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A Week From Election Day, Democrats Have Many Paths To A Senate Majority

Voters cast their votes at an early voting center in Miami, Fla.
Joe Raedle
Getty Images
Voters cast their votes at an early voting center in Miami, Fla.

A week away from Election Day, Democrats still have multiple paths to winning back the Senate. Meanwhile, Republicans are hoping that new revelations about possible new Hillary Clinton emails related to her private server can only bolster the "check and balance" argument they need to make for voters to separate their GOP candidates from the top of the ticket.

Overall, the Senate landscape looks largely unchanged from a week ago. Illinois is all but gone — made worse by a cringe-worthy gaffe from Sen. Mark Kirk. Wisconsin could be tighter than once thought, though Democratics still have an edge.

The next four races are coin-flips in terms of which outranks the other by likelihood to flip party. Arguments could be made for putting them in multiple orders. Pennsylvania and New Hampshire remain toss-ups in the truest sense of the word, and if Donald Trump can improve his standing in those states by even a few points, not even necessarily winning, GOP incumbents could survive. Republican chances are looking better in Indiana as well, though strategists are increasingly sour on their chances in Missouri, North Carolina and Nevada. However, if the email news for Clinton worsens, those could begin to look brighter for Republicans.

So while there are still multiple calculations for Democrats to get the five seats they need to flip control (or four if Clinton wins the White House), it's by no means a done deal. If these closest races break the Republicans' way, they could indeed hang onto the upper chamber. But they really need almost everything to go right for them in order for that to happen.

Here were our rankings a week ago. The biggest changes: Indiana drops three slots, as former Sen. Evan Bayh (D) has had a bad October; Missouri moves up a couple spots, as incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt hasn't run the kind of race he's needed to against a strong Democratic fresh-face contender. Really, there are only eight races that will likely decide control of the Senate. And amazingly, races in Ohio and Florida aren't among them.

Here's where we see the races now:

1. Illinois (R-Mark Kirk) Previous rank: 1

Realistically, this one was already lost for Republicans. But any lingering hopes were dashed when Kirk made a damaging, puzzling jab at his opponent, Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, in their debate last week, calling into question the wounded Iraq veteran's heritage and military service. Now the only question is how big will Duckworth's margin be.

2. Wisconsin (R-Ron Johnson) Previous rank: 2

Republicans still see some signs of life here, and Democrats have some lingering worries, evidenced by a new $2 million investment by the Senate Majority PAC. It's likely just an insurance policy, but this one hasn't been completely put away by former Sen. Russ Feingold either as Democrats had hoped.

3. Pennsylvania (R-Pat Toomey) Previous rank: 4

The trend line isn't good for Republicans here. This is the most expensive race this cycle, with candidates and outside groups spending spending over $113 million. It's a pricey race each party badly needs in their column, and more importantly for Toomey, it looks like one where Trump isn't going to do well at all.

4. Missouri (R-Roy Blunt) Previous rank: 6

Polls are finally showing what Republicans have feared for weeks now — this one is not looking good for them. "I think it's done, gone," said one Republican tracking Senate races. Blunt has run exactly the wrong type of campaign in a year where the electorate is hungry for outsider candidates, and Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) has been that type of candidate in a relatable, appealing way. The one hope is that with the new concerns over Clinton's emails, conservative and independent voters could think twice about sending a Democrat to Washington.

5. Indiana (Open, R-Dan Coats is retiring) Previous rank: 3

Polls are moving in the wrong direction for former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, whose once double-digit lead has now completely evaporated. Trump is expected to win here easily, which will help GOP Rep. Todd Young, too. There have been too many questions about Bayh's lobbyist ties and his real ties to Indiana since he left office six years ago. Young's finances have come under scrutiny in the final week, which could damage his some in the final stretch, though.

6. New Hampshire (R-Kelly Ayotte) Previous rank: 5 This race remains tight, but Republicans don't feel super optimistic here either while Democrats do. Both Ayotte and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan have remained relatively favorable in voters' minds. But the question here — as in so many other races — is how much can Ayotte outperform Trump atop the ticket.

7. North Carolina (R-Richard Burr) Previous rank: 7

The headlines you don't want a week out from Election Day are that you joked about the Democratic presidential nominee getting shot, but that's exactly what Burr faces. The Republican incumbent has since apologized for remarks he made to campaign volunteers that he saw a rifle magazine in a gun shop with Clinton's photo and was "shocked" that "it didn't have a bull's eye on it." Early voting looks good in the Tar Heel State for demographics and areas that former state Rep. Deborah Ross needs to win.

8. Nevada (Open, D-Harry Reid) Previous rank: 8

For months, this had been the lone bright spot for Republicans, as they dreamed about taking over the Senate Minority Leader's seat. But early voting also doesn't portend well for Republicans here, and even as strong a candidate as GOP Rep. Joe Heck may not be able to swim against the tide. National GOP strategists don't feel great about this one any longer.

9. Florida (R-Marco Rubio) Previous rank: 9

The GOP senator can absolutely outperform Trump here, and the race may seem closer than it really is. Senate Majority PAC has put in some money again to help Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy amid grumbling that they were letting a possible 2020 presidential candidate and a Republican rising star skate through. But in the expensive Sunshine State, it's a drop in the bucket.

10. Arizona (R-John McCain) Previous rank: 10

The gap between the first nine contests and this one is huge. Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick will benefit from the Clinton campaign's focus on this unexpected swing state, but McCain should have no trouble defeating her.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: October 31, 2016 at 11:00 PM CDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Republicans have an edge in the Wisconsin Senate race. Democrats have the edge.
Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politicsand is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.
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