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Runoffs Could Delay Answer Of Senate Control After Election


A week from today, election results will be pouring in. We'll know which party has won control of the U.S. Senate - or maybe not. We're going to begin this hour with Politics, and first to NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: Let's start with that uncertainty. It looks like next Tuesday could, in fact, be inconclusive, so explain why.

ELVING: Even without recounts, Robert, we could have overtime. And we could have that for a couple of reasons. First of all, in Louisiana, what they're having on the fourth of November is not actually an election. Technically, it's an open primary. You know they tend to make their own rules down there. And Mary Landrieu, longtime incumbent, and Bill Cassidy, congressman from Baton Rouge and a doctor, are the leading candidates. And they'll finish 1-2, 2-1. But there are a raft of other candidates, and that's because it's an open primary. And so it's quite possible neither Landrieu nor Cassidy will win an outright majority. And that means a runoff in December.

SIEGEL: That, of course, is a Democratic seat for now - Landrieu, the Democratic incumbent. We've also seen runoff elections for the Senate several times in Georgia.

ELVING: That's right. And this is an open seat race between David Perdue and Michelle Nunn. Now it's been a Republican seat, belonging to Saxby Chambliss. He retired. David Perdue is the Republican nominee. Michelle Nunn, who is the daughter of the famed Senator Sam Nunn, is the Democratic nominee. But there's also a Libertarian candidate. And we could very well see a runoff scenario here, too, if neither candidate - or none of the three - gets 50 percent plus one.

SIEGEL: That's the rule in Georgia?

ELVING: That is the rule in Georgia. And we have seen several of these runoffs in the past. Usually - in fact, in every case that I'm aware of - the last 5 - won by the Republican candidate. That runoff would not happen, Robert, until January the sixth. That's the week the Senate is supposed to be getting sworn in and organized.

SIEGEL: So Mary Landrieu, Michelle Nunn, our two candidates who could be key to the Democrats' chances of holding the Senate. But there are also some other women, all running in states in the Eastern time zone - New Hampshire and North Carolina.

ELVING: And in Kentucky the Democrats have nominated Alison Lundergan Grimes as their challenger to Mitch McConnell, who would, of course, be the Republican majority leader should they take over the Senate. And if these women -these five women - are losing then the Republicans are well on their way to a sizable majority in the Senate because the Democrats are in even more trouble in the West. Over all, the Republicans have good prospects of winning half a dozen seats that had been Democratic seats west of the Mississippi - Arkansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Colorado, Montana and Alaska. And by the way, Alaska could go well into the next day as we watch that one, if it's a cliffhanger.

SIEGEL: Let's also touch, though, on independent candidates. And at least one of them has a real chance next week.

ELVING: Yes, one more source of uncertainty - there have been strong independent bids in several states. But right now, that one that you mentioned is Greg Orman in Kansas. He's still running even with longtime incumbent Republican Pat Roberts in a race that has no Democratic nominee. And if elected, Orman would add some further suspense because he has refused to say which party he would caucus with.

SIEGEL: So how much chance is there that the Senate would really still be up for grabs with these runoffs and other issues. And what are we really expecting to see next week?

ELVING: All the people who run computer models on this for a living are saying the Republicans are going to pick up seven or eight or even more and maybe give back one or two. So all these models show very high probability of a Republican takeover. And that is what we would expect particularly in the second midterm of a presidency. When a president gets two terms, the second midterm has been particularly rough on him. Also, most of these toss-up states are states that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. And they're states where President Obama's approval is below his national average and well below 40 percent.

SIEGEL: We should point out, though, that the Republicans - to win a majority -have to win 51 seats in the Senate. The Democrats only need 50.

ELVING: That's because Joe Biden would break the tie as the president of the Senate, which is one of those jobs that goes to the vice president of the United States. And I think we all know what party Joe Biden belongs to.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) OK. NPR's Ron Elving. Thank you.

ELVING: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.