Who will take control of the Senate?

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Inside the U.S. Senate

With the ongoing race for the Presidency between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump taking most of the headlines, the equally interesting race for control of the US Senate often gets passed over.

Prior to this month’s elections (where thirty-four Senators face re-election) the Republicans held 54 Senate seats, with 44 held by the Democrats, and two held by independents (although both of these independents caucus with the Democrats).

Assuming Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency (which I expect she will), the Democrats need a net gain of four seats to win a majority in the Senate. This gain of four seats would make it a 50–50 split in the Senate. However, the Vice-President gets the deciding vote in the event of ties. Therefore if Clinton is President, the deciding vote will go to Tim Kaine, meaning an effective majority for the Democrats. This means, however, that if Donald Trump manages to win the Presidency, the Democrats need five seats in order to win the Senate.

Where can the Democrats comfortably win seats?

Illinois:

In Illinois it looks as though Republican incumbent Mark Kirk is pretty much dead and buried against challenger, Democratic Congresswomen Tammy Duckworth. Illinois is solidly Democrat and so it was always going to be tough ask for Kirk to retain his seat despite his status as a moderate. As it stands though, this looks like an almost guaranteed Democratic gain.

Wisconsin:

In Wisconsin, Democrat former Senator Russ Feingold is running to unseat Republican incumbent Ron Johnson. Wisconsin hasn’t elected a Republican into the Senate in a Presidential year since Reagan’s Presidential victory in 1980. With Wisconsin looking a solid State for Hillary Clinton, this is unlikely to change this time around. Therefore, this look another almost certain Democratic gain.

Other Races to Watch.

Pennsylvania: Katie McGinty (D) v. Pat Toomey (R).

Here, incumbent Republican Pat Toomey takes on former White House adviser Katie McGinty. Throughout the election, Toomey has tiptoed around the issue of Donald Trump, and has still not said whether he supports his party’s nominee for President. Already, this has become the most expensive race in US Senate history, with money pouring into the State from Democrats in an attempt to unseat Toomey. At the moment, polls suggest it is working, with McGinty 2.0 percent ahead in the RCP average, and on course to take the seat.

Nevada: Catherine Cortez Masto (D) v. Joe Heck (R)

In this race for retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s seat, things have been very close all the way through, with the poll lead flitting between the two candidates. Currently, Cortez Masto holds a lead of just 0.4 percent according the RCP average. However, current data from Nevada suggests that the Democrat Get Out the Vote operation has been extremely successful in terms of early voting for the Presidency, and you would expect it to be similarly successful here. Therefore, it seems likely that Cortez Masto will retain the seat for the Democrats.

Florida: Patrick Murphy (D) v Marco Rubio (R)

Originally, it looked as though Murphy might have a decent chance of winning this seat for the Republicans, especially when Rubio wasn’t going to seek re-election (as he originally announced). However, when Rubio acquiesced to the demands of others in the GOP, and announced that he was running for re-election, things changed. Murphy struggled debating against Rubio, and has also been struggling for cash, which is vitally important in expensive Florida. This has helped to propel Rubio into the lead, and it is looking increasingly as though he will retain his seat.

Missouri: Jason Kander (D) v Roy Blunt (R)

No one expected that virtual unknown Kander would stand much of a chance against seasoned Senator Roy Blunt, but after shooting to prominence recently with a campaign video which showed him assembling a rifle blindfolded, Kander has risen in the polls. The current averages put Blunt just 1.3 percent ahead, with Kander ahead in some polls. This one will come down to the wire, but a strong Democratic turnout on the day should take the seat for Kander.

Indiana: Evan Bayh (D) v Todd Young (R)

Evan Bayh made his comeback this year, attempting to win back the Senate seat which he gave up in 2011. For weeks, he looked like an absolute shoo in to win back his seat, however recently the Republicans have spent big on criticising his ties to lobbyists and the minimal time he actually spends in Indiana. All this has meant that Young actually leads in the polls going into election day, although in reality it is a virtual dead heat. Bayh could certainly take back his seat given strong Democratic turnout on election day, but it is by no means guaranteed.

