March 21st, 2016


senate calculus

Yesterday morning, The Hill published a list of the top ten most competitive Senate seats. This list looks a lot like a bunch of similar lists people have been publishing. But for people like me who are looking for where to contribute money, it's in the wrong order. What I'm looking for is the race that's most likely to be the tipping-point for control of the Senate. If only Republican states were in play, this would be the fifth state on The Hill's list. But some Democratic seats are also at risk. A 40% chance of flipping for a Democratic seat equals a 60% chance of Democratic control, so ordering the states by chance of flipping isn't the same as ranking their chances of winding up in the D column. Plus, once you identify the most-likely tipping-point state, what's the next-most-likely: the one above it, or the one below? Most of these lists don't have Nate Silver-style probabilities on them.

So, to help you decide where to contribute money, my personal assessment of the ten most likely tipping-point states, in order:

  1. Ohio. So likely that my primary vote for President was based on who I thought would have longer coattails here. The candidate himself, Ted Strickland, does not particularly excite me. But he would be the deciding vote for someone like Jane Kelly to fill the next vacancy on the Supreme Court, and generally for anything getting done in Washington for two years.
  2. Pennsylvania. The Senate primary here is not until next month, but Katie McGinty has a good shot at the Democratic nomination. Might be closer than Ohio, or might be less close.
  3. Florida. An open seat that's also likely to be pretty close. Ranked here for now but will likely move up or down once the primaries are over.
  4. New Hampshire. Maggie Hassan has a good enough shot that this is probably around the third most likely to flip, and thus not the tipping-point. But I'll be contributing money here just in case.
  5. Nevada. Catherine Cortez-Masto is favored to keep Harry Reid's seat blue, but of the seats the Democrats are defending this is the most important.
  6. Wisconsin. A rematch of the very close 2010 election under more favorable conditions for the Democrat. Not a slam dunk to flip, but pretty likely.
  7. Illinois. Tammy Duckworth is the Democrats' very best shot for a pickup, and isn't likely to have trouble raising money. A targeted donation strategy could reasonably consider her a sure thing and skip contributing to her. On the other hand, she's just so awesome.
  8. North Carolina. Back to the less-likely side in terms of chances overall. Deborah Ross might well squeak out a win if the Democratic coattails are long, and it's nice to have some insurance.
  9. Missouri. There hasn't been much polling here, but the state makes a lot of top-ten flip lists, usually in a pretty similar position to the spot I'm giving it in mine.
  10. Arizona. This isn't likely to be the tipping-point race, but a serious threat from Ann Kirkpatrick will certainly help the Democrats' chances overall by making the Republicans spread their resources more thinly, so she's getting some money from me.

You may notice a very interesting trend among the candidates I've mentioned. I don't think it's a good idea to leave Ted Strickland off your list because he doesn't fit it. But I'm mightily pleased at the potential makeup of the Senate nonetheless.