WASHINGTON – By all measures, the Republican Party is poised to retake the US Senate on Tuesday night and unify Congress under its leadership.
That is the headline on a day full of midterm elections often overlooked, spanning 435 races across all 50 states for the House of Representatives, 36 gubernatorial contests, 6,000 bids for state legislature seats and more than 150 ballot initiatives.
Only a fraction of the US electorate is expected to turn out to vote, as has become expected in midterm years, which do not feature a presidential election.
Several key Senate races will be determined by voter turnout.
Republicans have 47 out of 100 Senate seats virtually locked, and the party now needs to pick up only four of eight competitive races to retake control of the upper chamber.
Since 2010, the GOP has had the majority in the US House, and that is sure to hold this year. A takeover of the Senate would mean full control over the scheduling of debate and votes through Congress.
Among those eight races, Republicans have solidified gains in at least two in the final stretch of campaigning this week, according to recent polls: Alaska and Colorado appear secure in the Republican column.
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The GOP candidate in Iowa, as well, has maintained increasing enthusiasm and support in recent weeks, pulling ahead in polls released over the weekend. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said this week he expects Iowa to be the bellwether for the fate of the Senate.
Data from North Carolina and New Hampshire – both featuring races with embattled incumbent Democratic, female senators – suggest Democratic leads within margins for polling errors.
The Democratic Party must hold these two seats to have any hope of retaining control.
And two southern states, Louisiana and Georgia, are likely to see runoff elections that might drag the race for a majority out by several weeks. Democratic incumbents in these states have the lead over fractured Republican lines, but not the 50 percent majority required to avoid a second round of voting for a clear victor.
That leaves Kansas, the eighth state up for grabs, and perhaps the most unexpected race of the election season: An incumbent, establishment Republican is up against a self-declared independent candidate who has yet to declare which party he would caucus with if he wins. Entering Tuesday, that race is too close to call.
Issues on the ballot depend on the state, but Republicans across the board have pilloried President Barack Obama as a rallying cry for change in Washington.
Each Republican candidate in these eight races paired Democratic incumbents with the sitting president in order to rally their bases. Obama has declined to campaign on behalf of his party’s candidates in any of the contested territories.
Six years into a presidency, midterm elections have historically reflected desire for change. Democrats took control of the Senate in 1986, halfway through president Ronald Reagan’s second term. And in 2006, president George W. Bush faced a “thumpin,” he later said, as Democrats retook control of both houses of Congress.
No less is expected this year, as Obama’s job approval numbers float between 40 percent and 45 percent.
In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to win his reelection bid comfortably, and has been told to prepare to wake up the next morning as majority leader of a Republican-controlled chamber.
McConnell vowed over the weekend to present Obama with legislation long blocked from debate on the Senate floor. He will likely challenge the president to veto bills gutting his signature achievements: first and foremost, the Affordable Care Act, the president’s sweeping healthcare reform bill from 2010.
On foreign policy matters, change in control is likely to mean hearings, votes and resolutions on the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts with Iran over its nuclear program.
Leadership of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, its Banking Committee in charge of sanctions legislation, and its Intelligence Committee will all hand over gavels to Republican leadership.
Granting an interview in the politically critical state of Florida, where a gubernatorial race pits incumbent Republican Rick Scott against former Republican governor Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, Vice President Joe Biden told CNN that he expects Democrats will keep the Senate.
“I think we have to be more direct and clear about exactly what it is we’re looking to do” going into the Obama administration’s last two years, Biden said. “And look,” he continued, “we’re ready to compromise.”
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