New Hampshire: Maggie Hassan (D) v Kelly Ayotte (R)

In New Hampshire, Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan faces off against incumbent GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte, who is considered a moderate and has said that she will not be voting for Donald Trump. At the moment it looks as though Ayotte has crept ahead, but who knows what will happen on election day.

Who will take control?

With the Democrats pretty much guaranteed two gains (in Illinois and Wisconsin) they only need to win two of the toss-ups to take control on the Senate. This is, of course, assuming the that Hillary Clinton prevails in the main event. In Pennsylvania and Nevada, they look poised to do just that. It would be no surprise to see McGinty and Cortez Masto elected to the Senate, especially given that it looks likely that their States will go for Clinton in the Presidential election. In addition, who knows whether the Democrats can sneak another of the toss-ups on the day.

In any case, it looks as though, at worst for the Democrats, the Senate will be a 50–50 split. This means that whoever wins the Presidency will have control of the Senate. It look increasingly like the President will be Hillary Clinton, meaning that the Democrats will take back control of the Senate, after losing control in the 2014 midterms.

Does Donald Trump have a road to victory?

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Yes, but it is a very narrow one.

 

We’ve known for a long time that the Electoral College makes a Republican Presidential victory that much harder than a Democratic victory — especially when you take into account the ongoing demographic changes in many of the swing states, with the rapid increase in the proportion Hispanics and African-Americans who make up the electorate, which would seem to strongly favour the Democrats.

However, Donald J. Trump won the Republican Party’s nomination earlier this year, and throughout the primary process (and since) has claimed that he can turn States which have voted Democrat in the past six Presidential Elections, meaning that he thinks he can win handsomely.

There are eighteen States (plus Washington D.C), which have voted Democrat in every Presidential Election since 1992. This amounts to 242 votes in the Electoral College, just short of the 270 required for victory. In short, this means that it can be tough for a Republican to win without taking nearly all of the so-called swing states.

I have made my predictions for the Presidential Election, and I broadly stick by them, although I concede that given how the polls have tightened in the past ten days, I may have overestimated Hillary Clinton’s winning margin. However, I maintain that Hillary Clinton is on course to win, as Trump does not really have much of a path to the White House through the Electoral College.

However, this being said, there are some ways that Trump could fashion a road to the White House, albeit a very, very narrow one.

The ‘must-wins’ for Trump:

For Trump, there are several States that he must win, or his chances of winning the Presidency are completely dead and buried.

If we assume that the Electoral College map at present looks a little bit like this:

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I’ve been conservative here with the States I have called for each candidate (in particular Clinton). Even though Trump hasn’t led in a poll in Pennsylvania since late June, I’ve put it as ‘leaning’ Democrat rather than ‘safe’ Democrat, in order to be on the safe side. Likewise with Michigan and Colorado.

However, if we assume that Clinton is going to win Michigan, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, then we begin to see the difficult task that Trump has. With these three States added to the ones already wrapped up by Clinton, she would already have a total of 268 votes in the Electoral College, meaning she would need to win just one more swing state for victory.

For Trump, the path to victory is much less simple. He would have to win Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa. The most recent polling in Florida has suggested that Clinton has edged ahead, but early voting has suggested that although she has an advantage in Florida, it is not quite the same advantage as President Obama had after early voting in 2012. Remember that he beat Mitt Romney in Florida by just 0.88 percent. Therefore, I think it would be fair to say that Florida is a virtual tie at present. As for the other three States I mentioned, Trump appears to have the edge. If we look at the RealClearPolitics polling averages, Trump has a lead of 3.0 percent in Iowa, 1.4 percent in North Carolina, and 3.5 percent in Ohio, meaning that victory in these three States is well within his grasp.

If Trump were to win Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Iowa, then that would leave him with 259 votes in the Electoral College, still short of the 270 needed for victory but not to far away. To get over the finish line, he would need to win both New Hampshire and Nevada, as well as taking the one electoral college vote allotted to the winner of Maine’s Second Congressional District. This would give him 270.

