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Roxanne Perugino

Republicans and Democrats do battle over congress

Americans cast ballots on November 1, 2016 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin during early voting

Date of publication: 3 November, 2016

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Comment: While the headlines speculate over a Trump or Clinton victory, Roxanne Perugino takes a look at how the battle for control of congress might pan out.

Senate elections

The 2016 election has been one of the meanest and divisive elections in recent history due largely to the unpopularity of the two presidential candidates. Voters are welcoming the end of this campaign with an audible sigh of relief. 

On November 8 voters will elect 435 Members of the House of Representatives and 34 members of the Senate as well as the next President of the United States.

The battle for control of the Senate remains a toss-up, one week before the election. Democrats believe they can pick up five to seven seats giving them a slim majority but Republicans have mounted an offensive to retain control of the Senate. While Democrats are expected to pick up a few seats in the House of Representatives, the Republican Party is expected to remain in control of the House. 

Up until last week, it looked increasingly likely that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump and bring along Democratic Senate candidates. Trump's outrageous, insulting comments about women, Hispanics, Muslims and the mentally and physically impaired have caused irreparable damage to the Republican Party in key states. 

Yet, Clinton's victory is not yet assured. The announcement by FBI Director Comey that he will reopen the investigation into Clinton's e-mails (even though these are not e-mails sent by Clinton) has the potential to harm her and perhaps the down-ballot Democrats. Similarly, it remains unclear just how significantly Trump's travails will affect Republican down-ballot candidates. 

Republicans had done a fairly good job of distancing themselves from Trump

These races are hard to predict. The simple theory of "coattails", i.e., the further behind Trump goes, or the further ahead Clinton goes, the worse – or better – it is for candidates down the ballot. This theory may apply in an ordinary election, but this year has been anything but ordinary.

Republicans, fearing the loss of the Senate, are pouring $25 million into seven races in a desperate attempt to stop Trump from dragging the entire Republican Party down with him. The infusion of cash comes from the Senate Leadership Fund, a powerful super PAC with ties to the Senate Leadership who realise the Republican Party has a difficult road ahead to keep its Senate majority.

Republicans had done a fairly good job of distancing themselves from Trump by focusing on local issues that motivate their base. That is, until the revelation of the tape in which Trump described sexually assaulting women, then things started to go downhill for the Republican candidates, particularly in states where Clinton has established a lead.

Early voting is underway in 27 states, leaving Republicans little time to turn the tide

Early voting is underway in 27 states, leaving Republicans little time to turn the tide. The only hope for the Republicans is exploit the latest e-mail drama, which they are doing with unbridled enthusiasm, and to drum home the dangers of a Clinton presidency.  

For their part, Democrats have shifted their resources from Clinton's seeming victory to down-ballot contests in the hope of giving her a Senate majority. Assuming Clinton wins the presidency, Democrats need a net gain of four seats for control of the Senate; five seats in the unlikely event Clinton does not win.

Democrats believe they are on track to win a majority in the Senate, and are continuing to tie down-ballot Republicans to Trump, in the hope he will pull down other Republican candidates with him.

Seven races remain in the "toss up" column according to noted pollster Charlie Cook. 

Florida: Incumbent Senator Marco Rubio (R) vs. Representative Patrick Murphy (D)

Indiana (Open Seat): Former Senator Evan Bayh (D) vs. Representative Todd Young (R)

Missouri: Incumbent Senator Roy Blunt (R) vs. attorney Jason Kander (D)

New Hampshire: Incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte (R) vs. New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan

North Carolina: Incumbent Senator Richard Burr (R) vs. attorney Deborah Ross

Pennsylvania: Incumbent Senator Patrick Toomey vs. Katie McGinty (D)

Nevada (Open Seat): Physician Joe Heck (R) vs. former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D)

These seven Senate races will determine the Senate majority. Republicans are confident they can hold the Florida seat, although Democrats are pouring money into that race. Democrats are poised to pick up the Republican-held seats in Illinois and Wisconsin, which means they need a pick up of three of the above seats to win a majority. 

Traditionally, races that are "toss ups" rarely split evenly; one party tends to win the majority of votes. According to the Cook Political Report, no party has won less than 67 percent of the seats in "toss up" races.

While the Senate map remains a toss-up one week before the election, it is likely that Democrats will pick up five to seven seats, giving them a slim majority. There is always the possibility of a tied Senate, but at present that seems unlikely. In the event of a tied Senate, the Vice President would be responsible for breaking any tie vote in the Senate.

House elections

Not to be forgotten are the 435 House seats that will be decided next week. Republicans currently hold the largest up majority in the House since 1928. The current House lineup is 246 Republicans to 186 Democrats with 3 vacancies.

According to the Cook Political Report 177 Democrats and 200 Republican seats are considered safe.  Twenty-two Republican-held seats are considered toss-up or leaning Democrat versus only three Democrat-held seats considered as toss-up or leaning Republican. 

Republicans are unhappy with the Republican Party's new brand and no longer recognise their party as the Party of Lincoln

Although Democrats are on track to pick up between 10 and 20 seats in the House, it is far short of the 30 seats needed to gain control of the House.

No doubt, this year's presidential election will impact the down-ballot congressional races. There is no shortage of disaffected voters. For example, many traditional Republicans are unhappy with the Republican Party's new brand and no longer recognise their party as the Party of Lincoln.

At issue, is how these disaffected Republicans will vote? Will they vote for Clinton and down-ballot Republicans or not vote at all? It remains to be seen if fear of a Trump presidency is a major factor in increasing voter turnout and thus affecting congressional election.

The nuances of voter behavior notwithstanding, the party that wins the presidential race almost always wins a net gain in the House and the general consensus is that 2016 will be no exception. 


Roxanne Perugino is a Legislative Policy Analyst at the Arab Center Washington DC.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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