In light of yet more stagnation in the race to lead the Executive Branch – the Obama campaign continues to hit Romney for a plethora of campaign errors with some success – now is a good time to focus on the races taking place other than the Presidency, but still in the Federal government. The elections for our Congress in both the Senate and the House may impact the state of our government just as much as the Presidential election. After all, the political environment after the Tea Party surge of 2010 was remarkably changed. This week I will analyze the Senate, to be followed by the House races next week.
In the Senate, only a third of the seats stand to be replaced – 33 of the 100. These are the Senators who were elected in a Democratic sweep in 2006, and thus are mostly democrats. Because of the sweep, many of these democrats come from states that aren’t strongholds for their party, while the Republicans come from safe red states. The exact makeup is 21 democrats, only 10 republicans, and 2 independents. One of those independents is Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, who is again running as a strong liberal and a self-described democratic socialist, and caucuses with the democrats, and can mostly be considered as one for the purpose of determining a party majority. His fellow independent is Joe Lieberman, who chose not to run again – possibly for the benefit for the democrats, as Lieberman is fond of breaking from those he caucuses with, to the point of speaking at the Republican Convention in 2008 to endorse McCain and threatening to filibuster any health care reform containing a public option. However, he’s still better for the party than a republican in his Connecticut seat. For the rest of this analysis, I’ll treat both as democrats to simplify things.
This election cannot possibly improve the political state of the democrats. Yes, if a net seven new seats are gained, the democrats will have a supermajority capable of ending filibusters. However, that would be a task of extreme difficulty – even if they kept every seat they had, the democrats would still have to take seats from very strongly red states such as Texas, Arizona, Utah, and Mississippi. At the same time republicans would have to take a net 13 new seats to gain a supermajority in the Senate, which would mandate winning elections in similarly strong blue states. This means that the only real change that can occur in the senate is a republican majority coming in. Before doing the math for that, we need to examine an Independent Senator running in Maine. Angus King, the Governor of Maine for two terms, is running as an independent. Like Sanders and Lieberman he leans left – he supported the stimulus and wishes the Affordable Care Act had gone farther – but King has repeatedly declined to promise to caucus with either party. King has floated the idea of caucusing with no party at all, which he himself admits is probably impossible by the Senate’s rules. At other times he has proposed the idea of simply caucusing with the majority in order to gain political power Of course this leaves open the question of how King would decide if he became able to decide that majority. In this case I believe he would follow his clear liberal leanings and caucus with the Democrats. King is running for republican Olympia Snowe’s old seat and will face his most major competition from his Republican opponent Charlie Summers as opposed to the single-digit-polling democrat Cynthia Dill. So as to the question of a majority, King represents movement towards a democratic one, while his opponent represents movement towards a republican one, just like any other race. However, King is polling very well, making Maine a spot where Democrats can hope to pick up a seat.
King’s excellent polling in Maine may be the only spot of light for the Democrats. Three Democrat-held seats are in states now polling for a Republican challenge. Indiana is a red state currently polling for Republican challenger Richard Mourdock, North Dakota supports Republican Rick Berg, and in Nebraska Deb Fisher vastly outpolls Democrat Bob Kerrey. With the Republicans holding 47 seats, they need to gain 4 to hold a majority. Factoring in a loss of Maine, they need to get 5. That’s 2 seats more than the aforementioned three they are extremely likely to claim, and they have twenty states to choose those 2 from, including close battlegrounds such as Wisconsin, Virginia, Montana, and Missouri – the democrats will have to defend all of these states at a funding disadvantage. The only other good news for the democrats, and the only other bad news for the republicans, is the high-profile Massachusetts race between incumbent Scott Brown and rising political star Elizabeth Warren, which is neck and neck. Because it is so neck and neck I believe it will be kept by the republicans in any republican majority scenario and be lost in any democrat majority scenario – it’s unlikely to give either party a pivotal seat for a majority.
As to if the Republicans will be able to take the Senate, I would at the moment say that they likely will. They should be able to pour in money to a small selection of their best-chanced states, and outdo a democratic party that has been doing weakly on fundraising this cycle. However, the core of the issue comes down to turnout, and thus how enthusiastic voters will be about the presidential candidates – positively or negatively. This then comes down to Mitt Romney’s image problem. The Obama campaign seems to have partially given up on a major enthusiasm push on their candidate, but instead about Romney, focusing on a past of financial shadiness and a refusal to give out tax returns. This is smart because not only does it stand to increase the turnout of Obama supporters, but also to decrease faith in Romney among moderate republicans or right leaning independents, affecting turnout in two positive ways. Meanwhile Mitt Romney is focusing similarly in a repeat of 2010, where wins could be said to be against Obama more than for any republican candidate in terms of the mindset of voters. The only way the democrats will be able to effectively keep the Senate will be through altering turnout by decreasing faith in Mitt Romney among all voters.