With one month until the mid-term elections, it is shocking how little play the 2014 election is getting in the national media. It seems that ISIS and Russian belligerency, not to mention fall football and the baseball play-offs, have captured headlines and airwaves. This is making Republicans fret and giving Democrats hope. Why?
A great deal is at stake on November 4. All seats in the House of Representatives, thirty-six governorships, and thirty-six U.S. Senate races are on the ballot. The result could amplify or curtail the legacy of Barack Obama and have major repercussions for the 2016 presidential election.
President Barack Obama casts his ballot at the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Service Center while participating in early voting on Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, in Chicago. Obama took a break from campaigning for Gov. Pat Quinn, D-Ill., to cast an early ballot for the election. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
According to most a series of polls compiled by Politico, Republicans will keep the House of Representatives, so there are two key battlegrounds: a few key gubernatorial races that seem to be up for grabs and whether or not the Senate will fall into the hands of the GOP. Each has a different dynamic and should be considered separately.
When it comes to governor’s races, getting into all the possible developments is beyond this editorial, but one key trend is telling: the potential role of third-candidates. In most cases, those independent or Libertarian candidates are likely to harm Republican chances for victory. A case in point is Kansas, where incumbent Sam Brownback (R) is slightly behind Pat Davis (D) in a real horse race. If five percent or more of voters choose to vote for Libertarian Keen Umbehr, Brownback will lose. Arizona is similar: the difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates is within the margin of error in recent polls; a Libertarian claiming seven percent or more of the electorate could put a Democrat in the governor’s chair. At this point there are really no cases where the third party candidate is likely to keep a Democrat from winning.
Nonetheless, the U.S. Senate is of greatest import. A Republican majority Senate could expand the Democrats’ 2013 rule changes that neutered the filibuster and cloture (on most presidential nominees) to other issues, allowing a simple majority vote on many issues. Imagine a scenario where emboldened Republicans roll back Obama’s signature healthcare law, rein in the Environmental Protection Agency and other departments, and push on a number of key fronts. The GOP would make President Obama’s last two years hell with subpoenas and investigations, including a focus on the Benghazi debacle and the role played by the Secretary of State and now presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Perhaps most importantly, a Republican Senate would not allow President Obama to appoint an extreme liberal to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of a vacancy caused by the departure of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 81), Stephen Bryer (76), Antonin Scalia (78), or Anthony Kennedy (78).
Can the Republicans win the Senate? Although there are thirty-six Senate races, political observers know that there are really only six key races: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, and Louisiana. Although it is close in Alaska and Colorado, it seems likely that incumbents will win by a close margin. But, the other states are all Republican-leaning states and should have Republican victories if the GOP does not mess it up.
In the Kansas Senate race, it is possible that Democrats may smell blood, sliding by with a win in the gubernatorial contest and those same voters choosing a well-known former-Republican-turned-independent for the Senate seat.
In Iowa, the GOP sees an opening with the retirement of Tom Harkin. But the Republican candidate, state senator Joni Ernst, has been known to go off script and could get in trouble late in the race if she does not stay on message. Her opponent is only a few points behind in the latest polling.
In Arkansas, it seems likely that Senator Mark Pryor will lose to Congressman Tom Cotton, but this remains a horse race, especially as former president Bill Clinton has taken to the campaign trail in person.
Finally, the direction of the Senate could hinge on Louisiana. It is a bizarre three-way race between Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu and two Republicans. It seems unlikely that anyone can win a fifty percent-plus-one majority in the race, resulting in a two-way run-off that could benefit Landrieu in the long run and thus help the Democrats hold the U.S. Senate.
So, Republicans are fretting that the electorate seems so focused on Major League Baseball and ISIS whereas Democrats are delighted that the focus is off Obama’s headaches at the IRS, Veterans Administration, the Secret Service, and the like. The winners on November 4 will be those best able to get their message—and their voters—out.
Eric Patterson, Ph.D. is Dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University and the author or editor of 11 books, including Ending Wars Well (Yale University Press, 2012).
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