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The problem: NEVADA.

Early voting data from Nevada has suggested that Hispanic voters are turning out in record numbers to vote in this year’s Presidential Election. It has been suggested that this is as result of outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s famed Get Out The Vote operation. Given the inflammatory rhetoric used by Donald Trump towards the Hispanic community at large, it is hard to imagine many Hispanics voting for Trump, and the polling throughout the race has reflected this trend. Therefore, it seem sensible to suggest that Nevada is now leaning Clinton’s way. Indeed, experienced Nevadan political analyst Jon Ralston has suggested that Clinton has already built up more of a cushion in the early voting than Obama did when he won the State by seven percent in 2012. If this is indeed the case, then victory for Trump in Nevada is now as good as impossible. Therefore, Trump will have to find a different path to victory than the one I suggested previously.

Could Trump win Michigan or Pennsylvania?

Current polling averages give Clinton a lead of 4.7 percent in Michigan, and just a 2.4 percent lead in Pennsylvania. This means that she is relying somewhat on good turnout in these States, particularly in Pennsylvania. Both States are marked by the limited impact which early voting will have: in Pennsylvania just five percent of voters early voted in 2012, and Michigan doesn’t allow early voting at all. Therefore, it is harder to properly judge the enthusiasm for either candidate this time around. The lack of early voting in these States explains why Clinton has made lots of recent trips to Pennsylvania and Michigan, and why her final rally with Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, and Bruce Springsteen in attendance, will be held in Philadelphia on Monday night.

What seems clear, is that Pennsylvania is improbably close, compared to how it seemed just one month ago. However, for Hillary Clinton to lose Pennsylvania on election day would mean an absolute calamity for her campaign, and would suggest the polling is completely wrong. It seems improbable to say the least.

For Trump, the best hope is probably Michigan given the prevalence of ‘blue-collar’ voters. However, the Clinton campaign is extremely organised here, and it is hard to see Trump making to breakthrough he requires.

Realistically, the only path I can see for a Trump victory is the one I mentioned previously. For Trump, winning Florida, Iowa, Maine’s Second Congressional District, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Ohio seems the only way. And with Nevada looking how it does, although a Trump victory remains possible, it is looking very unlikely at this point.

How Clinton could finish Trump off: win Florida.

For Clinton, this is the State which could precipitate a good night’s sleep on Tuesday. She doesn’t have to win Florida, but if she does then the race is as good as over. Assuming she has won Nevada, then if she also wins Florida, Trump could take Pennsylvania and still lose:

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If Clinton wins Florida, it is an absolute knockout blow. There is no way Trump will come back from that.

What will actually happen?

As it stands, I maintain that Clinton will win, and probably relatively comfortably as well. Although perhaps not as comfortably as I predicted last month (click here to view my earlier predictions).

I still think that Ohio and Florida can be won by Clinton, but it is looking more and more unlikely. It has been reported that her early voting numbers in Florida are not quite as good as Obama’s were, which suggests that she is on course for a narrow defeat. However, this doesn’t really matter, as Clinton can comfortably win the Presidency despite losing Florida (and Ohio).

I would be unsurprised if Clinton managed to take Florida but narrowly missed out on Ohio, which would still give her a very comfortable victory in the Electoral College.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Electoral College map looked something like this:

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Overall, I think that despite the late tightening of the polls, Clinton is on course for victory. There have been suggestions that the polls must be wrong, and that they must be underestimating Trump’s support. In fact, I think that the opposite is more likely. It wouldn’t surprise me if Clinton’s victory margin on Tuesday is more than the polls suggest. With the news that the FBI won’t be changing their conclusions in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to expect some of the ‘soft Republicans’ who had considered reluctantly voting for Trump, instead casting their votes for Clinton. Given this possibility, I wouldn’t rule out Clinton also taking Ohio; and getting very close in Iowa, Arizona, and crucially North Carolina.

All in all, the stage is set for an exciting election night. Although I would say a Clinton victory is very likely, the real question is, by how much.