Republicans’ majority in U.S. Senate at risk


One of the great ironies of the 2016 election would occur if a Republican won the presidency but the Democrats captured control of the U.S. Senate. Then New York’s liberal Chuck Schumer would be the Senate majority leader and any Republican agenda would be DOA.

The result would be, as is currently the situation, gridlock, Schumer would be the nation’s most powerful Democrat, and the 2020 presidential campaign would commence, with liberal Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren as the early frontrunner.

Thus far in the 2015-16 political cycle, two trends are evident.

First, there is anger on the ideological fringes and disgust in the center. On the left, it’s anti-establishment, with their venom directed toward Big Business and the military, particularly banks and pharmaceutical and weapon manufacturers. Culturally they’re secular and not particularly religious; economically they’re for income redistribution through more confiscatory taxation; and militarily they’re isolationist and want to bring all troops home. Their champion is Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist. Despite 8 years of the Obama Administration, they’re dissatisfied because it wasn’t liberal enough.

On the right, it’s anti-government, with their venom directed toward Barack Obama, federal government regulations, presidential edicts, a $17 trillion national debt, a no-win foreign policy and an out-of-control welfare state. They want to repeal "Obamacare," support Israel, cut taxes and defund social programs. They’re generally pro-gun rights, anti-immigration, anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage, but many are focused on economic concerns. All reject the culture of Washington. They want to roll back the clock to 1984, Ronald Reagan’s heyday. They’re livid about the Republican-controlled Congress because they have been insufficiently anti-Obama.

Their champion thus far is Donald Trump, simply because he is so contrarian and so reviled by the liberals that conservatives so detest. You love the man that your enemies hate.

Second, split tickets are obsolete. From the 1960s through the 1990s, voters often opted for a presidential candidate of one party and a Senate or U.S. House candidate of another party. No longer. The cultural divide dictates otherwise. For 90 percent of the electorate, party allegiance has become a personal statement. The 45 percent who, for example, are pro-Hillary Clinton, will vote for every other Democrat, and the 45 percent who are anti-Obama will vote for every Republican candidate. It’s the "independent" 10 percent who make the difference, and then in only a few states, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado, and they usually opt for one party’s candidates.

A total of 34 Senate seats are up for election in 2016, of which 24 are held by Republicans and 10 are held by Democrats. The Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority, so the Democrats need a net gain of four to take control. Twelve of the Republicans were elected in the anti-Obama Republican sweep of 2010, when turnout was lower than in a presidential election, like 2016. First-termers Mark Kirk of Illinois, Rob Portman of Ohio, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are in jeopardy, with Kirk and Johnson trailing significantly in the polls. There are open seats in Florida, Indiana and California. Only Florida, where Marco Rubio is retiring to run for president, is competitive.

Here’s a look at some interesting contests:

Arizona: Celebrity invariably breeds fatigue. So does longevity. Incumbent John McCain has been a senator for almost 30 years, and he became a national figure as the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, losing to Obama by 9,549,975 votes. McCain is detested by Tea Party conservatives, of both economic (such as the Club for Growth) and religious (such as the Heritage Foundation) persuasion. He is not averse to debt limit increases, and he is off the reservation on abortion rights and gay rights. Chamber of commerce types love him, and his military record and travails as a prisoner of ward make him almost iconic, much like another Arizonan, Barry Goldwater.

Arizona Democratic U.S. Representative Ann Kirkpatrick is running, but right wingers have not yet found a primary challenger. In 2010 McCain beat conservative former congressman J.D. Hayworth 56 percent to 32 percent in the primary. McCain had $______ in campaign funds on hand as of _______. If 2016 is an anti-incumbent year, McCain, age 79, is a goner, but don’t count on it.

Wisconsin: Senate rematches are rare. It’s tough to stay politically viable for 6 years after losing. The 2016 election features a rematch between Johnson and Democrat Russ Feingold, the former 18-year liberal senator who Johnson beat 1,125,999-1,020,958 in 2010, in a turnout of 2,146,957. Johnson spent $15.2 million to $20.8 million for Feingold.

Feingold won his third term in 2004 1,632,697-1,301,183, in a turnout of 2,933,880. Feingold’s vote plummeted by an incredible 611,739 votes, and turnout fell by 786,923. Were voters weary of Feingold, or was it the anti-Obama environment?

In 1992 Feingold, then age 39, ran as the anti-Bush insurgent "reformer." Now a shopworn 62, he must re-invent himself, a difficult feat given that a Democrat has been president since 2008 and Feingold was pro-Obama (and supported "Obamacare") before he was ousted. Feingold will go negative on Johnson, painting him as an extremist. If the Democratic presidential nominee wins Wisconsin by more than 100,000 votes, so will Feingold.

