The Thinker: Rich Galen


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The Senate

Rich Galen

Friday September 30, 2016


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  • One of the benefits of having Donald Trump not being crushed by Hillary Clinton is the effect on what are known as down-ballot races.

  • In an era when more and more voters are sticking to one side of the ballot from top to bottom - either R or D - many Republican Senate campaigns were spending a good deal of time, effort, and money to work out tactics that would allow their voters to cast their ballot for Clinton, but then switch back and vote for the R for Senate.

  • The current makeup of the Senate is 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats. Remember this is a zero sum deal, every current Republican seat is a two seat switch. If, say, incumbent Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson were to lose to former Senator Russ Feingold the split would go from +8 (54-46) to +6 (53-47).

  • Earlier in this election cycle, Democrats were doing the Ren and Stimpy Dance o' Joy over the certainty they would be back in control of the Senate on January 3, 2017.

  • Now? Not so much.

  • Take Ohio for instance. Incumbent Republican Rob Portman was considered to be among the most endangered Senators up for re-election. Running against Democratic ex-Governor Ted Strickland (and also former Congressman representing Marietta, Ohio 45750), Portman was in for an uphill battle to retain his seat.

  • Now, 39 days from Election Day, the Portman race is, as we say, off the boards. It is now listed as "Safe R."

  • I have no access to internal polling, but it would appear from peering through the electoral window that at least part of that is due to the fact that Donald Trump is clinging to a two percentage point lead in the RealClearPolitics average of Ohio polls.

  • My point is, as far as the Rob Portman campaign is concerned it doesn't matter whether Trump holds on to win Ohio's electoral votes, or whether Hillary Clinton overhauls him. With Trump not getting buried, enough Republicans are likely to come out and vote to give Portman a short election night.

  • The RCP Senate average for Ohio has Portman at +13 and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee long ago folded up the cots and tents and left Strickland to fend for himself.

  • According to Larry Sabato's University of Virginia Center for Politics analysis the current outlook is this:
    Democrats (seats not up for election, leaning D, Likely D and Safe D): 47

    Republicans (seats not up for election, leaning R, Likely R and Safe R): 49

    Four seats are listed as toss-ups: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Nevada.

    Of those four only Nevada is currently held by a Democrat - retiring Senator Harry Reid.

  • Indiana - one of the toss-ups - has Republican Todd Young running against former Governor and Senator Evan Bayh. When Bayh got into the race Democrats entered it in the Pick-Up column but the sitting Governer, Mike Pence, happens to be running for Vice President of the United States which should bring out a large number of Republican voters who might or might not have been motivated before Trump chose Pence.

  • The only recent public poll has Bayh leading by four percentage points, but has Trump/Pence leading Clinton/Kaine in Indiana by seven points.

  • If Hillary Clinton wins the election for President then Sen. Tim Kaine will become the President of the Senate on January 20. If the party split ends up 50-50 then Kaine will cast the tie-breaking vote so Democrats can organize the chamber.

  • "Hold it right there, smarty pants," I can hear you saying. "If Kaine has to give up his seat to become VP, won't that leave a vacancy and the split would be 50 R, 49 D and one vacancy?"

  • No, because Kaine would resign his seat leaving Democratic Governor Terry McAuliff free to appoint a successor to be sworn in during the lame duck session. That would free Kaine to begin planning his new duties and would give that new person a boost in seniority ahead of any freshmen who will not be sworn in until January 3.

  • There will likely be surprises on election night, but one of them would not be if the Republicans were to retain control of the U.S. Senate.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to the Larry Sabato page on the Senate races and to the RealClearPolitics polling page. The Mullfoto is a snarky reference to New Yorkers which non-New Yorkers will appreciate.

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