With the election of Hillary Clinton now an almost foregone conclusion, attention is shifting to the United States Senate, where the Democratic Party has a real chance of regaining a working majority. Democratic Party supremacy in the Senate, however, is an absolute necessity for the prospective Democratic presidency because control of the Senate will result in control over the Supreme Court nomination as well as providing cover for a Democratic president against a Republican House of Representatives seeking to block the new president’s initiatives.
There are 34 seats up for grabs this year, 24 Republican seats and 10 Democratic seats. Right now, the Republican Party holds 54 seats in the Senate. The Democratic Party holds 44 seats, but there are two additional seats held by independent Senators (Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine) who caucus with and usually vote with the Democratic Party.
One of those ten Democratic seats has already been decided, because the top two finishers in California’s nonpartisan primary process were both Democrats, which leaves nine Democratic seats at risk. Of the remaining nine Democratic seats, eight – Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington are signed, sealed and delivered already with no contest in sight because all eight have solid Democratic majorities.
Assuming that Hillary Clinton is elected president, the Democratic party needs to pick up at least four seats in order to regain control of the Senate. Five would be better. Six would be “amazing.” If Clinton wins, the Democratic governor of Virginia will be in a position to appoint an interim Democratic senator to replace Tim Kaine when he assumes the vice presidency, preserving that seat pending a special election, which may become the first test of the Clinton administration’s ability to hold onto its congressional advantage.
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Even with a number of strong incumbents retiring this year, no Democratic Senate seat appears to be in jeopardy. This year, the Senate is the Democratic party’s house to gain, and the Republican party’s house to lose.
Nate Silver was projecting that the Democrats have a three to one shot at gaining control over the Senate. The following races will determine that outcome, races where a Republican incumbent or a vacant Republican seat is on the verge of being captured by a Democrat. Salon is suggesting that the Democrats may win big in the Senate. Here’s my roll call breakdown of the likely toss-up states and their possible outcomes:
Incumbent Republican Roy Blunt (right) is currently 20% behind Democratic challenger Jason Kander, which represents a recent change in fortunes. On September 9, the odds were exactly reversed, with Blunt enjoying a 75/25% edge over Kander. Then the debates and the revelations o sexual misconduct by Trump hit the media. Blunt stepped up to reiterate his endorsement of Trump, and his numbers fell precipitously.
VERDICT: Democrat Jason Kander will win
Lesson: Trump is a dead weight for Republicans
Former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold (left), who was once considered by some the smartest man in the Senate, is poised to take his old job back from Republican incumbent Ron Johnson, a seat that Johnson is poised to lose by a 10 to 1 margin, with Feingold polling at 95% to Johnson’s 5%. In this case, Johnson cannot blame his troubles on his support for Trump because his numbers have been on the slide since July. In this case, the enormously popular Feingold simply outclassed Johnson, whose has advocated drilling for oil in the Great Lakes opposes abortion, and thinks that the 99% of the world’s scientists who believe that humans are causing climate change are “crazy.”
VERDICT: Democrat Russ Feingold will win again
Lesson: Sometimes Trump isn’t the problem. Climate Change is.
Republican incumbent Mark Kirk (right) never stood a chance against the charismatic Asian American Democratic candidate, Tammy Duckworth, who is a legitimate war hero with two missing legs attesting to her service in Iraq. Kirk, also ex-military, is actually a pretty good guy as Republican Senators go. He withdrew his support for Trump back in June, but that didn’t seem to do him much good in the polls. He was toast the day that Tammy Duckworth tossed her hat in the ring.
VERDICT:Duckworth Wins in a Walk
Lesson: Sometimes good enough isn’t good enough.
In what was originally a walk-off home run, Democratic Evan Bayh (left) was beating Republican challenger Todd Young like a drum. Evan is the son of the legendary Birch Bayh, who was Indiana’s senator from 1963 to 1981, when he was defeated by, of all people, Dan Quayle.
