US Se­nate bat­tle tight­ens in last days

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

As the US pres­i­den­tial race en­ters its fran­tic fi­nal 72 hours, a bat­tle for Congress is also com­ing down to the wire, with the fate of the Se­nate tee­ter­ing on a knife’s edge. Who runs the two cham­bers - and the leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced there - is cru­cial, as bills can eas­ily get stuck, par­tic­u­larly if the lead­er­ship does not be­long to the same party as the pres­i­dent. Both the Se­nate and the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are cur­rently un­der Repub­li­can con­trol. Last week, it was look­ing likely that Democrats would ride Hil­lary Clin­ton’s coat­tails on Nov 8 and re­claim the Se­nate.

But then FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey en­tered the fray, and all bets are off. Comey told con­gres­sional lead­ers on Oct 28 that the bureau, hav­ing dis­cov­ered a fresh batch of emails that might be per­ti­nent to an ear­lier probe of Clin­ton’s pri­vate email server, was tak­ing an­other look into the case. Sud­denly, na­tional polls tight­ened, and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans in tough re­elec­tion bat­tles glee­fully pounced on the news to re­mind vot­ers of the im­por­tance of se­cur­ing a check against a pos­si­ble Clin­ton pres­i­dency.

Repub­li­cans en­joy a strong 59-seat ma­jor­ity in the 435-mem­ber House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and most an­a­lysts say it would take a so-called ‘wave elec­tion’ - when one party makes ma­jor gains in Congress - for Democrats to flip the 30 seats needed to re­take con­trol. “House generic polling av­er­ages don’t in­di­cate a wave is com­ing in the lower cham­ber,” wrote a team of an­a­lysts from the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia’s Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics. At­ten­tion falls there­fore on the 100-mem­ber Se­nate, where Democrats would need to gain four seats for a ma­jor­ity in the event Clin­ton wins the White House, as ties in the Se­nate are bro­ken by the vice pres­i­dent.

“I think hav­ing a Demo­cratic Se­nate is ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal,” Clin­ton said Satur­day on Amer­i­can Ur­ban Ra­dio Net­works, ex­plain­ing why she is push­ing hard for can­di­dates in states like Florida, North Carolina and Penn­syl­va­nia. The mil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion is: how much could an al­le­giance to Don­ald Trump im­pact the Repub­li­can Party’s chances at the bal­lot box?

Trump a ‘Dou­ble-Edged Sword’

“In iso­lated cases, it may al­low some Repub­li­cans in close races to win re-elec­tion by dis­tanc­ing from Trump,” Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity pro­fes­sor of ap­plied pol­i­tics Gary Nordlinger told AFP. “But it’s a real dou­ble-edged sword. Trump is wildly pop­u­lar among his base, so you risk alien­at­ing that base when you try to dis­tance your­self.” Repub­li­cans were strug­gling last week, but the FBI bomb­shell has lifted spir­its.

On Satur­day, the Five Thirty Eight web­site, fea­tur­ing re­spected elec­tion fore­caster Nate Sil­ver, dropped its chances of Democrats win­ning the Se­nate from 72.8 per­cent to 53 per­cent. Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port had pro­jected Democrats would pick up five to seven seats. But it shifted its rat­ing for the Wis­con­sin race from lean­ing Demo­crat to a toss-up. Of the Se­nate’s 34 seats con­tested in 2016, 24 are held by Repub­li­cans, mak­ing it a tough year for the GOP. Of the nine clos­est Se­nate races, only one, in Ne­vada, is held by a Demo­crat.

Illi­nois is likely to flip to the Democrats. An­other vul­ner­a­ble Repub­li­can is in New Hamp­shire - al­though Se­na­tor Kelly Ay­otte surged into the lead against the state’s Demo­cratic Gover­nor Maggie Has­san just be­fore the FBI news landed. North Carolina and Penn­syl­va­nia could tip to Demo­cratic blue, with tougher but still vi­able bat­tles in Florida and In­di­ana. Even red-lean­ing Mis­souri is in play. Repub­li­can Se­na­tor Roy Blunt risks los­ing to Ja­son Kan­der, a charis­matic Demo­cratic mil­i­tary vet­eran whose cam­paign video of him­self as­sem­bling an AR-15 ri­fle while blind­folded has gone vi­ral.

With Repub­li­cans scram­bling to pre­serve the Se­nate, a con­ser­va­tive group is pour­ing $25 mil­lion into a half­dozen races. “We know that it will be a tough chal­lenge to keep the Se­nate in this en­vi­ron­ment, but if Democrats want the ma­jor­ity, they are go­ing to have a hell of a fight on their hands,” Ian Prior of the Se­nate Lead­er­ship Fund said last week. Clin­ton wel­comes that fight, and has sought to drape Trump around Repub­li­cans’ necks like an al­ba­tross.

Fire­wall

The House is the Repub­li­can fire­wall. Speaker Paul Ryan has had a tem­pes­tu­ous re­la­tion­ship with Trump, and af­ter the nom­i­nee’s lewd com­ments about women emerged last month, Ryan said he could no longer de­fend or cam­paign with the can­di­date. In­stead he is fo­cus­ing on main­tain­ing his House ma­jor­ity. Still, most of the vul­ner­a­ble House seats are held by Repub­li­cans, and Democrats are con­fi­dent they can cut deeply into the GOP’s ma­jor­ity, per­haps re­gain­ing as many as 10 or 15 seats.

A con­fi­dent Clin­ton camp is mak­ing for­ays into House races, seek­ing to pick off seats where Repub­li­can in­cum­bents are in jeop­ardy. One pro-Clin­ton group re­leased an ad in Iowa ty­ing fresh­man con­gress­man Rod Blum to Trump. It shows footage of Blum at a cam­paign rally say­ing, “Send me back to Congress, and you send Don­ald Trump to the White House.”

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