Democrats eyeing a Senate majority
Democrats have taken a clear but shaky lead in the battle to take control of the Senate, polls indicated this week, as the historic unpopularity of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump weighed on many down-ballot GOP candidates. The party is aiming to flip at least four Senate seats to erase the 54-46 Republican advantage—if Hillary Clinton wins the White House, her vice president, Tim Kaine, would break a 50-50 tie. At a Nevada rally, President Obama urged Clinton supporters to vote for down-ticket Democrats, telling the crowd, “We can’t elect Hillary and then saddle her with a Congress that is do-nothing, won’t even try to do something.” Democratic hopes rest on a handful of races against GOP incumbents. The most vulnerable Republican, Mark Kirk of Illinois, trails Rep. Tammy Duckworth by 7 points, while Wisconsin’s Sen. Ron Johnson is behind former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold by about 5 points. In New Hampshire, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan narrowly leads Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Republicans also face stiff challenges in Indiana, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Missouri.
In a last-ditch effort, the Senate Leadership Fund, a powerful GOP Super PAC, poured $25 million into six Senate races. In the House, Republicans fear a big Clinton victory could erode their 30-seat majority. Rob Simms, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, called the situation “increasingly precarious.”
What the columnists said
Republicans may yet hang on to the Senate, said Karl Rove in The Wall Street Journal. President Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole by 8.5 percent of the popular vote in 1996, but the GOP picked up two Senate seats because “Americans did not want to give a Clinton a blank check.” Hillary is far less popular than her husband was, so we could see a similar result this year. That depends on the voters’ mood, said Dan McLaughlin in NationalReview.com. Will hardened Trump supporters boycott Senate and House races “to protest perceived disloyalty” to their leader? And will the GOP’s lack of a ground game cause the party “to seriously underperform projected turnout?”
A Democratic majority in the Senate would be crucial for a Clinton presidency, said Albert Hunt in Bloomberg.com. While it takes 60 votes to pass substantive stuff— a level Democrats are unlikely to reach—the majority still sets the agenda. A narrow Democratic majority could force a hearing on the stalled nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and advance bills on key progressive issues, such as paid parental leave and raising the minimum wage. Those items would face intense opposition from the GOP-controlled House. “But action in the Senate, or even consideration, brings pressure on the other chamber.”
Still, “this could be a very short-lived Democratic majority,” said Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post. In two years’ time, 25 Democratic senators or allied independents will be up for re-election, compared with eight Republicans. Because 2018 will be the first midterm election of a Clinton presidency, the Democrats will almost certainly incur big losses in red states. So if Clinton does win on Nov. 8, she “will have two years to work with a friendly Senate before things get much, much tougher.”