This year’s midterm elections are centered around the battle between the Republicans and the Democrats to have control of the Senate for the two final years of President Obama’s term. The GOP have been confident of their ability to gain control of the Senate this November, but that should not be taken as an indication that there is a significant shift to the right in the political thinking of voters, it is simply a matter of timing. The 33 seats that are being contested this year (plus 3 special elections, but I do not expect any of those – Hawaii (Dem.), South Carolina (Rep.) and Oklahoma (Rep.) to change hands) were last up for grabs in 2008, when President Obama won by a landslide and helped sway the vote in some states where Democrats have not traditionally done well. Also, at a time when Congress has a 14% approval rating, being an incumbent is not so much of an advantage anymore and 20 of the 33 Senate seats up for election have Democratic incumbents. This will all shift in 2016, when the seats that were last contested in 2010 – a year when the Tea Party movement was at its apex and helped the GOP perform outstandingly in a midterm election – will see 24 Republican Senators facing re-election contests, compared with just 10 Democrats. Since that will also be a Presidential election with no incumbent running for the White House, turnout is likely to be high, something that currently favors the Democrats – if you want proof of that, it is the GOP who are moving to disenfranchise people by limiting early voting and introducing barriers prevent some from being able to cast votes in several states, under the guise of preventing (virtually non-existent) voter fraud.
Here is what we know the 114th Congress will look likely come next January, before a single one of the 2014 Senate election votes is counted:
House of Representatives: Control will be maintained by the Republican party, regardless of how the actual vote goes. In 2012, Democrats won 201 seats to the GOP’s 234, despite the fact that they won a total of 1,417,278 more votes than the Republicans in Congressional ballots. That is thanks to the redistricting efforts from 2010, which led to huge gerrymandering – something that both parties are to blame for and is completely counter to the democratic process. If you do not think it’s a problem, I invite you to look at the following districts (out of many I could have chosen): North Carolina 12th; Illinois 4th; Pennsylvania 7th; and Texas 35th.
*Both current Independent Senators, Angus King (ME) and Bernie Sanders (VT) caucus with the Democrats, though as the pictured quote shows, Senator Sanders is open to changing that fact…but probably not.
2014 Senate Elections
Safe Democrats Seats
Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Hawaii (Special Election) – Total = 11
Perhaps with the exception of Michigan, none of these have the remotest chance of switching to Republican, even with turnout being lower in a midterm contest. Senator Cory Booker won a special election in 2013 and the former Mayor of Newark – who one day soon could be on a Presidential ticket, perhaps as a VP candidate – should easily win a full term to represent the state of New Jersey.
Safe Republican Seats
Alabama, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma (Special Election), South Carolina, South Carolina (Special Election), Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming – Total = 12
As you can see, both Oklahoma and South Carolina are having two Senate contests this November, as they replace Sen. Tom Coburn (OK – retiring) and Sen. Jim DeMint (SC, who left in 2013 to head up the Heritage Foundation) and the GOP will win all four of those seats. Alabama is going to be the least exciting contest in the nation, as Senator Jeff Sessions is running unopposed. In Mississippi, Senator Thad Cochran only narrowly avoided losing to even further-right candidate Chris McDaniels in the primary (McDaniels won 49.5% of the vote to Cochran’s 49% – but 50% was needed to avoid a run off) but a place that still has the Confederate flag as part of the design of the state’s flag, is not going to be won by a Democrat anytime soon.
Current Tally: Democrats + Independents 45; Republican 42
Definitely Switching from Democrats to Republican
Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia – Total = 3
If you want to see how much the Democrat Party can mess things up, look no further than Montana. Senator Max Baucus was appointed to be Chinese Ambassador by President Obama, then the man who was selected to replace him in the Senate, John Walsh, was revealed to have plagiarized his final thesis at the United States Army War College, so had to drop out of the race to win a full term. Now, Steve Daines (Rep.) is facing Amanda Curtis, who won a second Democratic Primary to replace Walsh on the ticket and Daines currently enjoys a 14% lead in the polls.
Senators Tim Johnson and Jay Rockefeller of South Dakota and West Virginia respectively are both stepping down at the end of this session and in both races to replace them, the Republicans – Mike Rounds (SD) and Shelley Moore Capito (WV) – are heavily favored to win. Capito was the first woman from West Virginia to represent the state in the House of Representatives and she will now become their first female Senator.
