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.

What next for the Republican Party?

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Donald Trump speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. 

The GOP has been totally split by this election, failure to reconcile its warring factions could result in its demise.

 

The campaign for the Republican nominee for President began in earnest on 23 March 2015, when Texas Senator Ted Cruz announced that he would be seeking the Republican nomination for President. One by one, other high-profile Republicans began to announce that they too would seek the nomination, including the likes of Jeb! Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, and Lindsey Graham. In total, seventeen major candidates campaigned for the nomination, making it the largest single field in United States Presidential primary history.

 

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The campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination featured seventeen major candidates, the most in Presidential primary history. 

 

Of course the ultimate winner of this process, and the person who I have deliberately chosen to refrain from mentioning just yet, was businessman and reality-television star Donald J. Trump.

When Trump announced his campaign for the Republican nomination with a press conference at Trump Tower, New York on 16 June 2015, few foresaw his victory, and even fewer foresaw the impact that Donald Trump would have on the wider Republican Party.

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Donald Trump announces his run for the Presidency at Trump Tower, New York City on 16 June 2015. 

 

The nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee highlighted a huge fissure in the Republican Party between much of the party elite (Senators, Congressmen and women, and Governors) and the Republican base. Time after time, comments by Donald Trump were disavowed by senior Republicans, but party members kept on voting for him. There was seemingly nothing that those in Washington D.C. could do to stop the Trump Train, with establishment candidates like Jeb! Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich unable to conjure any answer at all to the Trump surge.

 

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The likes of Marco Rubio, Jeb! Bush, and John Kasich had no answer to Trump’s popularity with the Republican base.

 

This means that we have an election coming up in November where the candidate at the top of the ticket (Trump) is running on a hugely different platform to many of the Republicans lower down the ticket, who are running for seats in Congress, or on State Legislatures. It seems clear that the Republican Party is hugely divided, which isn’t going to help when it comes to competing in subsequent elections.

Now, all ostensibly ‘big-tent’ parties face internal divisions, and it isn’t this which is the problem. Divisions can exist within parties, as long as these divisions are reconciled to the extent that the party avoids a full blown civil war. We have seen this in the United Kingdom with the takeover of the Labour Party by Jeremy Corbyn, causing a civil war between his faction and the so-called ‘Blairites’. Meanwhile, the governing Conservative Party are able to continue increasing their support, despite huge divisions of their own, simply because they prioritise power ahead of internal squabbles. The same is often true in the United States. The Democratic Primary Campaign showed that the Democrats also faced significant internal divisions, with the left-wing Bernie Sanders gaining huge support in his attempt at beating Hillary Clinton to the nomination. However, once Clinton won the nomination, the Democrats put much of this squabbling behind them because they recognised that winning the Presidency was more important than an ideologically pure political party.

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Bernie Sanders gained a lot of support in his campaign for the Democratic nomination, but then offered strong support to Hillary Clinton following her win. 

 

The Republicans have manifestly failed to do this, and the Trump campaign can count on one hand the number of senior GOP lawmakers who are actively campaigning for him around the country. This is for a good reason, Trump has done absolutely nothing to gain the support of the party elite, and has instead chosen to shun them at every available opportunity by regularly making disparaging remarks about people like Jeb! Bush, John McCain, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan. On the Democratic side, the Clinton campaign recognised the need to reach out to Bernie Sanders and those who supported him during the primaries, with the result being that Sanders has campaigned around the country on her behalf, leading to a much more comfortable election campaign. Trump on the other hand failed to do this, meaning that throughout the campaign he has been fighting on two frontiers: against the Democrats, and against the Republican Party elite. Given this situation, it is perhaps a miracle that he remains somewhat in contention for the Presidency at this late stage.

This being said, it remains unlikely that Donald Trump will win the Presidency next week. This leaves the Republican Party at a crossroads, where failure to choose the right path could easily result in the demise of the Grand Old Party — at least in the sense of the party being unable to compete for the Presidency.

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Could George W. Bush be the last Republican President?

 

In the Republican Party, this crossroads comprises two very distinct factions. One the one side, you have the moderates, the wing of the party which has dominated the Republican Party throughout most of its existence, particularly at the Presidential level. On the other side, you have what we’ll call the ‘Trumpists’, a movement which has effectively morphed out of the Tea Party movement which has come to the forefront of the Republican Party within the last ten years.

