Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Can Republicans hold the Senate?

Marco Rubio (Gage/Skidmore/Wikimedia)
Lost in the furor over the presidential election is the fact that the fate of the Senate also hangs in the balance this November. Republicans, who currently hold a four seat majority, are in danger of losing control of the upper house of Congress. Republicans are defending more seats than Democrats this year and the looming prospect of a loss by Donald Trump may carry over into Senate races down the ticket. Can Republicans hold the Senate?

This year Republicans are defending 24 Senate seats as opposed to Democrats who are defending only 10 seats. Only half of the contested Republican seats are considered safe while seven of the Democrat seats are safe. Six Republican seats, enough to flip control of the Senate, are either tossups or leaning Democrat. Only one Democrat seat, currently held by Harry Reid of Nevada, is considered a likely pickup for the GOP.

Here are rundowns on the six threatened Republican seats:
  • ·         Florida: Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Patrick Murphy will likely emerge from today’s primary as their party nominees. Current polling gives an edge to Rubio.
  • ·         Illinois: Senator Mark Kirk, elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, is being challenged by Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Illinois is a deep blue state, but the race is currently considered a tossup.
  • ·         New Hampshire: Senator Kelly Ayotte, another member of the class of 2010, is facing Gov. Maggie Hassan. Ayotte was one of the Republicans hesitantly endorsed by Donald Trump over the summer. She has also given him a tepid endorsement. The race is currently a tossup with Hassan favored by one point in the Real Clear Politics average.
  • ·         Ohio: Current Senator Rob Portman is being challenged by former governor Ted Strickland. Polling is favoring Portman who is increasing the gap, but the race is still considered a tossup.
  • ·         Pennsylvania: Pat Toomey, another member of the class of 2010, is being challenged by Katie McGinty, a former business executive and lobbyist who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014. McGinty has held several appointed positions in Pennsylvania. The race is currently a tossup with McGinty leading by one point according to Real Clear Politics.
  • ·         Wisconsin: Another Tea Party senator, Ron Johnson, is facing Russ Feingold, the Democrat that he beat in 2010. Feingold is a double-digit favorite.

In addition, Republican seats in Missouri and North Carolina are also threatened, but are currently leaning Republican. Both senators may be suffering from the association with Donald Trump, who favored by only three points in Missouri and is trailing Hillary by two points in the North Carolina average.
  • ·         Missouri: Roy Blunt is being challenged by Jason Kander, the current secretary of state and an army reserve officer. The Real Clear Politics average favors Blunt, but by less than five points. 
  • ·         North Carolina: Richard Burr is defending against Deborah Ross, a former state representative. Burr leads by an average of two points.

On the Democratic side, Nevada is the only tossup. The retirement of Harry Reid leaves an open seat that is being contested by Democrat Catherine Masto, the attorney-general, and Republican Joe Heck, a current congressman. The race is currently a dead heat.

Which just over two months to go before the election, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio look reasonably safe for Republicans. Wisconsin is probably lost. Illinois, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and the Democratic seat in Nevada are all too close to call. It should be noted that all three tossup states vote reliably Democrat in presidential elections. A sweep of all three states by the Democrats is not unreasonable to expect.

If Democrats can hold Nevada, they would need to sweep all three of the other tossup states plus one additional state to win control of the Senate. Victory in all three tossup states would mean an evenly split Senate. Ties would be broken by the new vice president.

At this point, there is no way to accurately predict the final outcome, which may be tied closely to the presidential race and upcoming debates. These races should be watched closely due to the high stakes of the election.

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