The prevailing assumption is that Republicans will take the Senate in the midterm elections on Nov. 4. It would be a surprise if they didn’t. But not a huge surprise.
In the poll averages at RealClearPolitics, Republican Senate candidates have leads smaller than 2.3 percentage points in Alaska, Georgia and Iowa. If all three of them lost — because of better-than-expected Democratic turnout, last-minute shifts in the race, or dumb luck — Republicans would come up just short of a majority.
That would count as a good night for Democrats, given the usual losses the party in charge of the White House suffers in midterms and given President Barack Obama’s current unpopularity. It would be an especially good night for them if they added to the number of governorships they hold by winning tight races in Connecticut, Florida, Kansas and Wisconsin.
Democrats already believe that history is on their side. It’s part of being progressive, and it’s backed up by demographic trends. A good result in adverse circumstances would add to their confidence about both Hillary Clinton’s chances to win the presidency in 2016 and the basic political soundness of their agenda.
Republicans would be shell-shocked, having done worse than expected in two elections in a row. Defeat would mean the party’s problems run deeper than they thought. And fixing them would be complicated by renewed factional quarreling.
Many conservatives, for instance, would argue that the party establishment had led them to ruin. The establishment largely got its way in the 2012 presidential primaries, and then got its way again in running an agenda-less general-election campaign. This time, Exhibit A for these conservatives would be the North Carolina Senate race, where the establishment candidate — Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House — has persistently run a little behind his Democratic opponent. (Actually, that might be Exhibit B if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell manages to lose in Kentucky.)
Conversely, a lot Republican officeholders might conclude that the Democratic attacks on them as uninterested in compromise and hostile to women had succeeded, and that they should accordingly move leftward.
All this would make for an exceptionally raucous set of presidential primaries in 2016. Already, Republican grandees are very unsure of who their candidate should be, and suddenly they’d be dealing with a primary electorate more distrustful of their favorites.
Election night probably won’t, in reality, be very happy for Democrats. Hillary Clinton should still keep some champagne handy just in case.