Assuming that Trump loses on 8 November, there are many from the moderate wing of the party who will feel that the Trump experiment has come to an end, and that they will be able to return to something resembling their prior more moderate ideology. However, this will be far easier said than done. The rhetoric emanating from Trump over the course of the campaign is that the election, and indeed the whole political system, is rigged. Therefore, Trump supporters are being primed to not accept the result of next week’s election. If this is the case, and Trump’s most keen supporters refuse to accept the result in significant numbers, then rebuilding the Republican Party of old could prove almost impossible.

The difficulties that the Republican Party face today have been a long time coming, with the grounds for these difficulties perhaps being set in 1980 when the Republicans returned to presidential power with Ronald Reagan.

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Ronald Reagan won the 1980 Presidential Election with a hugely different electoral coalition to the one which traditionally supported Republican Presidential candidates. 

 

This was done with an almost completely different electoral coalition than that which usually supported the Republicans, with Reagan’s supporters encompassing many evangelical Christians and white working-class ex-Democrats. These new party members were in sharp contrast to the existing pro-business conservatives who made up the Republican Party. More recently, these divisions have been manifested in the rise of the Tea Party movement, which mostly occurred during the 2010 midterms, although it could be said that the 2008 selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running-mate also helped to usher the Tea Party onto the national stage.

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The selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s 2008 running-mate helped to usher the Tea Party onto the national stage in the 2010 midterms. 

 

With the emergence of the Tea Party, the moderate wing of the GOP effectively lost control of the primary process. This has led to many Tea Party backed candidates winning Republican primaries and then getting trounced by their Democratic opponents in Congressional races (remember Christine O’Donnell?), although this being said there have also been many Tea Party backed candidates who have made it into Congress due to their standing in safe Republican seats. One of the most notable of these was Tea Party candidate Dave Brat who challenged then Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for his Congressional seat in Virginia in a primary prior to the 2014 midterms. In a huge upset, Brat defeated Cantor 55.5%-44.5%, and with this Cantor became the first ever House Majority Leader to lose his seat in a primary challenge.

 

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Tea Party backed candidate Dave Brat was able to defeat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014. 

 

The Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party, particularly in terms of their House of Representatives group, caused huge problems for the moderate party elite. It was effectively this that caused the resignation of Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, with the Tea Party wing kicking up a huge fuss if Boehner so much as considered compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. This led to the Republican Party being forced to shift further to the right of the ideological spectrum in order to appease the Tea Party faction, and by extension the grassroots of the party. This has culminated in the election of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for President, and what is effectively an existential crisis for the Republican Party.

 

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The Tea Party caused huge problems for John Boehner during his time as Speaker of the House. 

 

Given that this Tea Party wing of the party is totally unelectable on the national stage then the answer would seem pretty straightforward. If asked the question: which way should the Republican Party go? then you would expect any rational person to suggest that they go the way of the moderates, i.e. those who have some chance of winning the Presidency. However, it is not that simple. Those who vote in the Republican primaries are the party grassroots, and as I said previously this group are on a completely different wavelength ideologically to those in the moderate wing of the party. It is these in the party grassroots who are relied upon to campaign when it comes around to elections, and so to a certain extent it is very important to be able to keep them onside. In addition, the problem is further complicated by the Conservative ideologues who populate the likes of Fox News, Breitbart, and Conservative talk radio. It is these individuals who effectively control much of the modern Republican Party and to whom Republican politicians are forced to pander if they wish to appeal to their grassroots supporters, indeed the Chief Executive of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign is Stephen Bannon who is on leave from Breitbart for the duration of the campaign. The likes of Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, and radio hosts Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, and Laura Ingraham have been particularly keen backers of Trump, and it is these people who set the tone in the modern Republican Party.

 

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Fox News presenter Sean Hannity has been a particularly keen supporter of Donald Trump. 

 

This group could soon include Trump himself, if he launches ‘Trump TV’. It has been suggested that his son-in-law and de-facto campaign manager, Jared Kushner, has been attempting to drum up support for this, although naturally when asked Kushner denied it. In any case, the Conservative media will go a long way to deciding which way the Republican Party goes. It seems extremely unlikely that following a Donald Trump loss, they will simply roll over and allow the moderates to take back the party. If anything, it is more likely for the Tea Party wing of the GOP to blame to moderates, and suggest that the party needs to shift even further right.

In short, there seems little chance that the two factions of the Republican Party will reconcile. What this means, is that they could instead split.

The possibility of a split in the party has been suggested by several high-profile moderate Republicans, perhaps most notably by Steve Schmidt who was a key advisor on George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, and who managed John McCain’s 2008 campaign for the Presidency. In an interview with Vox, Schmidt said:

I think the Republican Party has an outstanding chance of fracturing. There will be the alt-right party; then there will be a center-right conservative party that has an opportunity to reach out, repair damage, and rebuild the brand over time. America, ideologically right now, is a centrist country — it used to be a center-right country — but it’s by no means a Bernie Sanders country. Not even close. The market will demand a center-right party.

