Repub­li­cans hold House, Se­nate ma­jori­ties

Cecil Whig - - WE ATHE R - By MARK Z. BARABAK & Lisa MAS­CARO

Tri­bune Washington Bureau

— Repub­li­cans kept con­trol of the House on Tues­day and hung on to their ma­jor­ity in the U.S. Se­nate, buoyed by the un­ex­pect­edly strong show­ing atop the ticket by Don­ald Trump.

Af­ter los­ing the cham­ber two years ago, Democrats needed a net gain of five seats to re­take the Se­nate if Trump was elected pres­i­dent and four if Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton pre­vailed and her run­ning mate, Tim Kaine, be­came the tiebreak­ing vote.

Many ex­perts and po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts had pre­dicted a Demo­cratic takeover, given the daunt­ing math fac­ing Repub­li­cans — who had to de­fend far more seats — and Trump’s er­ratic cam­paign.

But just as they un­der­es­ti­mated the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, they failed to ac­count for the re­siliency of some of the GOP’s most en­dan­gered in­cum­bents.

Repub­li­cans staked vic­to­ries in ev­ery one of the hard­est-fought con­tests, with one ex­cep­tion. In Illi­nois, Demo­cratic Rep. Tammy Duck­worth knocked off Mark Kirk, long seen as the most vul­ner­a­ble GOP mem­ber of the Se­nate.

In Wis­con­sin, Ron John­son had been all but writ­ten off by strate­gists in both par­ties. In­stead, he hand­ily fended off a come­back at­tempt by for­mer Demo­cratic Sen. Rus­sell D. Fein­gold. In North Carolina, Richard M. Burr won a sec­ond term de­spite wag­ing a lack­lus­ter cam­paign.

In Ari­zona, Sen. John McCain

WASHINGTON

eas­ily won a sixth term af­ter the hard­est-fought chal­lenge of his lengthy ca­reer. In Penn­syl­va­nia, Pa­trick J. Toomey won af­ter cast­ing him­self in a more bi­par­ti­san light and tout­ing his work with Democrats on gun con­trol.

Repub­li­cans, who cur­rently hold 54 of 100 seats, also posted vic­to­ries in two states once eyed by Democrats as promis­ing takeover op­por­tu­ni­ties.

In Florida, Marco Ru­bio — a once and likely fu­ture pres­i­den­tial can­di­date — coasted to a sec­ond term af­ter he re­versed him­self un­der pres­sure from GOP lead­ers and de­cided to seek an­other term. In Ohio, Rob Port­man also won easy re-elec­tion af­ter run­ning one of the strong­est cam­paigns in the coun­try in a peren­nial bat­tle­ground state.

In In­di­ana, for­mer Sen. Evan Bayh dis­ap­pointed Democrats by fail­ing in his come­back at­tempt, los­ing the state’s open-seat con­test af­ter Repub­li­cans and their al­lies poured in re­sources for Rep. Todd Young.

In a bright spot for Democrats, Ne­vada’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, Catherine Cortez Masto, ral­lied to hang on to the U.S. Se­nate seat be­ing va­cated by the re­tir­ing Demo­cratic leader, Harry Reid — be­com­ing the first Latina in the Se­nate.

The bal­ance of power came down to con­tests in Mis­souri and New Hamp­shire that re­main too close to call. Even if Democrats won, they would net only three seats.

Apart from the pres­i­den­tial con­test, noth­ing Tues­day will do as much to shape the po­lit­i­cal out­look for the next two years as the fight for con­trol of the Se­nate.

If elected, Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton could have counted on a smoother path with her party in con­trol, es­pe­cially be­cause Repub­li­cans seemed vir­tu­ally cer­tain to hang on to their ma­jor­ity in the House.

The same would have held true for Trump, who — de­spite his many dif­fer­ences with party lead­ers — would have faced a much more dif­fi­cult time if he won the pres­i­dency and faced a Se­nate in the hands of op­po­si­tion Democrats.

What­ever the out­come, Tues­day’s re­sults were not ex­pected to ease the par­ti­san in­fight­ing or per­sis­tent grid­lock that has de­fined Congress in re­cent years, to the great frus­tra­tion of many vot­ers.

