By Sarah Begley
September 28, 2014

November’s election will be close for a handful of Senators and Senate hopefuls. But in Colorado, Democratic incumbent Mark Udall and Republican hopeful Cory Gardner (currently a Congressman) may find their fate determined in part by another election in the state.

So says Ben Barnes, a Democratic consultant with deep roots in Texas politics, who we caught up with at the Nantucket Project on Saturday. As Barnes explains, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Democrats were very popular in the last election—but that was when the they had marijuana on the ballot.

“It’s not there now,” he says, “and the Governor passed what I think is a very reasonable gun control bill that has hurt him with the gun people,” whose support he had last time around. With Coloradans divided on their Democratic governor’s report card, Barnes fears, their Democratic Senator’s star may fall. This state, Barnes says, “is the only place where I think a governors’ race could have an effect on the Senate race.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s the only exciting Senate race to watch. Far from it: Barnes counts seven other states where tight polls make the election too close to call, for now.

Take Louisiana, where Mary Landrieu (D) will defend her seat against Rep. Bill Cassidy, who has pulled ahead in the polls. But Barnes asks, “Will Louisiana give up the chairmanship of the energy committee—when hydrocarbons are so important to Louisiana—for a doctor who will have no seniority and will not have good committees even if the Republicans control the Senate?”

In Alaska, he says, it’s impossible to predict the tight race between Sen. Mark Begich (D) and Dan Sullivan—a race in which the NRA recently declined to endorse either candidate. “The national pollsters are having trouble even running polls in Alaska,” Barnes says, because cell phone-based polling doesn’t work there.

In Kansas, Barnes says, it looked like a fairly clear victory for Republican incumbent Pat Roberts—until the Democrat in the race, Chad Taylor, pulled out and endorsed the Independent candidate, Greg Orman. Orman is now ahead in the polls.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is one of the biggest names in American politics, but even this will not protect him from a testy race. His opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes has given him a run for his money at the polls, and garnered plenty of media attention. “That could be an upset,” Barnes says, “as it was when Tom Daschle, the Majority Leader of the Senate, got defeated in South Dakota, which I thought was impossible. But it’s not impossible for a leader of the Senate to get defeated.”

Close-call races will make for an interesting month in North Carolina, Iowa, Kansas and Georgia as well. “The races are so close,” Barnes says, “and it’s the people, the public, the voters. I’ve never seen them as turned off as they are today with both parties. The people are not for people, they’re against people, and there’s just utter disgust because we’ve not been able to get more done in Congress.”

Barnes, who has close ties to several of the Democrats on the ballot this fall, believes his party has tried to keep the issues simple and appearances by national Democrats rare. “There aren’t people coming in from outside the state like the President or the Vice-President or the cabinet officers” to stump for candidates, he says.

If nothing else, Barnes hopes this cycle sends a message to Congress that it’s time for change and action. “I hope that it’s gonna make the leaders of both parties understand that they cannot go to Washington and create gridlock just for the political benefit of a party,” he says. “I’m a Democrat, but the Democrats have not been as responsible as they should have been, along with the Republicans. I’d like to see the voters punish a Congress that was a do-nothing Congress.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the year in which marijuana was on the ballot in Colorado.

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