Nate Silver breaks down the battle for the Senate: "It might be an election week or month"

The FiveThirtyEight founder forecasts a GOP Senate, but still sees a path to victory for the Democrats

Published November 4, 2014 3:41PM (EST)

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

Statistics guru Nate Silver's gives Republicans a three in four chance of netting at least the six seats required to capture the U.S. Senate, either tonight or in the coming weeks, which may see recounts and runoffs in a few close races. A Democratic Senate remains a possibility, Silver told MSNBC's Chris Hayes last night, but if the party holds on to power, we may not know for quite some time.

Silver told Hayes that he projects a GOP majority of 52 or 53 seats come January; FiveThirtyEight's model currently gives Republicans better-than-even odds of picking up Democratic-held seats in Iowa, Colorado, Alaska, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana.

The only GOP-held seat Silver's model predicts will slip from the Republicans' grasp is Kansas, where independent Greg Orman has a 53 percent chance of ousting three-term Sen. Pat Roberts, making the closely contested race essentially a coin flip. “It’s really not clear who’s ahead there," Silver told Hayes. Orman, who previously sought office as a Democrat but also voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and holds center-right positions on many issues, hasn't committed to caucusing with the Democrats, however, so an Orman victory wouldn't necessarily count as a Democratic pickup.

One worrying sign for Senate Democrats, Silver told Hayes, is that Republican candidates historically outperform their polling numbers in red states more than Democrats outperform their numbers in blue states. The disproportionate number of competitive red and purple states this year underscores the challenge for Democrats seeking to hold the GOP to no more than five gains. Take Georgia, for instance, which Silver recently viewed as the Democrats' best hope of holding onto the Senate, but where he now sees Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn's chances fading against GOP nominee David Perdue in the race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Perdue, who had slipped amid voter backlash to remarks he made about his background outsourcing jobs, has regained his polling lead, and is even within striking distance of the 50 percent plus one required to avoid a Jan. 6 runoff. RealClearPolitics' polling average shows Perdue leading Nunn by 3 points, 47.8 to 44.8 percent; if Perdue outperforms his polling by just a little more than 2 points, he'll win an outright victory tonight.

Still, with candidates separated by 3 points or less in Georgia, Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, New Hampshire and North Carolina, Democrats aren't out of the game yet.

"We’re preparing for a really long night," Silver told Hayes, noting the importance of Alaska, where Democratic Sen. Mark Begich has shrunk GOP challenger Dan Sullivan's lead in recent surveys and where polls won't close until 1 a.m. Eastern time. Counting votes can be a long and cumbersome process in the state; when Begich barely knocked off GOP Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008, he wasn't declared the winner until two weeks after Election Day.

So Silver is preparing for a long night -- or even a long month. If Democrats maintain Senate power, he said, "it might require recounts and runoffs, it might require Greg Orman if Democrats win to decide who he wants to caucus with, so it might be an election week or month but not an election day.” Indeed, the likeliest scenario under which we'll know Senate control is if the GOP scores early-night wins against Democratic incumbents in North Carolina and New Hampshire -- two seats the Democrats must win to have a shred of hope of hanging on.

"A quick verdict means ‘guilty’ usually," Silver told Hayes.

Watch the interview below, via MSNBC:

By Luke Brinker

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