Nate Silver has Georgia on his mind: Why it could be key to the fight for the Senate

The forecaster says that the Peach State is Dems' "path of last resort" to keeping the Senate

Published October 23, 2014 6:45PM (EDT)

Nate Silver                              (AP/Nam Y. Huh)
Nate Silver (AP/Nam Y. Huh)

For Democrats hoping to keep control of the U.S. Senate in the upcoming midterms, it may all come down to Georgia, statistics expert Nate Silver argues.

In a new post for FiveThirtyEight, his sports and politics site, Silver games out the Democrats' path to retaining power in Congress' upper chamber. It won't be easy -- FiveThirtyEight's model currently calculates that Republicans have a 66 percent chance of capturing the majority -- but it's still doable.

Envision the following scenario: Democrats lose their seats in Colorado, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska, West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell holds onto his seat in Kentucky. So far, the GOP has picked up seven seats; they need to net six to win control of the Senate. Therefore, Silver argues, Democrats' "best chance" is to win two of the following three competitive seats: Iowa, Georgia and Kansas (where independent Greg Orman could caucus with the Democrats if he wins).

Will it work? Recent polls in Georgia show Democrat Michelle Nunn barely edging Republican David Perdue, but Nunn is still short of the 50 percent plus one threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Based on past runoff results, the fact that Georgia Republicans may well be more motivated to turn out in a runoff if it will decide Senate control, and the likelihood that the Libertarian candidate's supporters will break for Perdue, Silver thinks the conditions of a runoff are "probably somewhat unfavorable to Nunn." FiveThirtyEight's model gives her just a 20 percent chances of winning a majority on Nov. 4, while Perdue has a 35 percent chance of winning outright. "Otherwise," Silver observes, "Democrats would have to take their chances in a runoff."

"Taking their chances in a runoff," Silver adds, "would be a lot better for Democrats than having no chance at all. Nunn’s chances of winning Georgia — 40 percent — are better than Democrats’ chances of keeping the Senate (34 percent). That means Georgia may be more a necessity than a luxury."

As for the other two tossups in the above scenario? Polls continue to show Iowa's Senate race neck-and-neck, and it remains to be seen whether Republican Joni Ernst will be done in by mounting evidence of her political extremism and her P.R. faux pas. Down in Kansas, where embattled Republican Sen. Pat Roberts had seemed to make something of a comeback against Greg Orman, the latest poll shows Orman boasting a 5-point lead, 49 to 44 percent.

By Luke Brinker

MORE FROM Luke Brinker