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.

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.