All Se­nate — all the time

The Covington News - - OPINION - JACKIE CUSH­MAN COLUM­NIST To find out more about Jackie Gin­grich Cush­man and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers, visit www.cre­ators.com.

It’s an off-year elec­tion, and the White House is se­curely in the Demo­cratic camp for two more years. That means the fo­cus is turn­ing in­stead to down-bal­lot races.

In the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, all 435 mem­bers are up for re­elec­tion. The cur­rent split is 233 Repub­li­cans, 199 Democrats and three va­can­cies, and the House is pro­jected to re­main a Repub­li­can strong­hold. While there might be some mo­men­tary ex­cite­ment on the in­di­vid­ual race level (i.e., the re­cent pri­mary de­feat of Rep. Eric Can­tor in Vir­ginia), the real ex­cite­ment con­cerns the Se­nate, where power could shift.

Of the 100 Se­nate seats, 36 seats are up for elec­tion, 21 of them Demo­cratic and 15 Repub­li­can.

Eight of them — Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Ge­or­gia, Iowa, Ken­tucky, Louisiana and North Carolina — are tossups. Ac­cord­ing to Real Clear Pol­i­tics, Ge­or­gia and Iowa are open seats, i.e., no in­cum­bent is run­ning, and they were pre­vi­ously held by a Repub­li­can and a Demo­crat re­spec­tively. The other states, with the ex­cep­tion of Ken­tucky, where the seat is held by Repub­li­can Mi­nor­ity leader Mitch McCon­nell, are held by Democrats. With the Se­nate cur­rently split 53 Demo­cratic, 45 Repub­li­can and two in­de­pen­dents, a shift to a ma­jor­ity Repub­li­can Se­nate be­came more prob­a­ble af­ter this week’s pri­mary.

What is at stake is less about lo­cal or state pol­i­tics and more about the na­tional stage.

Three pri­maries held this week shed light on the na­tional mood. In Mis­sis­sippi, six-term Repub­li­can Sen. Thad Cochran ran against State Sen. Chris McDaniel, who was cham­pi­oned by the tea party. McDaniel had re­ceived 1,418 more votes than Cochran in the pri­mary and was at­tempt­ing to vil­ify the in­cum­bent as an es­tab­lish­ment in­sider. In the past few days, a num­ber of na­tional fig­ures have joined the fray, en­dors­ing one or the other can­di­date: For­mer Sen. Rick San­to­rum cam­paigned for McDaniel and Sen. John McCain cam­paigned for Cochran. While McDaniel fo­cused on the right, Cochran fo­cused on the mid­dle — in­de­pen­dents and cross­over Democrats.

Cochran won the runoff 51 per­cent ver­sus 49 per­cent. This kept the state in the likely GOP col­umn. A win by McDaniel would have left space for the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, for­mer Rep. Travis Childers, to ap­peal to the mid­dle and po­ten­tially cap­ture the seat.

In Ok­la­homa, two can­di­dates were com­pet­ing in the pri­mary to re­place Sen. Tom Coburn; a Repub­li­can who is re­tir­ing: Rep. James Lank­ford; and for­mer state House Speaker T.W. Shannon.

Shannon, part Na­tive Amer­i­can and part African-Amer­i­can, was backed by the tea party and cham­pi­oned by Ted Cruz, the ju­nior se­na­tor from Texas.

Lank­ford, who has served two terms in the House, rapidly rose in the House lead­er­ship and is the fifth-rank­ing House Repub­li­can. While this pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for Shannon to cry “Es­tab­lish­ment!” and “In­sider!,” Lang­ford’s back­ground as a Bap­tist min­is­ter, his abil­ity to in­spire and call people to ac­tion gave him the edge.

As Nathan Gon­za­lez, deputy edi­tor of the non­par­ti­san Rothen­berg Po­lit­i­cal Re­port, told CNN, “The Ok­la­homa pri­mary doesn’t fit neatly into the es­tab­lish­ment ver­sus anti-es­tab­lish­ment box. It’s very dif­fer­ent than some of the other high-pro­file races, where you had a chal­lenger tak­ing on an in­cum­bent. The po­lit­i­cal in­sider in Wash­ing­ton may not look like the po­lit­i­cal in­sider in Ok­la­homa.”

Lank­ford won the pri­mary by a huge mar­gin — 57 per­cent to 34 per­cent. While this race would not have changed na­tional re­sults at the Se­nate level, it re­minds us that it’s about turnout and votes in the end.

In Colorado, for­mer Rep. Tom Tan­credo was run­ning for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for gover­nor in a field of four. They were all vy­ing for the right to run against Gov. John Hick­en­looper.

What is fas­ci­nat­ing about this race is that there was less con­cern about who would run against Hick­en­looper than there was about the po­ten­tial im­pact on the Se­nate race in Colorado, where the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, Cory Gard­ner, has pulled within two points of Demo­cratic in­cum­bent Mark Udall.

Left-lean­ing groups were run­ning ad­ver­tise­ments in sup­port of Tan­credo in the ap­par­ent hope that he would win the pri­mary and that his hard stance on im­mi­gra­tion would serve as a light­ning rod to at­tract Demo­cratic vot­ers to the polls in Novem­ber to vote against him and, at the same time, for Udall.

The win over Tan­credo by Bob Beauprez means Repub­li­cans are more likely to gain a Se­nate seat this fall in Colorado.

This year, it’s all Se­nate — all the time.

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