There seems little doubt that a split like this would indeed be possible. If someone with no knowledge of American politics were to compare the views espoused by Donald Trump during his Presidential campaign with the views of some moderate Republicans, perhaps Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, then it would be unlikely that they’d guess that Trump was technically part of the same party as Flake and Kirk. This means that the landscape is ripe for a split, and it seems unlikely that either of the two factions would be particularly adverse to this outcome. Indeed, the aforementioned Flake has himself said that if the Republican Party doesn’t undergo a dramatic shift in policy and tone then they will consign themselves to “political oblivion”. Given that the grassroots supporters of the Republican Party won’t tolerate this kind of policy change, a split seems the only option.

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Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has suggested that the Republican Party need to undergo a dramatic policy shift if they are to remain electorally viable on the national stage. 

 

However, the problem with a split is that it would be highly likely that it would end the possibility of a Republican being elected as President for a generation. The first-past-the-post electoral college system for electing the US President means that third-parties have almost no chance at all of gaining electoral votes. The effect of the Republican Party splitting would be that their vote would also be split, making a Republican President an impossibility.

A split would likely consign the Republican Party (and any new party) to the electoral dustbin. If the Republican Party is serious about winning the Presidency then it needs to unite and reconcile the more conservative wing of the party with the moderate wing. Because running on a moderate platform is the only way to win the Presidency. This particularly the case in modern America where demographic changes mean that the electoral map is skewed more and more in favour of the Democratic Party. The likes of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Colorado tend to be touted as swing states, however statistically it looks as though it would be fair to classify these states as safe Democratic. Even Texas, once the bastion of Republican support, is turner bluer every year thanks to a rapidly increasing Hispanic population flexing its political muscles. These changes are making it more and more difficult for even a moderate Republican Party to win the Presidency, meaning that an ‘alt-right’/Tea Party Republican Party has absolutely no chance of national success.

The only hope for the Republican Party’s survival would be for the party to unite around a moderate candidate to take the party forward. This could be John Kasich, who it is rumoured is already preparing another bid for the Republican nomination in 2020.

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It has been rumoured that Ohio Governor John Kasich is already preparing another bid for the Presidency in 2020.

 

As the aforementioned Steve Schmidt has said: “there’s no question that Republicans — as an institution and what we’re led by — are unfit to run the country, or to govern the country.” And he’s absolutely right. For rational, moderate voters, the Democrats are the only option. For liberals like myself this is great at first glance, but history shows that a lack of credible political opposition isn’t good for anyone, and ultimately leads to inefficient government.

For the Republicans the task is simple, they must take a more moderate path and stop obsessing about settled social issues that don’t concern the wider electorate. Failure to appeal to the wider election will result in the demise of the party of Lincoln, which is still affectionately known as the Grand Old Party.

For democracy, this would be a sorry result.

 

Could this be the Presidential election where the political map is totally redrawn?

During Presidential elections, the states of Arizona and Georgia have come to be seen as Republican strongholds. In the last fifty years, Arizona has only voted Democrat once, when Bill Clinton won the state during the 1996 Presidential election. In Georgia, only three Presidential elections have been won by Democrats since 1960, Bill Clinton won in 1996, whilst Jimmy Carter won in 1976 and 1980 (which was mostly because he had previously served as the Governor of Georgia). In the most recent presidential elections, both states have been dominated by the Republican candidates. In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain won Arizona by almost nine per cent, and won Georgia by over five per cent. Whilst in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney won Arizona by almost nine per cent, and won Georgia by almost eight per cent.

Given these figures, it is not hard to see why Arizona and Georgia tend to be seen as Republican strongholds, and therefore states that you would expect Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump to win with ease in the upcoming presidential election.

However, opinion polling figures suggest that Donald Trump is falling behind in these states which, given their status as Republican strongholds, are absolutely critical to his chances of success in the upcoming Presidential election. The latest polling in Arizona by CBS News and YouGov gives Trump a lead of just two percentage points. In Georgia the picture is even more dire for Trump with the latest polling indicating that Clinton holds a lead of seven percentage points. Nearly all of the analysis on the upcoming election suggests that if Trump is to have any chance of winning, he must win all of the states won by Mitt Romney during the 2012 Presidential Election as well as winning states such as Ohio and Virginia which were both won by President Obama. This data suggests that he is a long way from doing that.

