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Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave

Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave
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A dozen U.S. Senate races are within the margin of error, with two theories on how they will shake out: voters split pretty much evenly, or in the final two weeks go against the incumbents.

Either way, it's bad news for Republicans.

Currently the Republicans hold a 53-47 advantage. Based on the reliable Cook Report and Inside Elections analyses, the polls, and talks with political strategists in states as well as gut instincts formed over decades of reporting on elections, the probable outcome — I think — ranges from Democrats picking up a net of three or four seats to gaining seven or eight. Either way, they’re likely to take control.

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Both sides generally acknowledge three seats will flip: Republicans will likely take back the seat in deep red Alabama that Democrat Doug Jones won in a special election three years ago, and strong Democratic candidates will likely unseat Republican Colorado Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerHillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities Democrats vent to Schumer over Senate majority failure MORE and Republican Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTrump nominee's long road to Fed may be dead end McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol McSally's final floor speech: 'I gave it my all, and I left it all on the field' MORE in Arizona.

There then are ten competitive seats, all held by Republicans, except in Michigan where incumbent Democrat Gary PetersGary PetersLeadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns Hillicon Valley: Peters criticizes deficient healthcare cybersecurity investment | Apple defends delay of data privacy feature | Children groups warn about Parler Peters criticizes Trump for not taking action after cyberattacks on hospitals, COVID-19 researchers MORE is facing a tougher-than-expected challenge. Do the math: If they divide evenly, Democrats gain four seats; in a wave — with Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE winning the presidential race by double digits — it's more like seven.

The ten battleground races are geographically diverse: four in the South, two in the West, three in the Midwest and one in New England. In three or four of them, Democrats have a small lead; in about the same number, Republicans have a slight advantage, and there are several genuine toss-ups. (Texas and Kentucky are real long-shot Democratic takeovers)

Unique factors are at play. Two of the races are in Georgia, one to fill a seat vacated by a Republican for health reasons. Under state law if a candidate doesn't get 50 percent, there is a run-off between the top two finishers. That would be held Jan. 5.

Since both could go to a run-off, it's possible — though not likely — that control of the Senate won't be clear until two months after the November election.

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Maine, where veteran Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTeam Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Hogan 'embarrassed that more people' in the GOP 'aren't speaking up' against Trump MORE is slightly trailing Democrat Sara Gideon, a leader of the state legislature, there are two minor candidates on the ballot, one a left winger the other a Trumpite. The state has ranked voting, where citizens get to select their subsequent preferences too. If no candidate gets 50 percent, the outcome is settled by the ranked voting choices.

In 2018, Democratic congressional candidate Jared Golden finished behind a Republican incumbent on election day — but won when the second choices were counted.

If it comes to that, most analysis suggests it would favor Gideon.

Unfolding developments also could affect outcomes.

In North Carolina, Democratic state legislator and veteran Cal Cunningham has held a steady lead over undistinguished Republican incumbent Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTeam Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection North Carolina's Mark Walker expected to announce Senate bid MORE. A few weeks ago, however, an expose revealed that Cunningham, a married father of two, was sexting with another woman. Polls suggest — for now — that the Democrat remains in the lead.

In Michigan, Republican John James, a veteran and a businessman is trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Gary Peters. Democrats insist the race isn't that close. It might be even less close after a report last weekend that linked a James campaign contributor to a right-wing militia rally where the conspirators recently accused of plotting to kidnap the Michigan Governor allegedly recruited.

In Iowa, incumbent Republican Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Memo: Trump plows ahead with efforts to overturn election More conservatives break with Trump over election claims Peggy Noonan: 'Bogus dispute' by Trump 'doing real damage' MORE, already trailing Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield, stumbled badly last week when she couldn't identify the price of soybeans.

Democrats are fighting lots of history in two red states. Over the past 40 years, Alaska has only had one single-term Democratic Senator, who defeated the late Ted Stevens who was under indictment at the time. (The case was thrown out after the election.). Kansas last elected a Democrat to the Senate in 1932. But Al Gross in Alaska and Barbara Bollier in Kansas are good candidates and are hauling in huge amounts of campaign contributions. In a wave election, they could win.

The most extraordinary money story in this — and maybe any — Senate election is Jamie Harrison, an African-American former South Carolina state Democratic Party chair, who raised $57 million in the last three months, in his bid to defeat Republican incumbent Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMedia and Hollywood should stop their marching-to-Georgia talk Hackers love a bad transition The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump campaign files for Wis. recount l Secretaries of state fume at Trump allegations l Biden angered over transition delay MORE.

Graham was considered invincible when he was a charming independent-minded John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDemocrats' squabbling vindicates Biden non-campaign McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol Palin responds to Obama: 'He is a purveyor of untruths' MORE acolyte; over the last two years, he has become more of a snarling, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE loyalist. Republicans believe the Supreme Court nomination of right-wing judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettAlito to far-right litigants: The buffet is open Hispanics shock Democrats in deep blue California COVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries MORE, popular in South Carolina, will save Graham, who’s chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and thus got a bunch of free air time to perform during Barret’s confirmation hearing.

A model for this national election might be 1980.

Two weeks out, Republicans were poised to pick up a half dozen Senate seats and enhance their minority status. The Reagan wave hit, and they won a dozen seats and control of the Senate for the first time in a quarter century.

The difference is this time, it might be the Democrats.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.