-up" territory and into "leans Democratic."
In Arizona, the nomination of anyone but Brnovich on the Republican line moves the race into at least "leans Democratic," and maybe even "safe Democratic."
In Nevada, Masto is not yet "safe," but April polling has her up by eight points versus either likely Republican nominee (Sam Brown or Adam Laxalt), and incumbency will probably bring in the money to keep her in good shape.
In Georgia, Democratic incumbent Ralph Warnock is running behind likely Republican nominee Herschel Walker, but other than having a football name to conjure with, Walker doesn't seem to be a very good candidate, and the same Democratic turnout machine that put Joe Biden and Warnock himself over the top in 2022 will likely be operating on steroids this year.
I'm not ready to make actual predictions yet, but at the moment, it looks like this just may be one of the rare years in which the president's party gains Senate seats.
If the Democrats win only two of their three current seats that are in "toss-up" status -- Arizona and Nevada -- and only one of two currently Republican "toss-up" states (Pennsylvania), the balance of power doesn't change.
If they can also win Georgia or Ohio or Wisconsin (where Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes seems to be polling well against Ron Johnson), they'll gain a seat.
But the election is more than six months out, and six months is forever in politics. I'll probably make my actual predictions in September.