Voters in Eight States Might Decide Which Party Wins Senate
-By Jim Owen
The Nov. 6 mid-term elections in the United States will determine whether Republicans continue to control both houses of Congress. At stake is the legislative agenda of President Trump and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
Many political pundits predict that Democrats will win the majority in the House of Representatives. The party needs to pick up 23 seats, which polls suggest is likely. Democrats claim they could gain 40 or more seats.
The battle for the Senate is mostly viewed as a probable victory for Republicans. The GOP is expected to hold its 51-49 majority at least, and possibly pick up additional seats. Democrats face an uphill struggle because 10 of the party’s senators seeking re-election are in states that Trump won by wide margins in the 2016 presidential election.
“This is one of the worst maps, if not the worse map, that Democrats have ever faced since the beginning of popular elections,” Larry Sabato, who heads the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told USA Today.
Turnout is generally low in mid-term elections, but this year could be different because of the polarized political atmosphere. Debates concerning health care, immigration, the economy, the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and other issues have energized millions of voters. Many observers view the election as a referendum on the Trump presidency, as well.
Voters in 35 states will elect senators to six-year terms. 26 Democrats and nine Republicans currently occupy those seats. With less than two weeks before Election Day, the outcome of most of the races was not in doubt.
Control of the chamber appeared to be coming down to eight battleground states, where polls showed the candidates in virtual dead heats. Both parties have been working overtime to make sure their supporters in those areas cast ballots. Here is a look at the contests in the eight states:
Few people believed that any Democrat would have a chance in Texas, which has sent only Republicans to the Senate for many years. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton there, 52 percent to 43 percent, two years ago.
However, the Lone Star State is changing, with liberals in the cities threatening to outnumber conservatives in rural areas. Incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is locked in a tough fight with Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke.
Experts continue to believe that Cruz will prevail, despite his opponent’s stunning fundraising prowess. O’Rourke, a technology company owner from El Paso, raked in $38 million during just one three-month period. Much of the money came from the Democratic Party and its wealthy benefactors outside Texas.
The candidates have major disagreements concerning immigration policy, which polls identify as the most critical issue in the state. Texas, which abuts Mexico, is one of the places where Trump wants to build a border wall. Residents are divided on the plan, which Cruz enthusiastically supports, and O’Rourke opposes.
The candidates take opposite positions on another immigration issue, the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as well. Cruz argues that allowing those who entered the country with their parents as minors is a form of “amnesty” that should end. O’Rourke is an advocate of providing a “path to citizenship” for foreigners living illegally in the United States.
Another Republican incumbent, Dean Heller, could be in trouble in Nevada. The state used to be a GOP stronghold, but demographic shifts are turning it “purple.” (A Republican-leaning area is considered “red,” while majority-Democrat jurisdictions are called “blue.”)
Rep. Jacky Rosen is making the race close. She hopes to repeat the success of the Clinton campaign, which won Nevada by two percentage points. Heller has angered the Trump base by criticizing some of the administration’s policies. The president blasted him for voting to save the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Heller once described the Trump White House as a “reality TV show.”
Rosen, who is completing her first two-year term in the House of Representatives, has gotten campaign contributions from abortion-rights groups. The congresswoman’s liberal voting record has alienated most Republicans in the state, so she is relying on a big turnout by Democrats and left-leaning independents.
The Grand Canyon State’s two Republican seats in the Senate are in flux because of the death of John McCain and the decision by Jeff Flake to not seek re-election. Flake dropped out of this year’s race mainly because his frequent clashes with Trump did not sit well with Republicans. Polls showed that he was likely to lose the election.
Rep. Martha McSally won a three-candidate GOP primary election to earn the right to compete with Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema for Flake’s seat. Arizona has not sent a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years, but Clinton’s narrow loss to Trump (49 percent to 45 percent) was a sign that the state may no longer be reliably red.
Voters have a clear choice between McSally, a conservative Air Force pilot who praises Trump; and Sinema, whose left-wing background includes working for the Green Party. Whoever wins will become the first woman to represent Arizona in the Senate.
Like Arizona, this state has a Republican senator who is not running for another term. Either Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn or former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen will take the seat of Sen. Bob Corker, who has been at odds with Trump.
The race is tight, which is surprising since no Democrat has won a statewide race in Tennessee since 2006. The last Democratic senator was Al Gore, who gave up the job in 1992 to become Bill Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate. Trump trounced Hillary Clinton in Tennessee, 61 percent to 35 percent.
The National Rifle Association supports Blackburn, a 16-year veteran of the House. The congresswoman’s conservative voting record has also won endorsements from police organizations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Bredesen’s challenge is to earn the trust of at least some Republicans. The Democrat points out that he supported Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, and (like Blackburn) received an “A” grade from the National Rifle Association. Bredeson has spoken out against former President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders. However, he resists much of the Trump agenda, like the border wall.
Sen. Jon Tester’s 12-year hold on Montana’s Senate seat has always been tenuous. The state, which favored Trump over Clinton by a 20 percent margin, is not a hospitable place for most Democrats. That is why Tester is having a tough time holding off a challenge by Republican Matt Rosendale, the state auditor.
Though Trump is not on the ballot, he looms large in the Montana election. Rosendale has aligned himself with the president’s policies, while Tester often joins other Democrats in denouncing the administration.
It is another place where the GOP may take a seat away from the Democrats. Sen. Claire McCaskill is the only Democrat in a statewide elected office in Missouri, which favored Trump over Clinton 56 percent to 38 percent.
Millions of dollars have flowed into the race from outside the state. Much of the money has funded television attack ads against McCaskill and Republican Josh Hawley.
Rural residents, religious conservatives and many working-class Democrats form Hawley’s base. As state attorney general, he signed on to a lawsuit calling for the repeal of Obamacare, which McCaskill continues to support. The candidates clashed during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, with Hawley backing the judge and McCaskill voting against him.
A state that is always up for grabs because of its reasonably even balance of voters in the two major parties, Florida is the scene of a spirited Senate battle pitting incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson against GOP Gov. Rick Scott. By the time the dust clears, more than $100 million is likely to have been spent on the race.
An unexpected factor in the election is the aftermath of recent hurricanes that ravished Republican-leaning counties. Earlier storms in Puerto Rico prompted thousands of people to flee the island and move to Florida, where pundits believe they will vote for Democrats.
Both candidates are well known to Floridians due to their many years in public life. Observers classify Scott as a fiscal conservative and Nelson as a centrist.
Democrat Joe Donnelly is scrapping to keep his seat in Indiana, which Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points. The senator has remained in power in this red state by reaching out to the business community and backing some of Trump’s policies while distancing himself from what he calls “the radical left.” He voted against Kavanaugh but opposes Obamacare.
The Republican challenger, Mike Braun, portrays himself as the candidate for Trump supporters. That goes a long way in Indiana, but Braun needs votes from others, as well. Though the former state lawmaker is expected to win, the contest was still too close to call at last report.
A lot of things have to go wrong for Republicans to lose control of the Senate. Campaign strategists for both parties predict that voter turnout will be the deciding factor.