“I’m hard-pressed to think that Congress will be able to muster much more agree­ment with them­selves or the in­com­ing pres­i­dent,” said Sarah Bin­der, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity and ex­pert on Congress.

Repub­li­cans have sig­naled they see lit­tle to gain by work­ing with Clin­ton, should she win elec­tion, if that en­tails com­pro­mises that would rile the party’s con­ser­va­tive base. At the same time, their dif­fer­ences with Trump — who broke with party or­tho­doxy on sev­eral is­sues, in­clud­ing trade and for­eign pol­icy — could leave con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans sharply di­vided among them­selves.

“Most of the in­gre­di­ents that have cre­ated this low-func­tion­ing Congress are still in place,” Bin­der said.

Part of the dys­func­tion in Congress could be eased if the new pres­i­dent played a more ac­tively bi­par­ti­san role, reach­ing across the aisle much the way for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton did when he faced a Repub­li­can-held Congress, some an­a­lysts said.

Po­lit­i­cally, how­ever, there may be lit­tle in­cen­tive for the new pres­i­dent to court votes across the aisle af­ter such a deeply po­lar­iz­ing elec­tion.

Vot­ers seemed equally skep­ti­cal of change.

“I thought Congress would get bet­ter when Jesse Helms re­tired,” said Demo­crat Mike Ped­neau, a re­tired men­tal health worker in Raleigh, N.C., re­fer­ring to his state’s arch-con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tor, who died in 2008.

“It’s got­ten more brit­tle,” Ped­neau said. “I’d al­most rather have the other side win it if meant an end to grid­lock.”

Repub­li­cans be­gan the elec­tion cy­cle with a built-in dis­ad­van­tage.

The GOP was forced to de­fend 24 seats ver­sus 10 for the Democrats, and the party’s dif­fi­cul­ties were com­pounded when vot­ers picked Trump as their nom­i­nee.

His many con­tro­ver­sial and in­sult­ing state­ments forced Repub­li­can can­di­dates to ei­ther de­fend or con­demn their pres­i­den­tial stan­dard-bearer, an­tag­o­niz­ing vot­ers whichever they chose. Some re­pu­di­ated Trump. Oth­ers con­torted them­selves by say­ing they would vote for the nom­i­nee but not en­dorse his can­di­dacy.

More sig­nif­i­cant, Trump failed to in­vest in the kind of po­lit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture — such as voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and turnout op­er­a­tions — that are typ­i­cally led by a party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date.

“Since Trump hasn’t been run­ning a cam­paign as much as a con­cert tour com­plete with mer­chan­dise, many of (the) pro­grams that usu­ally help down-bal­lot can­di­dates are bare bones or miss­ing en­tirely,” Jen­nifer Duffy, a non­par­ti­san cam­paign an­a­lyst, wrote in the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port.

That seemed not to mat­ter, how­ever, as Trump strongly out­per­formed past Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees in a num­ber of states and es­pe­cially among ru­ral vot­ers. They needed no prod­ding to turn out.

Polls waxed and waned through the fall, with Democrats gain­ing mo­men­tum in Se­nate and House con­tests as Clin­ton opened a sub­stan­tial lead over Trump af­ter his widely panned per­for­mance in three pres­i­den­tial de­bates.

But races tight­ened again af­ter FBI Direc­tor James B. Comey sent a let­ter to Congress on Oct. 28 say­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors would re­view a newly dis­cov­ered trove of emails con­nected to Clin­ton’s pri­vate email server as sec­re­tary of State. By the time Comey re­leased an all­clear let­ter Sun­day, Democrats said sev­eral Se­nate seats had slipped be­yond their grasp.

In the House, Repub­li­cans held a 247-188 ma­jor­ity, the largest for ei­ther party since the 1930s.

Democrats lost con­trol in 2010 and the 30- seat gain they needed to take back the House al­ways ap­peared well be­yond their reach, given dis­trict lines that fa­vor sit­ting law­mak­ers and shel­ter most in­cum­bents from se­ri­ous chal­lenge.

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