In your post, Jody, you mention that, “You could elect 86 senators with a minority of the population, as the bottom 43 states have fewer people, in total, than the top seven states.”
If the always-reliable Wikipedia is to be believed, it has always been possible to elect a majority of the Senate with a minority of the population:
At the time of the Connecticut Compromise, the largest state, Virginia, had only twelve times the population of the smallest state, Delaware. Today, the largest state, California, has a population that is seventy times greater than the population of the smallest state, Wyoming. In 1790, it would take a theoretical 30% of the population to elect a majority of the Senate, today it would take 17%.
Another interesting observation is that seven states (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming) currently have more Senators than Congressman. Not only do they have an outsized influence on the rest of the country by their election of Senators, they have a higher numerical representation in that deliberative body than they do in the House of Representatives.