One important political subject that has been denied oxygen by the presidential campaigns is the partisan fate of the Senate. At one extreme are those who claim that a Trump nomination will cost Republicans the chamber; at the other are those who note that if the Democrats thought that they had a good shot, they would be talking about it. Let's escape from Trump-mania for one week and take a look.
- The current Senate has 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats. Democrats need to gain five to take control; four if they elect Hillary. Of the 34 seats up for grabs, 24 are held by Republicans as a result of the 2010 Tea Party wave election.
- Eight of the Democratic seats are safe: California (Boxer/retiring); Connecticut (Blumenthal); Hawaii (Schatz); Maryland (Mikulski/retiring); New York (Schumer); Oregon (Wyden); Vermont (Leahy); and Washington (Murray). (I am supporting Duf Sundheim in California, but it is a long shot.)
- Fourteen of the Republican seats are safe: Alabama (Shelby); Alaska (Murkowski): Arkansas (Boozman); Georgia (Isakson); Idaho (Crapo); Iowa (Grassley); Kansas (Moran); Kentucky (Paul); Louisiana (Vitter/retiring); North Dakota (Hoeven); Oklahoma (Lankford); South Carolina (Scott); South Dakota (Thune); and Utah (Lee).
- There is remarkable consensus among the top handicappers - Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg, and Larry Sabato. Unfortunately there is little public polling, but what there is supports the experts' consensus.
- While there is some possibility of an upset, it is most likely that the Republicans will hold another four - Arizona (McCain): Indiana (Coats/retiring); Missouri (Blunt); North Carolina (Burr).
That leaves two Democratic seats and six Republican seats in play for the Democrats to gain a net four or five.
- The Democrats (estimate lose one):
-- Nevada, with Harry Reid retiring, Congressman Joe Heck has an excellent chance to defeat former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.
-- Colorado incumbent Michael Bennett is beatable, but the Republicans have yet to coalesce around a candidate.
- The Republicans (estimate lose four):
-- The Tea Party insurgents who targeted inadequately conservative incumbent Republicans in the last three cycles have found a more positive outlet in Donald Trump, avoiding at least one headache for Reince Priebus and the RNC.
-- Republicans are currently trailing in Illinois (Kirk), and Wisconsin (Johnson), and could easily lose both.
-- Freshman incumbents are narrowly leading in New Hampshire (Ayotte), Ohio (Portman), and Pennsylvania (Toomey) with recent polling offering encouragement.
-- Marco Rubio's vacant seat in Florida has brought a free-for-all in both parties, with the finalists to be decided in an August 30 primary election in what promises to be the highest profile and most expensive Senate contest of all.
So the Senate (estimate 51 to 49 Republican) is within the margin of error. But, what about the "Trump Factor", you ask. The simple answer is that turnout matters. The best comparison is to 2008 when both parties had contested primaries and the Democrats benefited from "hope and change" enthusiasm. For the 12 states decided to date where there are "apples to apples" numbers, Republican voters increased from 5.6 million to 9.6 million (+72%); Democratic voters decreased from 9.3 million to 6.5 million (-30%)! Some portion of this may be a cross-over anti-Trump vote; some of the Republicans may stay home whether Trump gets the nomination or not; but there definitely is a lot more enthusiasm on the Republican side, which should be to the benefit of Senate candidates.
And that's for 2016. For the few who can maintain the longer view, in 2018 the Republicans will have to defend only 8 seats while the Democrats will have 25, so the second half of the next president's term will see plenty of Republican legislation - if we can live that long.
This week's video is unquestionably the Romney take-down of Trump. (See particularly minutes 3 to 5 of the 17 minute speech.) The contrast between the two men makes one question the basic premise of democracy.
bill bowen - 3/4/16