There are a lot of unknowns with the midterm elections, most of which will be resolved shortly after everyone votes on November 5. We don’t currently know if Democrats can keep up their Get Out the Vote efforts without Obama on the ballot, the extent to which red state voters will turn out against incumbent Democratic Senators, or what decisions the fabled undecided voters will make. But we’ll have a much better idea immediately after the election.
However, there’s one important thing we might not know for some time. It’s entirely possible in a few months that we’ll know the results of the November 5 elections, but not which party has control of the Senate. This has nothing to do with potential legal battles when the results in a particular state are very close. A fun detail about the 2014 Senate elections is that there are competitive races in two states, Georgia and Louisiana, that offer General Election runoffs if no candidate gets fifty percent of the vote in November.
Louisiana may be the most likely state to have a runoff since they don’t have a standard primary. The November 5 election is a jungle primary. If no one candidate gets fifty percent, there will be a race between the top two in December. Currently multiple members of the GOP are running. The most prominent Republican is Congressman Bill Cassidy. State Representative Paul Hollis–the only other officeholder in the race–dropped out, although Air Force Colonel Rob Maness is still in the race with the backing of Sarah Palin, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Tea Party express. Cassidy’s chances of winning an outright majority in the first go-around are pretty low, so a runoff is simply more likely than not.
Georgia has decided on its nominees for the major parties, but it has still has a runoff system where third party candidates can play a role. The polls are relatively close, with two first-time candidates who might have serious gaffes making it even tougher to predict. Republican businessman David Perdue is likely the favorite, but he might end up saying something stupid on October 10 that turns a ten point lead into a statistical tie. There is precedent for the libertarian to get enough votes to keep Perdue or Nunn from getting an outright majority in November. In the Virginia gubernatorial election, Terry McAulliffe got 47.5% to Ken Cuccinelli’s 45.2%, which would send a race in Georgia to a runoff. In 2008, Chambliss got 49.8% in the General, to Democrat Jim Martin’s 46.8%, which also necessitated a runoff.
In order to get a majority, Republicans need to pick up a total of six Senate seats. If Georgia goes to a runoff, they’d have to make up for that and flip a total of seven seats in order to be guaranteed control of the Senate. Right now the party is overwhelmingly favored in open elections in West Virginia and South Dakota, as well as against an appointed Senator with a plagiarism scandal in Montana. The party is competitive against incumbents in North Carolina, Colorado, Alaska and Arkansas, as well as in open elections in Iowa and Michigan.
If Republicans gain five or six Senate seats, but Georgia and Louisiana go to runoff, this would mean that control of the Senate comes down to two elections in December. Which would lead to an insane amount of campaigning.
Runoffs tend to be low turnout affairs, so Republicans would be favored. I doubt that they would relax, or that the media would keep things in perspective. For one thing, there would still be the possibility of Democratic victories. And it would give an excuse for several weeks of more horse race coverage.