As a long campaign season draws to an end, Republicans are on the cusp of winning Senate control, while Democrats are girding for what could be a “bad, long night.”

“It seems like the late-breakers are not headed in the right direction,” admitted Democratic strategist Achim Bergmann, noting Iowa and Colorado in particular as troubling states for Democrats.


Recent nationwide polling has shown Republicans taking young voters and eating into Democrats’ historical advantage with women. The party has invested more than $60 million in turnout efforts to try to offset expected drop-offs in key Democratic constituencies, but Republicans have made commensurate investments in their own get-out-the-vote operations.

What’s more, President Obama’s approval rating stands at just 42 percent nationwide, according to the most recent Gallup average. That’s enough, Bergmann said, to make the mood in his office of Democratic operatives “very dark.” 

The simple math is what’s making things so grim for Democrats. 

To hold onto the Senate, they’d have to enjoy a near-perfect night, with all of their toss-up races — and even some where they’re down in the polls — breaking in their direction. 

Republicans are all but certain to win open, Democratic-held seats in West Virginia and Montana. They’re also favored in South Dakota, where former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) has regained a solid lead despite a late play from Democrats to make it competitive.

The GOP also has the edge in Arkansas, where Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Medicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation MORE (D), despite running a strong campaign, looks likely to fall victim to an unfavorable climate and challenger Rep. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSchiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  GOP senator provides fidget spinners to Senate colleagues at lunch MORE (R). Polling has largely given Republican Dan Sullivan a lead over Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska political mess has legislators divided over meeting place Former GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lobbying world MORE (D) in Alaska, though operatives from both parties warn the state is notoriously tough to poll.

From there, Republicans need only one more seat to take back the Senate. Public surveys and early vote numbers have them most optimistic in two blue-leaning swing states: Colorado and Iowa.

Colorado Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallDemocrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE (D) has trailed his GOP challenger, Rep. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDemocrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum MORE, in every recent poll, and his campaign admits its own internals show him tied. Democrats insist their vaunted ground game will drive Udall to a win on Election Day, but the early vote suggests Republicans are keeping pace. As of Saturday, the GOP held an advantage of 8 percentage points in ballots cast. 

Colorado is a key test of whether one of Democrats’ primary attacks on Republicans — the accusation that the GOP is engaged in a “war on women,” which includes positions on contraception and equal pay — still holds water. Early evidence, including Udall’s slimmer-than-expected advantage among women, suggests the attack could be losing some of its potency.

In Iowa, state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) holds a slight lead over Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell Braley2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster OPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward MORE (D) in most polls, though Braley has closed the gap in recent weeks. Republicans are enthusiastic about early voting numbers there, too: the party has narrowed Democrats’ lead from 2010, and is pledging a massive get-out-the-vote effort on Election Day.

“It’s been a strong showing from [national Republicans] organizationally, and Joni Ernst has been a great candidate,” said Iowa GOP spokesman Jahan Wilcox. 

The Hawkeye State is one where late-breaking news events could sway the electorate. Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinTrump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer New Hampshire parochialism, not whiteness, bedevils Democrats Democrats must question possible political surveillance MORE’s (D) comments that voters shouldn’t be fooled by the fact Ernst is “really attractive and she sounds nice,” which went public on Sunday night, further fueled the personality battle Republicans hope the race will be decided on.

Some Republicans are even cautiously hoping for their party to end the night, or at least the cycle, with 54 seats, as both New Hampshire and North Carolina, initially seen as likely Democratic holds, have tightened over the past week.

“We just kinda hit what we hit or we’re gonna hit a lot more,” said Republican pollster Glen Bolger.

Republican challengers have repeatedly hammered Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne Shaheen2020 forecast: A House switch, a slimmer Senate for GOP — and a bigger win for Trump Lewandowski decides against Senate bid Biden would consider Republican for VP 'but I can't think of one right now' MORE (D-N.H.) and Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganGOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems shift strategy on impeachment vote MORE (D-N.C.) on national security in the final months of the campaign, looking to harness a pervasive sense of fear that’s gripped the electorate due to the proliferation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the spread of Ebola.

North Carolina early voting, however, looks good for Democrats: they have a nearly 16-point advantage in ballots already cast. Republicans say they’re still well positioned to win, however, noting they faced a serious deficit in the early vote in 2012 but that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney ultimately won the state by 2 points.

A few remaining election night wild cards could make Senate control an open question well into Wednesday morning, or even months after that.

Louisiana is expected to head to a runoff, but Republicans say they are optimistic that the red lean of the state has become too much for Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuA decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ MORE (D) to overcome, and are already counting it as a win for GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy.

Both parties admit Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes’s highly touted challenge to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators MORE (R-Ky.) looks likely to fizzle on election night. 

National Democrats are insisting early vote totals paint a rosier picture for them than most prognosticators’ predictions, but they’ll only go so far as to predict the party will break even on election night.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky said the party “remains competitive in enough races that we are positioned to hold the majority.”

“Early vote statistics across the country are proving that D.C. conventional wisdom is wrong, and there’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for voting and voting for Democrats,” he said.

Republicans, meanwhile, are still sweating outcomes in two states they hold: Georgia and Kansas.

In the Peach State, Democrat Michelle Nunn has kept the race tight by hammering Republican David Perdue over his business career and outsourcing. Public polling suggests the race could be heading to a January runoff.

Still, Republicans say they’ve seen numbers moving in their direction over the past few days, and that Perdue could have a shot at winning on election night.

In Kansas, Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSenate fails to get deal to speed up fight over impeachment rules Juan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump Senate GOP hopes to move new NAFTA deal before impeachment trial MORE (R) trails independent Greg Orman, most recently by 2 percentage points in a Fox News poll released on Friday, which suggest he’s struggling to shore up his base and has never fully recovered from self-inflicted wounds. 

Despite the myriad surrogates that have gone to bat for Roberts and the millions Republicans have spent over the past month hammering Orman as a closet Democrat, private GOP polling has shown Roberts down about a point in the past week as well.

Pollster Bolger and others in both parties admit there may be surprises on election night, in part because this is a midterm with record-breaking levels of outside spending and wall-to-wall advertising that’s muddied the message for both parties.

“A lot of candidates don’t have a clear advantage,” Bolger said. “There’s so much being said on both sides that the voters are really kind of uncertain.”