Senate High Drama After Nov. 4

In six days, the nation will render its collective judgment in the midterm elections, and none of us knows what voters will do when they choose their poison on Election Day.

It is possible that Republicans lose three or four of the Senate seats they now hold and Democrats will be celebrating on Nov. 5. It is possible Republicans retain these seats and pick up between six and eight Democratic seats and the funeral dirge will sound for the Democratic Senate. If the polls tell us anything -- and I doubt they tell us much in America's season of political discontent -- it is that many outcomes are possible in the most unpredictable elections in decades.

One plausible and fascinating outcome of the voting on Nov. 4 was discussed in a recent story in The Hill, that it is possible control of the Senate will not be decided on Election Day but will be decided by a Louisiana runoff on Dec. 6, or a Georgia runoff on Jan. 6.

It is even possible that Republicans emerge with 50 seats and Democrats with 49 seats, and that Senate control is decided by Kansas independent candidate Greg Orman if he defeats the incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.

If the runoff scenario unfolds, the Senate would be a place of high drama reminiscent of the great films about Washington, such as "Advise and Consent." While hyper-intense runoff campaigns are waged in Louisiana or in Georgia, the corridors of the Capitol would be the scene of dramatic closed-door meetings involving party leaders, senators and senators-elect while the full House and Senate would be mired in what could become the lame-duck Congress from hell.

If the runoff scenario unfolds, the potential secret weapon for Democrats is that Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Georgia candidate Michelle Nunn both have cutting-edge credentials to campaign as leaders in the battle to end the gridlock that is almost universally deplored by voters.

Landrieu chairs the powerful Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and has a well-deserved reputation as a legislator who works with both parties. Nunn, daughter of a revered senator who has devoted a career to working with both parties to protect our national security, is a highly independent Democrat who is not beholden to President Obama or Senate leaders. Both women would be powerful voices in runoff campaigns.

Imagine this: while Bill and Hillary Clinton are barnstorming in runoff states against Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and other GOP 2016 prospects, Senate leaders will be wheeling and dealing behind closed doors while Congress battles over lame-duck legislation with the threat of another government shutdown looming large.

Each element of this three-ring circus -- runoff campaigning, power brokering over Senate control and lame-duck legislating -- will affect the other two elements and give a powerful advantage to runoff candidates who credibly campaign against obstruction.

In this high-drama scenario there would be intense public pressure for senators to achieve what voters want: a Senate that regains the ability to be functional.

American politics are toxic. Obama's brand is toxic for many Democrats. The Republican brand is toxic for many voters. The brand of Congress is toxic for almost everyone, with disapproval ratings remaining near a humiliating 80 percent.

If Congress returns from Election Day with control of the Senate in doubt, there could be a significant power shift to those who want to end the dark age of obstruction in Washington.

Watch for potentially huge influence for Orman if he is elected. Watch independent Maine Sen. Angus King. Watch thoughtful senators from both parties who are deeply troubled by the dysfunction of the upper chamber, who could push for reformed rules to make the institution work regardless of which party controls the gavel. And watch for Landrieu and Nunn to be powerful champions of ending gridlock and restoring public confidence in the U.S. Senate.