It’s clear from the polls that control of the Senate may come down to four races: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
Math is simple. Democrats need to win three of those four races to maintain control of the Senate. It’s a slightly easier climb for Republicans, as they only need to win two of those four games.
But while the equation is easy, solving it is by no means trivial. All of these matches are within the margin of error. Also, state demographics aren’t exactly similar, meaning any late campaign or voting error could affect states differently. Each state also has unique issues that affect them.
Arizona, is the easiest race to understand. Democrats have won the state’s last two Senate races and haven’t won one since 1988. They are fueled by the growing performance of college-educated white voters and reliable Hispanic voters in suburban Phoenix. They were also helped by one of the largest Native American populations in the country.
Democratic Senator Mark Kelly is not far behind in any publicly released polls. His edge has shrunk in some recent surveys, though many of those come from outfits that don’t meet CNN’s publication standards.
On average, Kelly was about 3 points ahead of the Republican Black Masters. A New York Times/Siena College poll released Monday showed Kelly leading the Masters by 6 percentage points.
Masters’ problem is fairly simple: his net favorability (good-poor) is underwater. Unpopular Republican candidates are a persistent problem for Republicans. Meanwhile, Kelly’s net favorability rating (and approval rating) has been positive.
That allowed Kelly to overcome President Joe Biden’s unpopularity in the state.
Nevada, Best for Republicans. The Times poll and the average show a tie between Democratic senators. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican Adam Laxalt.
Nevada appeared to be leaning Democratic 10 years ago after Barack Obama handily won back-to-back elections. Republicans have lost the state’s last two presidential elections by falling margins, including a 2.4-point loss in 2020.
Hispanics, along with large numbers of white voters without college degrees, help Republicans. The state’s tourism economic base has been damaged during the Covid-19 pandemic, when Democrats across the country are more likely to push Covid prevention measures.
Polls show that, unlike Kelly, Cortez Masto has not built a popularity base.
The last two states for Senate math are the hardest to figure out. The demographic difference between Georgia and Pennsylvania couldn’t be greater.
Pennsylvania is a Great Lakes swing state where Democrats must win a sizable chunk of white voters without a college degree. It’s a group that has been fleeing the Democratic Party, which is why Hillary Clinton in 2016 became the first Democratic presidential nominee to lose the state since Michael Dukakis in 1988.
If border issues play a huge role in states like Arizona, and a resurgent gaming industry is crucial in Nevada, then Pennsylvania’s biggest non-inflation story is crime. Philadelphia, the most populous city in the state, has seen its crime rate rise over the past few years.
Republican Mohamed Oz used crime to make up for Democrat John Fettman’s huge advantage in the Senate race.
Feltman seemed to persevere, though, despite a stroke that kept him off track for a while. He continued to hold a small lead in the 2-3 range. The Times has Feltman up 6 points, even though most of the polls came ahead of last week’s debate in which many saw him as a weak one.
Also, Republicans have tended to outperform their final polls over the past few cycles.
For his part, Oz had a negative net favorability rating throughout the campaign as he had to battle charges of being a carpet bag.
Georgia Unique among the four races because the candidate with the most votes needs a majority to win. Otherwise, there will be runoff in December.
At this point, runoff seems plausible. Democratic Senator Rafael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker are in a tight race. None of them came close to 50 percent in the polls, with liberal Chase Oliver getting about 3 percent of the vote.
The potential for runoff isn’t the only thing that makes Georgia unique. The Peach State has by far the largest black population of these key races. The Democratic Party is making a comeback in the deep South state thanks to a growing black population and a movement toward Democrats from college-educated white voters in the Atlanta area.
Ultimately, Georgia may come down to what’s happening in most swing states this year: One of Walker’s Republican candidates is showing a net negative favorability rating against the backdrop of a deeply unpopular president.
For a small number of swing voters, the most important thing may be deciding the winner of Georgia and who wins control of the Senate.