All four states are critical to Republican efforts to pick up the
six Senate seats they need to hold a majority of the 100-member
chamber, and the added unpredictability could extend the battle for
Senate control into December or even early January.
In Louisiana and Georgia, no Senate candidates are polling above the
50 percent level needed to avoid a run-off between the top two
finishers. The Louisiana run-off would be on Dec. 6, and the Georgia
run-off would be on Jan. 6, the day the new Congress is scheduled to
The picture is further muddied by the rise of strong independent
candidates in Kansas and South Dakota who could join the Senate
without clear allegiance to Democrats or Republicans. If Senate
control hinges on one or two seats, they would face immense pressure
from both parties to join their ranks.
"The fact of the matter is we may not know who is going to control
the Senate on November 4," said Jim Manley, a former longtime aide
to Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid. "It may take at least a
month for it to all play out."
The stakes will be high for both parties. With a dozen or so tight
races being waged across the country, any state could wind up
producing the kingmaker who decides whether Republicans or Democrats
control the Senate.
Republicans are expected to maintain their majority in the House of
Representatives, so winning the Senate would give them further power
to block President Barack Obama's agenda in the last two years of
In the case of a 50-50 split in the Senate, Vice President Joe
Biden, a Democrat, would represent the deciding vote.
Both parties are preparing for overtime battles. A run-off is
expected in Louisiana, where two Republicans are trying to unseat
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu. In Georgia, a Libertarian
candidate could siphon away enough votes to keep the Republican and
Democratic contenders just below 50 percent.
[to top of second column]
In Kansas, Republican Senator Pat Roberts faces a tough challenge
from independent Greg Orman, whose candidacy was bolstered last
month when the Democrat dropped off the ballot. Recent polls in
South Dakota show a tight three-way race between Republican governor
Mike Rounds, Democrat Rick Weiland, and independent Larry Pressler,
a former Republican senator.
If either independent wins he will face heavy pressure from both
parties to side with them in the new Congress, especially if the
Senate balance of power hinges on his decision. Maine independent
Angus King could also come under the spotlight. He currently
caucuses with Democrats but has said he will consider switching
parties after the election if he thinks it is best for Maine.
The prospect of a split Senate also raises the possibility of
party-switching from lawmakers who do not always align with their
own parties. This would not be unprecedented: in 2001, for example,
Vermont Republican Jim Jeffords became an independent, joining
Democrats in votes to give them a majority.
(Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; Editing by John Whitesides,
Frances Kerry and Andrew Hay)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.