scorecardresearch Skip to main content

It’s looking like we won’t know who controls the Senate until 2021. No, really

People assembled lawn signs for Democratic US Senate candidate Jon Ossoff at a campaign event on Oct. 3 in Lithonia, Ga. Ossoff is a candidate in one of two competitive Senate races in Georgia that look to be headed for run-offs in January.Elijah Nouvelage/Getty

With a week until the general election, Americans are being told that it is almost assured that, unlike most previous election years, we will not know who won the presidential race on election night.

With some version of mail-in balloting legal in every state, and turnout expected to shatter all records, there is a lot of vote counting to be done. It’s likely that neither President Trump nor his Democratic challenger, former vice president Joe Biden, will have a clear mathematical projection to the needed 270 Electoral College votes by the time anyone wakes up on Wednesday morning.

And once the numbers do become clear, the lawsuits are sure to begin.


But figuring out who will control the US Senate could take even longer.

It could take at least another week for all the mail-in ballots to be submitted in Alaska’s newly interesting contest, two weeks for all the ballots to be counted in Arizona’s hot race, it will take time for ballots to be reprocessed for ranked-choice voting in Maine to determine a winner, and there could be a crazy post-November campaign in Georgia.

A post-November campaign? Yes, you read that right. Georgia is home to two US Senate races this year, and if recent polls are to be believed, both races are headed to a run-off contest on Jan. 5, 2021. That could mean millions of dollars pouring into the state as the Senate majority hangs in the balance.

To be sure, the battle for US Senate majority control is the most competitive thing to watch in American politics right now. Democrats are expected to add to their majority in the US House. In the presidential race, the question isn’t whether Biden will win, but by how much. After all, the polls and activity most closely watched in the presidential race in the last 48 hours are in Texas. Two new polls there show the race statistically tied. Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris just announced a visit to help close the campaign.


If we are even talking about Texas being a toss-up, then a lot of traditional swing states have already swung Democratic.

And that swing has already had big implications for individual Senate races. Republicans began the year believing that while they might lose a few incumbent seats, they could retain control of the Senate.

But as Trump’s poll numbers fell, so too did the polling for Republicans in Senate contests from South Carolina to Iowa to Kansas to Alaska.

And Georgia. Under Georgia law, Election Day on Nov. 3 is essentially a primary day, though if a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote they win the seat. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll on Sunday suggested that no one in either Senate race will pull that off.

In one race, the poll found Republican incumbent Senator David Perdue trails Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff 45 percent to 46 percent, meaning with other candidates in the race, it is increasingly possible that the pair will move on to a run-off in January.

The state’s other Senate race, for the seat currently held by Republican Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed, has 21 candidates, basically ensuring that no one candidate will get more than 50 percent of the vote. Indeed, the leader in the Georgia poll for this race was Democrat Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, who polled at 34 percent.


(By the way, Louisiana may also technically have a run-off, but Republican Bill Cassidy is expected to win it handily.)

So could Senate control come down to Georgia run-offs in January? Yes. The latest projection from FiveThirtyEight says Democrats are likely to end up with a 51 to 49 seat majority. But that only happens if one of the Georgia seats is won by a Democrat.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.