Current Tally: Democrats + Independents 45: Republicans 45
Alaska – For some time, Dan Sullivan has been expected to take this seat back for the Republicans in a traditionally red state, but incumbent Senator Mark Begich has run a campaign that has focused on a grass-roots movement to get out the Democrat voters. Although many favor this seat going to the GOP, I think turnout for Begich is going to sway it to give him another six years. Verdict – Narrow Democrat Victory
Arkansas – President Clinton’s home state is a major target for the Republicans in this election, despite the fact that they did not have a candidate in 2008 when Senator Mark Pryor won reelection against a Green Party opponent. This time around, Tom Cotton has a 48% to 42% lead in the polls and Arkansas is likely to be a gain for the GOP in the race to control the Senate. Verdict – Comfortable Republican Victory
Colorado – Perhaps one of the most bitterly contested battles, Senator Mark Udall (Dem.) faces a tough battle to keep his seat against Congressman Cory Gardner. Udall has been criticized by the right for supporting the Affordable Care Act, while Conservative groups in the state have mobilized against clean energy policies and gun control bills. When the state legislation reacted to the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora by passing measures that required universal background checks and prohibited magazines that could carry more than 15 bullets (really no-brainers than even Republicans supported 20 years ago), the NRA and other groups organized a recall of two state Senators. In the run up to this election, conservative pundit Michelle Malkin hosted a Citizens United-funded documentary called “Rocky Mountain Heist” which detailed the takeover of Colorado by four liberal billionaires who funded the state’s transition from Red to Blue. Really, I recommend watching it just for the comedy of Republicans complaining about rich people spending money that sways elections, just check your reality at the door (among other myths, the movie claims that Amendment 27 in Colorado was forced through by the “Gang of Four” to ensure they could control elections, when in fact it limits the amount any individual can contribute to a campaign) and remember that Americans for Prosperity (the Koch Brothers PAC) has poured money trying to get Republicans to win the Senate races in Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina this November. Verdict – Narrow Republican victory
Georgia – Something of a surprise that this deep red state is even in play for the Democrats, but current polls show that the race to replace the retiring Saxby Chambliss is a toss-up between Michelle Nunn (Dem.) and David Perdue (Rep.). While I do not think the Democrats will end up taking the contest this year, a high turnout in Atlanta and its suburbs in 2016 could see the state vote a Democrat for President for the first time since 1992 and the other Senate seat in Georgia will also be in play. Verdict – Republican victory
Iowa – This is an interesting race as the retirement of Sen. Tom Harkin (Dem) means that Iowa will have its first new Senator since Harkin’s election in 1984, with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley having held the other seat since 1980. Current polls show a dead heat between the Democrat candidate, Congressman Bruce Braley and Republican State Senator, Joni Ernst. Verdict – Narrow Democrat Victory
Kansas – Talking of interesting races, the normally deep red Kansas has suddenly become in play thanks to the Governorship of Sam Brownback, who has instituted a Republican Utopia in the state since 2010 – cutting taxes and spending – resulting in the economy becoming so bad more cuts will be needed no matter who wins, but the state is no longer a guaranteed victory for the GOP in either the Gubernatorial election, or the Senate race. One thing is for sure, it will not be picked up by the Democrats, whose candidate Chad Taylor withdrew from the race in September, increasing the chances of Independent Greg Orman of winning the race. While he has not yet said who he would caucus with should he be elected (stating that he would do what was best for Kansas, which would likely be to side with whichever party has the majority), he is fiscally conservative, but more centrist on other issues like gun control (he supports universal background checks including for gun show sales) and thinks the environmental issue should be approached from an economic solution viewpoint. Orman’s background is in business and his first company – Environmental Lighting Concepts – he describes on his campaign website as one that designed and installed energy-efficient lighting solutions. Despite having done exceedingly well in the campaign to this point, the Independent Candidate is unlikely to win next Tuesday for the simple fact that the GOP machine is already in place to get out the vote and give another term to Senator Pat Roberts. Verdict – Republican victory
Kentucky – This probably will not end up being close as the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, will end up defeating the challenge of Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has gone so far to distance herself from President Obama she would not even say if she voted for him in 2012. Still, by including the Kentucky Senate race in this section, I have the excuse to link to my favorite McConnelling YouTube videos: 1, 2 and 3. Verdict –
Turtle Republican Victory
Louisiana – Senator Mary Landrieu has representated Louisiana since 1996 and faces a tough challenge to win a fourth term. In the Pelican State, all candidates face off on November 4th and if nobody wins at least 50% of the vote, there will be a runoff contest between the two highest vote getters on December 6th. The main challenge to Landrieu will come from Congressman Bill Cassidy (Rep.) with neither likely to get a high enough share to avoid the second ballot. Verdict: Democrat victory in a runoff
North Carolina – Like Louisiana and Alaska, the incumbent Senator from North Carolina – Kay Hagan – has had to contend with Americans For Prosperity pouring money in to support her opponent in this year’s election. Hagan still enjoys a narrow lead in the poll over Republican candidate Thom Tillis, but her main chance to win comes from the presence of a Libertarian candidate, Sean Haugh. Haugh has been polling at around 5% and if he gets around that in the election, it is likely he will take votes away from Tillis and help Hagan retain her seat. Verdict – Democrat Victory
Current Tally – Democrats + Independents 49; Republicans 50
The Decider – New Hampshire
The race for the New Hampshire Senate seat this year is between the incumbent Democrat, Jeanne Shaheen, and the Republican challenger, Scott Brown, who is competing in his third consecutive Senate race. In 2010, Brown won a special election in Massachusetts to replace the deceased Edward Kennedy, then in 2012, he lost in a contest for a full-term in that seat to Elizabeth Warren. Brown then moved to New Hampshire and currently has a 1% lead in the polls and the control of the Senate (a 50:50 tie favors Democrats as Vice President Biden would have the deciding vote) looks like it will come down to the Granite State. Verdict – Democrat Victory
So overall, I think it will end up being a 50:50 Senate and there will be gridlock for another two years, especially when the Primary season starts for the 2016 election some time in the first-half of 2015 and nobody will focus on actually governing the country for 18 months. What I do think everyone should do, no matter which party you affiliate yourself with, which state you are in and what is on the ballot – read up on the issues and the candidates, then get out and vote. This is the first US election I have been eligible to vote in and I will proudly cast my ballot and take part in the Democratic process. If you do not vote, you really cannot complain about the results.