Short of slapping a baby or some crazy WikiLeaks scandal, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton looks a pretty good bet to close out this election. Recent polls give her a better chance of winning Alaska, where a Democrat has not won since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, than Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump does of winning key “battleground” states like Florida and Pennsylvania. The more competitive elections are going to be a bit further down the ballot.
The new president would absolutely love majorities for her (or his, I guess) party in the House and Senate. Majorities make any policy vote that much simpler. While the House will all but certainly stay in Republican hands, the Senate race is going to come down to the wire.
Senators are elected to six-year terms, and in any given election there are 33 or 34 seats up for re-election. As such, the Senate is a bit slower to reflect contemporary political leanings than the House, where all 435 seats are up for re-election every two years. This year’s seats were filled in 2010 during midterm elections. The Tea Party (remember them?) caucus of Republicans took advantage of a slowly recovering economy, unpopular reforms (ObamaCare) and low turnout to hammer Democrats. Now, these seats are up for re-election. Of the 34 seats up for elections on Nov. 8, 24 are held by Republicans and just 10 by Democrats.
As it stands, the scorecard is a 54-44 majority for the Republicans. Assuming Hillary wins the presidency, all Democrats will have to do to flip this balance of power is win four seats, as the vice president breaks ties.
One of the interesting dynamics to watch is the degree to which Republican Senate candidates embrace their party’s nominee for the presidency. In Illinois, incumbent Mark Kirk distanced himself from Trump early on. Considering Trump is down almost 20 points in Illinois, this is an understandable move. It still probably won’t be enough for Kirk, one of Washington’s most bipartisan senators, to hold on.
Kirk isn’t the only one. Even after referring to Trump as a good role model for her children, New Hampshire incumbent Kelly Ayotte refused to endorse him. The race in New Hampshire has been close for months, but the emerging Clinton tailwind might just be enough to push Democrat Maggie Hassan across the finish line.
Some have doubled down on Trump. In Missouri, where the Republican ticket should win somewhat comfortably, incumbent Roy Blunt has defended Trump. He is facing a late push from Democrat Jason Kander, an Afghanistan veteran whose team put together maybe the best advertisement of the campaign. After being attacked for being weak on guns, Kander launched an ad featuring him blindfolded putting together a rifle and defending his credentials. It was pretty awesome.
On a national level, Republicans just have too much to defend and too little to attack. The final tally will certainly be close, but it looks like Democrats could have just enough to take back the Senate.
I have a feeling we won’t know who gets the majority until well after our next president’s victory speech — whether or not it is preceded by a concession speech.