Calculating The Full Cost Of O’Donnell

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In the end, Christine O’Donnell seemed to fulfill everyone’s expectations, save perhaps her own. As Democrats expected, she was a lot of fun to watch, offering at times a parody of what Democrats like to think about Tea Party candidates. (“Got to just laugh,” she wrote in one tweet yesterday. “Mix up again.”) As institutional Republicans expected, she lost, effectively surrendering a seat that could have gone for the GOP had Mike Castle not lost in the primary.

This could be a huge loss for the GOP depending on how the rest of the night goes. Here is the math, which is a bit cumbersome:

Republicans need to pick up 10 seats to take control of the U.S. Senate. Democrats are not expected to pick up any seats, so that leaves the fate of the Senate hinging upon 11 Democratic seats, not counting Delaware and Connecticut, which is already lost.

Republicans have already won two of those states, in Arkansas and Indiana. North Dakota is as good as a lock for Republicans. Four more states are clearly within Republicans reach: Pennsylvania, Illinois, Colorado, Wisconsin. We will know those results soon.

Assuming all of these states fall, then Republicans will have to pick up three of these remaining four seats to win the senate: West Virginia, Washington, Nevada and California.

That’s a big haul, considering recent polling that showed sizable leads for the Democrats in Connecticut and California. But it would be a much smaller haul if Republicans only needed two seats. This is the O’Donnell effect.

As it stands now, Democrats will basically know that the Senate is safe if the West Virginia race, which could come in anytime. It won’t be a lock, but many in the White House will allow themselves to relax for a few hours.

UPDATE: Just as soon as I hit publish, news organizations called West Virginia for the Democrats, effectively closing the door on a Republican takeover of the Senate by election. (Whether Joe Lieberman or Ben Nelson decide to switch parties is a different matter.) Again, for our little O’Donnell thought experiment, consider that she had allowed Castle to win in Delaware. In that case, the door would still be open. Instead of needing to sweep California, Washington and Nevada, Republicans would only need to win two of them. Potentially a huge difference.