Bayh started out with a three to one, 75/25% edge over Young, who is running to fill retiring Republican Senator Dan Coats’ seat. Then, something strange happened. While the rest of the Democratic senatorial candidates started to feel the boost from Hillary Clinton dominance in the polls, Bayh’s numbers went the other way, falling from an 88/12% on August 21 to the current 70/30% margin in favor of Todd Young’s Republican candidacy on October 18. While every other Democrat was polling upward following Trump’s disastrous performances in the debates and the revelations about his sexual proclivities, Bayh’s numbers went down precipitously and are only now struggling back up again. The good news for Democrats is that Bayh will probably hold on to win this seat on the basis of his strong stands on pocketbook issues.
VERDICT: Democrat Evan Bayh will probably win
Lesson: Sometimes, good enough is good enough.
Right now, Democrat Kate McGinty (left) is running 63/37% ahead of incumbent Republican Pat Toomey, who appears to have squandered the 82/12 % edge he had over McGinty back on July 26, but Toomey’s slide began long before the Trump campaign started to collapse. Against a stronger candidate, Toomey would already be toast, but he still has a chance against McGinty, an environmental activist with strong liberal positions, but a conservative family background. Not much of a chance, but he is still in the running, at least.
Toomey is between a rock and a hard place with respect to Trump. He has been riding the fence about endorsing Donald Trump, which won’t endear him to Trump’s rural supporters. On the other hand, he also disputes Trump contention that the election is “rigged,” another position that won’t go down well with Trump partisans. Luckily for Toomey, the Trump partisans have no one else to vote for but Toomey, if they want to keep their grip on the Senate.
VERDICT: Too close to call…Advantage McGinty
Lesson: If Trump continues to foam at the mouth,
Toomey is going to be swept away by the undertow.
Democratic challenger Maggie Hassan (left), the popular two-term governor of New Hampshire, is facing off against Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte, an equally popular and equally personable first term Republican Senator. Hassan started off her campaign as a 60/40% favorite over Ayotte on July 15. By July 29, their positions in the polls were quickly reversed with Ayotte a 61/39% favorite over Hassan. By August 8, however, the polls had reversed again, putting Hassan on top. Their paths crossed again on October 8 but, since then, Hassan’s numbers have been rising against Ayotte….and the reason, once again, is Trump.
Ayotte was reluctant to jump off Trump’s sinking ship because she feared the backlash from disaffected Trump voters. She was late to disavow Trump, suffered in the polls from liberals annoyed with her refusal to follow up on her stated principles and abandoned by conservatives who wanted her to stick with Trump. Right now, the polls are firming up at 60/40 in favor of the Democratic candidate. The shame of this is that, while in most cases, these Senate races pit one really good candidate against a really bad one, in this case we have two good candidates but, in the end, there can be only one.
VERDICT: Advantage Maggie Hassan
Lesson: This race will be won or lost by Donald Trump.
If Clinton wins, Hassan wins. If Trump wins, Ayotte wins.
This contest pits two famous names belonging to two virtually unknown politicians in a neck and neck race, with Democratic challenger Deborah Ross (as in Betsy Ross of flag sewing fame) facing off against two-term Republican incumbent Richard Burr (as in the revolutionary war hero and Alexander Hamilton assassin Aaron Burr.) Ross (apparently no relation to Betsy) is a former American Civil Liberties Union state director for North Carolina and is the epitome of the low profile activist. Richard Burr, who has refused to back away from his support for Donald Trump, d has gone so far as to say that he has forgiven Trump for his indiscretions.
This campaign, strangely enough, has become fixated on on the state’s Sex Offender Registry, which Ross wants to modernize. Burr has characterized that as an attempt to weaken the Registry. Of all the things for a senate campaign to hinge upon in the year of Donald Trump, a controversy over sex offender registers is an irony on top of an incongruity
The polling numbers show an curious anomaly: Burr has been leading Ross all the way through the campaign season until September 15, when his numbers started to crash. That was before the debates, and before stories about Trump’s sex life started to emerge. In fact, as in several other senatorial races, started to go south the week after the conventions had run their course, which is when Donald Trump’s manias began to become more visible to the public. On October 17th, after rising steadily for three weeks, Ross finally topped Burr at the polls.
VERDICT: Deborah Ross Wins by a Thread
Lesson: Sometimes it pays to take shelter when your leader is taking fire.
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