Should Joe Biden become president, he won’t get much done if the Senate remains in Republican hands. As of this morning, FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Democrats a 73% chance of taking over The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body (hah!).
The Democrats currently hold 47 of the Senate’s hundred seats. (Actually, two belong to independents who caucus with the Democrats: Maine’s Angus King and, of course, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders.) They need to gain four more to take undisputed control in 2021, or just three if Biden becomes president, because then his vice presidential running mate, Kamala Harris, would provide the tie-breaking fifty-first vote.
But they’re starting with a handicap: one Democratic incumbent, Doug Jones of Alabama, is running against a college football coach and is likely to lose. So realistically, the Democrats need to win five seats from Republicans for undisputed control, four if Biden is sworn in on Inauguration Day.
From there it gets tougher. In North Carolina, Cal Cunningham is 67% likely to defeat the Republican incumbent, but a sexting scandal may cost him critical support. In Maine, Sara Gideon is 63% likely to beat long-time incumbent Susan Collins. If the Democrats win both races — no sure thing — they’ll reach the 50-seat threshold.
They also have a viable chance in Iowa, where Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield has a knife-edge lead over right-wing extremist Joni Ernst. If Greenfield prevails, the Democrats will probably have their 51-seat majority regardless of who is inaugurated president.
There’s been a lot of upbeat talk about Jaime Harrison upsetting Lindsey Graham, but the South Carolina electorate has too few swing voters to overcome the Republican advantage in registration, so Harrison has only a 24% shot of winning. Similarly, the two races in Georgia are often touted as competitive, but the blue wave hasn’t quite reached shore in the Peach State, and the Republicans are likely to win both. Seats in Montana, Kansas, and Texas look well beyond reach, and the idea of beating Mitch McConnell in Kentucky is pure fantasy.
So Iowa is the fulcrum. It still leans toward Trump on the presidential side; with few voters splitting tickets these days, I suspect Greenfield won’t get the cross-over support she needs. So I can see the Democrats getting to 50 Senate seats, but no more.
Which means if Biden becomes president, California, by far the country’s largest state, may get three senators: the superannuated Dianne Feinstein, a replacement for Harris appointed by Democratic governor Gavin Newsom, and Harris herself.