One of the issues for Trump in Arizona is the state’s high Hispanic population. Gallup polling during the Republican primary campaign indicated that Trump had a net-favourability rating amongst Hispanic voters of -65%, and this has only got worse in recent months. With voter registration amongst Arizona’s Hispanic population soaring, it is fast becoming a state which will be extremely difficult for Donald Trump to win. Trump’s problems in Georgia stem from the changing demographics of the state, with a growing constituency of educated suburban voters who aren’t enamoured with Trump’s divisive policies and rhetoric. This could allow Clinton to swoop in and claim the state for the Democrats.

Recent polling has also put Trump and Clinton neck-and-neck in Utah, a state won with ease by Mormon Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential Election. This creates another headache for Trump. In the 2012 Presidential Election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney won 206 electoral college votes, 64 away from the 270 required to win the Presidency. This means that Trump already ostensibly has 64 votes to make up over the Republicans 2012 performance. However, if he were to also lose Arizona (11 electoral college votes), Georgia (16), and Utah (6); then this would give him a total of 97 electoral college votes that he would have to gain from the states won by Obama in 2012. Surely this is an insurmountable task?

Trump has long been outspoken about how he believes he can win states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and even Democratic stronghold New York. However, the polling does not reflect his optimism. In PennsylvaniaTrump is 11% behind Clinton. In Ohio Trump is now 5% behind Clinton. InMichigan Trump is 10% behind Clinton; and in New York, perhaps the least likely of these four states to break for Trump, the deficit is even worse, with Clinton leading Trump by 12% in the latest polling, and even as high as 23% in some polls. This doesn’t paint a picture of this being an election that Trump is likely able to win. For starters, Ohio is considered a state that must be won if a candidate is to win the Presidency. For Trump, he wasn’t even able to win the state during the primary campaign (losing to Governor John Kasich) and so it is difficult to see how he will be able to turn around his deficit and win the state in November.

With Trump unable to win these key swing states, he starts to get to the point where he needs to win states which are as solidly blue as California, which hasn’t voted Republican in a Presidential election since 1988. This just doesn’t look likely, meaning a probable victory for Hillary Clinton in November. But actually it potentially means a lot more than that, a complete redrawing of the political map.

This is something which perhaps began with the ascendency of the Tea Party faction in the Republican Party around 2008 and 2009. This loud minority ended up setting the national tone for the Republican Party, which became more interested in arguing within themselves as to who was more pro-gun or more anti-abortion than actually winning power. This erosion of the traditional values of the Republican Party (small government, strong national defence, free market capitalism, family values) to instead focus on peripheral social issues which are considered settled by the vast majority of swing voters, is what led to Donald Trump being capable of winning the Republican nomination, and is what will lead to the Republicans ceasing to become a credible party of government for the foreseeable future.

This election gives the Democratic Party the chance to steal the march on the Republicans and claim states like Arizona, Georgia, and Ohio as their own for the foreseeable future. The damage that has been done to the Republican brand amongst swing voters in these states following the candidacy of Donald Trump will surely put the Republicans out of Presidential office for a number of years.

It is no surprise that some Republican congressman facing reelection havereleased advertising promising to stand up to Trump. Whilst other Republicans have refused to endorse Trump, of even said that they will be supporting Clinton instead. For some Republicans facing reelection, their only way to survive is to distance themselves from Trump to as great an extent as possible. Take Republican Senator for Illinois Mark Kirk for instance. Kirk faces an extremely tough reelection fight against Democratic member of the House of Representatives Tammy Duckworth, in a state that strongly leans Democrat — current polls show Hillary leading Trump by 25% in Illinois. Therefore, it is no surprise that Kirk has been vocal about not supporting Trump, as this is really the only chance he has of re-election. Indeed, the most recent polling shows Duckworth leading Kirk by 7%. This illustrates the extent to which Trump is harming the electability of the Republican Party, potentially for decades to come.

So although this election will end in November, it seems sure to have ramifications that will be felt long afterwards, and may end up defining electoral politics in the United States for the near future. If this election leads to states like Ohio becoming Democratic strongholds, with Arizona and Georgia moving from Republican strongholds to swing states, then it is difficult to see how the Republicans can win any future Presidential election, at least without undergoing a dramatic alteration of the platform upon which they stand. In any case it will surely be interesting to see what happens, but I have a suspicion that senior Republicans will seriously regret not taking Trump more seriously during the early stages of the primary campaign. This was an election that they were surely capable of winning given that Hillary Clinton is not universally loved, but instead it has resulted in the Republican Party potentially becoming unelectable at Presidential level for a generation.