Game-changing elections for president and the U.S. Senate could come down to some late-night ballot counting in Las Vegas, as Nevada looms as the deciding state in the 2012 election.
U.S. Senate races have received less attention in a national media obsessed with the presidential race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. But Nevada’s U.S. Senate contest could decide that balance of power in Congress for the next two years, as the state becomes flush with campaign cash.
And the latest math shows that Obama could pull off a dramatic last-second national general election win by taking Clark County, the home of Las Vegas, in at least three scenarios, and possibly in a fourth scenario, if Obama also takes one electoral vote in Nebraska.
One scenario now shows Romney taking Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, but losing in a last-second heart breaker because of Nevada.
Romney’s recent surge in the polls has put a possible Republican sweep in play: control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate.
In the 34 sessions of Congress since 1945, the Republicans have only started two sessions controlling both houses of Congress while a GOP president sat in office: in 2003 and 2005.
The House will mostly likely remain in the Republicans’ hands, as the GOP has mostly controlled it since 1995.
The Senate remains a wild card, with as many as 11 races seen as “toss ups” heading into Election Day. Currently, the Democrats control the Senate, with the help of a few Independents.
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In the current polling estimates used by Real Clear Politics, the Democrats lead the Republicans with 46 projected Senate seats, to 43 for the GOP. (The Democratic total includes three Independents who are likely to vote with the Democrats.)
Among the 11 toss-up races are a few that have received a lot of national publicity: the nasty battle between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts; the Todd Akin-Claire McCaskill contest in Missouri; and the Linda McMahon match with Chris Murphy in Connecticut.
But the Democrats need at least five wins in those 11 Senate races to keep the Senate, assuming other seemingly “safe” races stay away from the toss-up category.
Among the 11 toss-up states, the Democrats have significant polling leads in just Virginia, Ohio, and Wisconsin, which just happen to be presidential swing states that should see a lot of campaign spending.
Missouri GOP candidate Akin remains in a tight race against McCaskill, in a contest the Democrats had already put in their win column. Assuming McCaskill can pull out a win, the Democrats would remain one vote short of a clean majority.
Their best shot could be Chris Murphy in Connecticut, who is facing a well-funded campaign from McMahon, a self-made professional wrestling billionaire. Murphy is up by 3.4 percent in current consensus polling.
The GOP has consensus polling leads in Arizona, Montana, Nevada and North Dakota. The races in Massachusetts and Indiana are seen as too close to call.
How Vegas can decide the election
The irony is that Nevada could be the state that has a huge role in deciding the presidential race, too. It will be the last swing state to report voting results on Election Day, with its polls closing at 7 p.m. Pacific Time.
|Obama's Winning Bet In Las Vegas|
|Scenario 1||Scenario 2||Scenario 3||Tie Scenario|
|Base Electoral Votes||237||237||237||237|
|*270 Electoral votes needed to win|
The incumbent, GOP Senator Dean Heller, has a 4.5 percent lead on challenger Shelley Berkley. But that could change as a record amount of campaign money flows into the Las Vegas market.
As of September 9, presidential and congressional candidates had spent an unprecedented $32 million in Nevada, and that number will only grow, says an influential Wells Fargo analyst who tracks campaign spending.
Nevada will be the critical presidential swing state late on election night if the GOP and Democrats fight to a draw in other battlegrounds.
Nevada has six electoral votes, so the candidate that takes Nevada as the last contested state wins the election in at least three scenarios. The winner needs 270 votes.
One scenario has the Obama campaign taking just three of nine remaining swing states (Ohio, Iowa, and New Hampshire) before Nevada reports its results, for a total of 265 electoral votes. Romney would have 267 electoral votes at that point.
A second scenario has Obama winning just Virginia, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin among the nine swing states before Nevada reports, for a total of 264 electoral votes. Add six votes from Nevada, and the president remains in office.
A third scenario shows Obama losing Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, but still getting 272 electoral votes if he takes Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Hampshire.
Another scenario has Obama taking just Ohio, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin before Nevada closes its polls. If Nevada goes to Romney, the general election is tied at 269 electoral votes.
The joker in the deck is Nebraska, where one electoral vote could go to Obama, if he wins the vote in the Omaha area, breaking the tie before a potential runoff in the House.
Clark County controls two-thirds of the votes in Nevada. According to Wells Fargo's numbers, Las Vegas ranks fourth among all cities for spending on political ads.
So it could be a very late night for voters across America on November 6 and the morning of November 7, if the presidential and Senate races come down to the wire.
Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.
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