Who will take control of the Senate?

us-senate.jpg
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 to expect from the Vice-Presidential debate.

pjimage copy.jpg

Tonight, the first and only Vice-Presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence will take place, at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.

Typically, there is minimal media attention directed toward the Vice-Presidential debate in an election campaign. This is because the Vice-Presidential debate rarely influences the result of the election in the same way as the Presidential Debates proper do. However, tonight’s debate still matters, and could potentially be important to the eventual outcome of the campaign.

Usually, the point of the Vice-Presidential debate is to test the competence of each Vice-Presidential nominee in case of a situation arising where said nominee is forced to deputise (or take over from) the sitting President. This means that the Vice-Presidential debate is usually a thorough discussion of the record of each candidate, and their competency for the job in hand.

However, this won’t be the case this time around.

This Presidential campaign has been dominated by the records of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the suitability of each of these candidates for the White House. Expect, this Vice-Presidential debate to be completely dominated by discussion of the competency of Trump and Clinton. Effectively Pence and Kaine will simply be acting as surrogates for their running mates, and answering questions on their behalf.

For Kaine this will mean going after Trump’s temperament and looking to hammer home the message that Clinton looked to push during the first Presidential Debate — that Trump doesn’t have the temperament required for the Oval Office. Given the week that Trump has had, Kaine will certainly have plenty of readily available material to use to criticise Trump.

Pence, on the other hand, will look to push the Trump line that Clinton will not be able to create the change in Washington that Trump can, and that she is simply a member of the political establishment. With Clinton having won the first debate, but not scored anything close to a knockout blow, Kaine’s performance could be very important.

For Pence, he needs to be able to show stability in the Trump campaign. Although Clinton won the debate, it wasn’t a thrashing by any means. However, Trump then spent the rest of the week making things very difficult for himself. He re-ignited a feud with a former Miss Universe winner, which involved him tweeting abuse in the early hours of Friday morning. There was then an investigation by The New York Times which suggested that Trump had been able to avoid income tax for almost twenty years, he failed to respond to this. Finally, he faced renewed question about the status of his charitable foundation, which he failed to answer satisfactorily. None of these did him any favours in terms of his goal of appearing Presidential. Pence needs to put in a solid, measured performance in order to try and put out the fire Trump has lit for himself.

Both Kaine and Pence are known for being mind-mannered, and so it will be interesting to see how they rise to the task of strongly criticising their opponent’s campaign. For Pence, the task is perhaps hardest. He has already been called into action throughout the campaign to defend Trump, but with the week Trump has had, this could prove very difficult. His only option could be to go on the attack.

What could be interesting is whether the debate boils down to a discussion on social issues. This was something which wasn’t covered in the first Presidential Debate, in part because they aren’t a key part of either Trump or Clinton’s pitch to become President. However, Pence is a social-conservative and has long been a champion of the anti-abortion movement, and the push to defund Planned Parenthood. On the other hand, Kaine has been a strong proponent for the abolition of the death penalty, and is generally socially liberal.

Overall, this Vice-Presidential debate could be an interesting one. With Pence facing the task of getting back on message, and negating the impact of some of Trump’s recent indiscretions; and Kaine attempting to hammer home these indiscretions, it could make for compelling viewing. On the other hand, with neither candidate known for their exciting oratory, it could be very dull. Who knows!

Gary Johnson wins this year’s Palin-Perry award.

160529134119-gary-johnson-full-169
Libertarian Party candidate for President Gary Johnson. 

Libertarian Party candidate for President Gary Johnson is fast becoming the most mocked candidate in this Presidential debate on account of some of his mistakes during the campaign. Quite an achievement in an election featuring Donald Trump.

Johnson’s latest misstep brings back memories of the candidacies of Sarah Palin and Rick Perry for sheer idiocy.

When being interviewed on Wednesday on MSNBC, Johnson was asked the question, “Who is your favourite foreign leader?”

Johnson sighed and took a deep breath, clearly struggling to answer the question, before saying, “I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment.” This refers to Johnson’s now infamous television appearance in which he answered a question about Aleppo, the epicentre of the Syrian Civil War with, “What is a leppo?”

2016-09-28t23-37-36-133z-1280x720-nbcnews-ux-1080-600
Gary Johnson looks blank as he attempts to name his favourite foreign leader. 

After putting his difficulty in answering the question down to ‘brain freeze’, Johnson then quickly stated that his favourite foreign leader was the former President of Mexico. But he still didn’t know his name. His Vice-Presidential running mate Bill Weld then had to step in and put him out of his misery with the name of Vicente Fox.

Johnson’s original ‘Aleppo moment’ suggested that he was severely lacking in basic foreign policy skills, and this latest misstep only proves it further. This won’t impress traditional Republicans amongst whom Johnson has proved relatively popular due to their concerns over Donald Trump’s foreign policy credentials. Could Johnson’s mistakes therefore prove beneficial to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy?

Johnson’s inability to remember a single world leader who he admired, brings back memories of similar mistakes during previous Presidential campaigns.

For example Sarah Palin’s (when running as John McCain’s running mate in 2008) failure to name a single newspaper or magazine that she had read, instead answering: “Um, all of ’em, any of ’em that, um, have, have been in front of me over all these years.”

la-et-gov-sarah-palin-and-katie-couric-20160512
In an interview during the 2008 Presidential Campaign, Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin infamously failed to name a single newspaper or magazine that she had read. 

 

Similarly, during the 2012 Republican Primary debates, Rick Perry could only remember two of the three federal government departments that he was pledging to scrap, one of his keynote policies.

 

2011-11-10t030944z_01_deb318_rtridsp_3_usa-campaign-debate
During the 2012 Republican Primary Campaign, Rick Perry (left) couldn’t remember one of his keynote policies. 

So Gary Johnson’s ‘brain freeze’ is just the latest in a long line of similar moments during Presidential campaign.

Both the Palin and Perry incidents were famously satirised on Saturday Night Live, and one would expect that comedians will have similar fun at the expense of Gary Johnson over the next few weeks.

For Sarah Palin, the interview in question proved to be the spark for her loss of public support and descent into caricature, whilst for Perry it signalled the beginning of the end for his Presidential ambitions. What is interesting in the case of Johnson though, is that his poll numbers haven’t yet been hit as a result of his latest mistake. This perhaps points to the strangeness of this Presidential race. We’ve seen it time and time again with Donald Trump, candidates seem to be given far more leeway to make mistakes (unless you’re considered to be part of the Washington elite of course), and perhaps this is why Johnson is yet to haemorrhage support. Either way, this election just gets stranger and stranger.