Brent Budowsky: Senate shaping up 50-50

Brent Budowsky: Senate shaping up 50-50
© Greg Nash

When the new Senate convenes next year, the most influential person on Capitol Hill could be Greg Orman, the independent candidate for senator from Kansas, who I predict today will be elected in November.

This is the second major Senate call I have made this year. The first, several weeks ago, is that Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan10 under-the-radar races to watch in November The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate MORE (D-N.C.) will be reelected. The Orman advantage is based on two factors, one statewide and one national.


The statewide factor that gives Orman the edge is the major backlash against rightist Republican overreach from Kansas voters. 

The national factor is that Orman embodies independence from a political system so repellent to Americans that unfavorable numbers for Congress continue to rise above 80 percent, according to polling summaries from Real Clear Politics.

There are so many razor-thin Senate races that confident predictions of which party holds Senate control are, to paraphrase a line from Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown,” wind from a duck’s derriere. My best estimate today, which could change tomorrow, based on events, is that the next Senate will be divided 50-50 with independent Sen.-elect Orman deciding control. In this scenario, as Kansas goes, so goes the nation. Orman’s leverage to demand Senate reforms could be earthshaking.

I have great respect for statistical analysts, such as Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, but believe most of them are overestimating GOP chances in their calculations.

Every day more voters shift from landline phones to cellphones, which leads most polls to underestimate Democratic strength. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under executive director Guy Cecil has devoted vast resources to getting out the vote, which reduces the Republican advantage among likely voters. Groups such as Senate Majority PAC have done a superb job raising and deploying campaign funds to offset the GOP advantage of Charles and David Koch and others, with continuing impact through Election Day.

North Carolina has moved toward Hagan. Michigan has moved toward Rep. Gary Peters (D). Kansas has moved toward Orman. The new Senate poll chart from Real Clear Politics lists three polls from Sunday and Monday showing Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell BraleyThe Memo: Trump attacks on Harris risk backfiring 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster OPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP MORE (D-Iowa) as virtually even with GOP candidate Joni Ernst in a race I would call dead even. And I like the reelection chances of Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallHickenlooper ousts Gardner in Colorado, handing Democrats vital pickup Live updates: Democrats fight to take control of the Senate The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE (D-Colo.), who was up 3 points in one recent poll.

Most statistical analysts and insider pundits miss significant qualitative factors that will have increasing influence in the coming weeks.

Obviously President Obama’s unpopularity hurts Democrats. But Republican hatred of Obama does not a Senate majority make. Right-wing anger, vindictiveness, dog whistles and derision do not create one job, make life better for one woman or make one American town safer. Serious and concerned voters want more, which is why the GOP wave has not materialized and so many Southern and red-state Democrats are still standing after a year of onslaughts, attacks and, at times, flat-out lies arrayed by the armies of the right against them.

Many Democrats running in 2014 come from storied and highly respected Democratic families; names such as Udall, Nunn, Pryor, Landrieu and Begich have built generations of good will and great reputation.

Michelle Nunn, who I call Georgia’s point of light, comes from a revered political family with a reputation built through leadership of the Points of Light Foundation that was the pride of former President George H.W. Bush.

Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE (D) is a fighter from a fabled Louisiana family that has spent generations helping voters from all walks of life across the Bayou State. If she faces a December runoff, it will be a neck-and-neck battle to behold in which the Democratic base will rise to vote for the incumbent, with an outcome that might not be known until Christmas Eve.

Meanwhile, while insiders are obsessed with the Obama drag, the cavalry for Democrats is coming, in the name of the Clintons. Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonObama: 'Hopeless' to try to sell as many books as Michelle Dow breaks 30,000 for first time as Biden transition ramps up Trump's remaking of the judicial system MORE’s barnstorming in Arkansas will give Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorCotton glides to reelection in Arkansas Live updates: Democrats fight to take control of the Senate Lobbying world MORE (D) a lift. Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFederal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work Biden soars as leader of the free world Intercept DC bureau chief says Biden picks are 'same people' from Obama years MORE have been promoting Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) in her race against Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight MORE (R-Ky.). Grimes recently pulled ahead of the Senate minority leader in a Louisville Courier-Journal poll, which may or may not be an outlier in a race that will be closer than statisticians suggest.

Similarly, while Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Alaska group backing independent candidate appears linked to Democrats Sullivan wins Alaska Senate GOP primary MORE (D) remains an underdog, he will outperform current Alaska polls, which are notoriously unreliable, and will benefit from the largest get-out-the-vote organization in the state’s history.

The evidence does not suggest a GOP wave. It suggests a thoughtful and volatile electorate, with competing trends in different races.

Fasten your seat belts. Don’t be surprised if the next Senate ends up 50-50, with high drama and control decided by cliffhanger talks in the corridors of the Capitol.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.