Other observers have noted that two of the seats that are contestable—the Democratic one in Louisiana and the Republican one in Georgia—require a winner to get 50 percent of the overall vote, or they go to a runoff. Louisiana's would be December 3; Georgia's, January 6. Senate control, in other words, could be elusive until three days after the new 114th Senate convenes as scheduled on January 3 (which happens to be a Saturday, so it may be postponed until January 5). If we have runoffs, we can expect an unprecedented flow of outside money in the weeks after Election Day. Keep in mind that North Carolina's Senate contest is likely to hit the $100 million spending mark, most of it dark money. This is a good time to invest in the two states' local television stations. Also, regarding Louisiana and Georgia, keep in mind that turnout in runoff elections is generally low, especially among African Americans. One twist: If the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declines to bring an indictment in the Michael Brown shooting case, that will become a major lever used by Democrats to try to motivate African-American voters.
So there might be 51 Republican seats in the clear on November 5, or in December or January. There might be 52 or even more. But what should not be lost in the shuffle is that we might not have either a stable Republican or Democratic majority but something far more intriguing. The most interesting twist in the election is the strong showing of Greg Orman, running even or (in most polls) ahead as an independent in Kansas against Republican Pat Roberts.
Let's have a little fun. Imagine that Orman wins and joins two others elected as neither Democrats nor Republicans, independents Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Now imagine that the Senate ends up with 50 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and the three who did not get elected as either D's or R's. Sanders almost certainly would continue to caucus with the Democrats—making it 50/48/2. King has said publicly that he is not wedded to continuing to caucus with Democrats—that it would depend on the numbers, and on what he could do for Maine. But King, who is a deep thinker with strong views on many policies and on how government should work and who has decried the deep dysfunction in the Senate, will also have broader objectives than a few narrow things for his state.
What if King and Orman align, and perhaps bring in one or more other senators—Joe Manchin of West Virginia is an obvious one—to form a Centrist Caucus. They go to both party leaders and offer to provide the votes for majority status in return for commitments on a list of policy and process priorities. But there is a twist: If the party that makes the commitments fails to deliver, the Centrist Caucus members will switch to the other side, changing the majority, including all the committee ratios, committee chairs, and so on. And if the other party fails to deliver, they might switch back. I am not sure what would be on their list; it might include Manchin's bipartisan background-check bill, an infrastructure package, corporate or broader tax reform, some spending priorities, maybe immigration. In my wildest dreams, it would include a demand of McConnell that to become majority leader, he would have to bring up meaningful campaign-finance reform, an issue King has championed.