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.

Get ready for the bloodiest debate in Presidential election history.

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Clinton and Trump face off in the first Presidential debate.

After Donald Trump’s clear loss in the First Presidential debate two weeks ago and the week that followed for his campaign, tonight’s Presidential debate was always set to be a fiery one. But with the recent release of audio of Trump making lewd and derogatory comments about women during an appearance on Access Hollywood in 2005, tonight’s debate is set to be even more bad tempered than originally expected.


After the release of the tape, what seemed like a constant succession of senior Republicans rushed to condemn Trump’s comments, with many going as far as withdrawing their endorsement. Leader of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan said he was “sickened” by what he had heard, and called off a scheduled joint campaign appearance in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the comments, “repugnant, and unacceptable in any circumstance,” and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney (who had already said that he would not be supporting Trump) said that Trump’s comments “corrupt” America’s image to the world.

Add to this the list of Republican luminaries who announced one by one that they were withdrawing their support for Trump: John McCain, Rob Portman, Condoleeza Rice, Kelly Ayotte, and Mike Crapo to name just a few. Given that so many of these individuals gave their support so reluctantly in the first place, perhaps this was just the kind of incident they were looking for — something to given them an excuse to eject themselves from the trainwreck that Trump’s campaign has become.


Tonight’s debate is realistically the final opportunity Trump has to stay in with a chance in this Presidential race. If he is unable to at least prove to some of the doubters in his own party that he is fit to be President, then he stands no chance of winning in November.

To have any chance of doing this, Trump has to act as Presidential as it is possible to act.

Following his loss in the first Presidential debate, it was widely expected that in the second debate, Trump would look to bring up Bill Clinton’s martial infidelities (and Hillary’s defence of them) as one of his key criticisms. However, after what we heard Trump say earlier this week, he has surely forfeited his right to do this.

Nonetheless, as a man of unlimited self-confidence, expect Trump to go big (sorry, I mean bigly) on Bill Clinton’s infidelities, and for him to completely miss the irony. Indeed he began this assault during the non-apology he gave on Friday, when he said:

“I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed, and intimidated his victims.”

It is perhaps this comment which shows us exactly what we can expect in tonight’s debate. Rather than any real admittance on fault on his part, Trump will do all he can to claim Clinton is worse. Naturally she will return fire, which will make for the bloodiest debate in Presidential election history.

It is hard to see how bringing up Bill Clinton’s infidelities will help Trump. Yes, there is an argument that it will persuade some people that Trump’s 2005 comments aren’t as bad as the reaction has suggested. But, given the sheer vulgarity of what he did say, it is hard to see how this would be possible. Rather than implying that Clinton is unfit for the Presidency, is bringing up her husband’s indiscretions not more likely to stoke sympathy for Hillary Clinton? Not to mention that it has been suggested that the electorate has no desire to hear more about Bill Clinton’s infidelities. In recent polling by Politico, it was found that 56 percent of voters felt that it would be inappropriate for Trump to bring this up during the debate, with only 33 percent feeling it was appropriate. Therefore, Trump’s most likely strategy seems misguided.


Trump’s task is further complicated by the ‘town-hall’ format of tonight’s debate, a format which Trump has little experience in.

Trump’s best moments on the campaign trail have come at his mass rallies, where he is alone on the mic in front of a huge group of adoring fans. When Trump has to interact with others, he tends to find things more difficult. We saw this in the first debate, where Trump couldn’t help but respond to Clinton’s baiting, with this leading to lengthy parts of the debate spent on damaging topics such as Trump’s ‘birther’ theory. Don’t expect this part of Trump’s personality to change anytime soon but, in a town hall debate it could prove far more costly. With the audience asking the questions, who would bet against Trump taking issue with a difficult question asked by an undecided voter? One of the key skills required in a town hall debate is the ability to respect the voter by listening to the question and actually answering it. This is something that Trump has typically found difficult, with his tendency to ignore the question and digress into a monologue about his brilliance, and his tendency to react angrily when faced with criticisms. This is something that he cannot afford tonight. But, given his always limited debate prep, which can’t have been made any easier by this week’s crisis, don’t expect him to have comprehensively fixed these flaws, Trump’s biggest failure may yet be the belief that he has no flaws.


All Clinton needs to do tonight is control the debate. If Trump behaves as expected (i.e in exactly the same way as he has throughout the campaign), then he will dig his own holes, and with tonight’s town hall format all Clinton needs to do is watch as the audience push him down them.