Illinois: Kirk’s stroke in 2012 was a political as well as a physical disaster. It cost him 2 years of campaigning in the run-up to re-election, without any countervailing sympathy vote. The most recent poll by Public Policy Polling had Kirk trailing U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth 42 percent to 36 percent, with 22 percent undecided. Those are horrific numbers for an incumbent. Any senator who can’t crest 45 percent a year out is a certain loser. Duckworth faces a primary with Andrea Zopp, she but will prevail.

Kirk won 1,778,698-1,719,478 in 2010, a margin of 59,220 votes in a turnout of 3,439,176. In 2012 Obama crushed Mitt Romney 3,019,512-2,135,216, and in 2008 crushed he McCain 3,419,348-2,031,179. Turnout in both years was more than 5.2 million. Obama’s 2008 vote was almost as much as the total 2010 turnout. Nobody expects Clinton, if she is the nominee, to carry Illinois with Obama-like majorities (1,388,169 vote in 2008 and 884,296 in 2012 votes), but if she wins Illinois by upwards of 300,000 votes, Kirk is a goner.

Pennsylvania: This is another rematch from 2010, but Toomey is better positioned than Johnson to win. Once a fierce ideological conservative, Toomey has moved to the center, often teaming with Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia’s to offer bipartisan solutions. Unlike Kirk, he has campaigned relentlessly.

Toomey won 2,028,945-1,948,716 in 2010, a margin of 80,229 votes in a turnout of 3,977,661. He beat Joe Sestak, who is running again but who is viewed as flawed by the Democratic establishment. Obama won the state by 309,840 votes in 2012 and by 620,478 votes in 2008; turnout in both years exceeded 5.5 million. If the Democratic presidential nominee wins the state by fewer than 200,000 votes, Toomey wins.

Ohio: It is said the presidency runs through Ohio, meaning that whoever takes Ohio’s 16 electoral votes wins the White House. This is a classic 45/45/10 state. George Bush won Ohio by 166,735 votes in 2000 and by 118,599 votes in 2004. Had Bush lost Ohio, he would not have been president. Obama won the state by 262,224 votes in 2008 and by 166,277 votes in 2012. Turnout is about 5.5 million in presidential years. The Republican presidential nominee must win Ohio.

In 2010 Republican Rob Portman, a former congressman and Bush Administration official, won the open Republican-held seat 2,168,742-1,503,297, a margin of 665,445 votes in a turnout of 3,672,039. He ought to be safe, inasmuch as he has been a Kirk-like moderate on social issues, but turnout in 2016 will almost 2 million higher than in 2010, and his opponent is 74-year-old former governor Ted Strickland, a longstanding ally of Bill Clinton. The Clintons will be all over Ohio for the next year, and they will run a joint Clinton-Strickland campaign. Hillary Clinton must win Ohio to prevail. If she does, it won’t be by more than 100,000 votes. Portman is safe.

North Carolina: Migration into areas such as Charlotte, Raleigh Durham and Asheville has made the state politically competitive. Bush won North Carolina by 373,471 votes in 2000 and by 435,317 votes in 2004; that collapsed in 2008, when Obama won by 14,177 votes. The Republicans rebounded in 2012, with Romney winning by 92,004 votes.

Two-term Republican incumbent Richard Burr is colorless but uncontroversial. He was re-elected by 55 percent to 43 percent in 2010, a margin of 312,972 votes. In 2008, when Obama prevailed, Democrat Kay Hagen won Republican Elizabeth Dole’s Senate seat by 361,801 votes. In 2004, when Bush won, Burr piled up a margin of 158,923 votes. If the Republican presidential nominee wins the state, so does Burr.

New Hampshire: This quirky state bounces like a ping-pong ball: Democratic in presidential years, Republican in off years. Republican Kelly Ayotte won her Senate seat by 105,673 votes (with 60 percent of the vote) in 2010, and she has proven to be popular, but Obama won by 39,643 votes in 2012 and by 68,292 votes in 2008. Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan is challenging Ayotte in 2016. Toss-up.

Nevada: This is the Republicans’ sole pick-up opportunity. Incumbent Democrat Harry Reid is retiring. Both parties have quality candidates: Republican Joe Heck, a congressman, physician and military officer versus Catherine Cortez Masto, a former state attorney general. Obama won the state by 67,806 votes in 2012, but Republican Dean Heller won his Senate race by 11,576 votes. The election is a toss-up.

My prediction: A 51-49 Republican Senate majority.

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