Beneath the excitement of the US Presidential elections are the similarly important but far less reported elections to the House of Representatives and the Senate; the victors will wield immense power over the future direction of America, rivalling that of the President.
The consensus has been that the Republicans are likely to hold the House and lose the Senate. However, a quick bit of analysis shows only the first half of this comes close to being certain: 218 Congressmen are needed for control of Congress, and pollsters rate 227 districts safe, likely or leaning Republican. The higher turnout of Presidential years does tend to favour Democrats, which may hand them most of the 16 toss-ups, but that would not remove the Republican majority, merely reduce it, which is much what is expected.
The Senate elections, in which 33 of 100 Senate seats are up, 11 are deemed competitive races, and 10 of those have Republican incumbents; with 54 Senators presently, it looks on the face of it very possible for Democrats to gain the senate. Given trends within some of the states, however, the picture is far less clear cut.
For a start, some of the supposed toss-ups are looking securely republican. Arizona’s John McCain, Ohio’s Rob Portman and Florida’s Marco Rubio have average leads of 13.7, 13.4 and 6.5%, respectively; as such, they can be put with some confidence in the Likely Republican column. Equally Wisconsin’s Feingold, Illinois’ Duckworth and Indiana’s Bayh lead by averages of 9.7 and 7.75 and 5.5%, so it can be said quite confidently that the Democrats will probably pick them up. That leaves us with 5 states where it gets interesting: Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Missouri and Pennsylvania.
If the Democrats win 3 of those states, they’ll have a majority on the Senate. How likely is that? Far less than it may seem.
Both North Carolina and Missouri are traditionally Republican, and their respective Republicans Burr and Blunt have leads averaging 3.3 and 3.4. Digging somewhat, it’s notable that of the 8 polls RCP has of Missouri, the Democrats only lead in one, and in North Carolina the Democrats only lead in 2 out of 19: this consistency, rather than erratic polls which happen to average on one side, leads us to the belief that the Republicans will hold the two states, if perhaps narrowly.
In Nevada comes the Republicans prime chance of gaining a state, in Harry Reid’s old seat. Republican Heck faces Democrat Cortez Masto, and by all accounts Heck has put in an excellent campaign, leading his opponent by an average of 1.5%, ahead in 5 of 7 polls on RCP. New Hampshire has seen Republican Ayotte and Democrat Hassan overtaking one another over and over. Both candidates are well known in state, with Hassan being former Governor and Ayotte the incumbent Senator. Presently Ayotte has an average lead of 1.8%, within the margin of error. She’s been ahead in a majority of polls, albeit a narrow one. Pennsylvania is the closest of them, with Democrat McGinty, boosted by millions of dollars from out of state donors, leading Republican Toomey, allegedly held back by his failing to endorse Trump, by an average of only 0.2%. Every one of the 3 states could go either way; the Republicans need 2, and the Democrats 3, for an outright majority in the Senate; if it goes 50/50, the Vice President casts the deciding vote.
Trump may have dragged down some of his down-ticket fellows, but Clinton has also dragged down hers. A weak Clinton performance in the next two months may be enough to ensure all 3 of the above are won by the Republicans, and equally Trump imploding could hand them all to the Democrats. Given the effects Presidential candidates can have on down-ticket candidates, it wouldn’t be a jump to expect that it may well be the winner of the Presidency that decides which way the most marginal Senate races go.
As has been mentioned in a previous column, the wind seems to be in Trump’s sails. For this reason it seems likely the Republicans will hold the Senate, albeit barely. Even if Clinton wins and the Democrats scrape a majority in the Senate, however, it may well be short-lived. An unpopular President Clinton, and she will be unpopular, would preside over a 2018 midterm Senate race, where Republicans tend to over-perform already, in which 23 of the 33 incumbents would be Democrats.