Overview: Republicans are excited for this year’s elections, that much is clearly apparent. By most analyses, Republicans will likely take the Senate too. For those of you that aren’t aware of the landscape of the current Senate, there are 45 Senators who are Republicans and 55 Senators who are either Democrats or Caucus with the Democrats. For Republicans to gain control they need 51 seats, as Vice-President Biden would break any tie for the Democratic Caucus. Currently there are six red state seats where Republicans are running ahead that are currently Democratically held: South Dakota, Louisiana, Alaska, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Montana. At this point it looks more likely than not that Republicans will take all six.
In addition there are four races which are taking place in the swing states of North Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Colorado. In the first two, Republicans are polling slightly behind, and in the latter two they’re polling slightly ahead. With only one Republican-held seat looking in jeopardy, all Republicans need is a good turnout and a little luck, and control of Congress’ upper body will likely be theirs. To conservative and Republican activists that’s good news; however to all my conservative friends I would like to send a cautionary note: the good news comes with limitations. Should the Republicans win the Senate, it does not mean the ground game for 2016 has changed. In fact, the difficulty some Republicans are facing in swing states is perhaps more telling of how tough the race we will find ourselves in against Former Secretary of State Clinton in 2016 will be. Make no mistake, a Republican-led Senate can only help in this endeavor, but the only tea leaves which will help us decipher this puzzle will be how well we do in the states of Iowa, Colorado, New Hampshire, and North Carolina.
What about other races? Senates races, unlike many others, better reflect the partisan nature of their states. Governor and state legislative races often reflect the local dynamics of the state’s issues. In these races people are often more willing to cross over and support candidates across partisan lines who better reflect the needs and the wants of the state at the time. That’s why as recently as the last decade, Republicans have held the governors’ seats of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and Democrats have governed the states of Oklahoma and Wyoming. In addition, US House seats like US Senate seats more closely match the national political environment; but unlike Senate seats, US House seats are often gerrymandered to shore up votes for one party or the other. Very few of these seats can be considered swing or open to switching during a general election.
Why don’t wins in the six red states mean as much? The quick answer to this question is yes they are important; however each of these states are red to deep red states. Unless the Democratic nominee (very likely Hillary Clinton) wins in an absolute landslide, these states will surely go red. The fact that these six seats are currently Democratic-held is a testament to the power of incumbency, how bad 2006 was for Republicans, and the personal appeal of the Democratic Senators there. These are cornerstone seats for a conservative majority, but they tell us little about the strength of the Republican Party outside those states.
Iowa: The first presidential primary state and perennial swing state. It went for both President Bush and President Obama. It has a Republican governor, split representation in their state legislature, US Senate, and US house. It is the definition of an area that neither party can claim. Currently, State Senator Joni Ernst is opening up a small lead in the race to succeed outgoing Senator Harkin. Her opponent Rep. Braley has a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease that tends to oscillate between insulting the rural Iowa community and claiming to be one of them (he’s not).
Colorado: A state that has legal marijuana, civil unions for same sex couples, and went for President Obama twice hardly seems one of the best opportunities for a Republican pick up. However, there seems to be just enough room to knock off Senator Udall, who can be fairly easily categorized as a generic, gaffe-free Democrat. This is likely a testament to the unpopularity of President Obama, as well as the overreach of Colorado Democrats in passing restrictive gun laws last year. Former Rep. Cory Garner is running a tough race and is pulling ahead in the polls. A win here would at the very least put a pause on the Democratic trend that had been very well orchestrated and executed by state Democrats.
North Carolina: North Carolina has the potential to frustrate even the most adept political forecasters. It’s a traditionally Democratic state at the local level that has federally gone for Republicans until the 2008 presidential election. Senator Hagan, an inoffensive Democratic freshman, has done a good job of staying afloat despite a fairly liberal voting record. Her opponent, state house speaker Thom Tillis, has presided over a fairly controversial legislature since state Republicans took control of the local government. Currently, Hagan has opened up a small lead in polling and looks set to squeak by, unless Tillis can convince voters that Senator Hagan is more connected to the President they both voted for and against than the wants and needs of North Carolina.
New Hampshire: The second in the nation primary voting state has always been a prize that both parties have sought in their good years. Senator Shaheen has a long electoral history with the state, serving as first governor and now senator in her first term. Along comes former Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, wanting to represent a state he wasn’t even an official resident of until last year. Only the broad moderate appeal of Senator Brown and the terrible environment for the Democrats makes this race even remotely competitive. Senator Shaheen is polling a small lead, but nothing she should be comfortable with. Former Senator Brown just might be senator again.
What Do I Take Away? In the states that will be most heavily contested for presidential electoral votes, it’s looking as though we would most likely split them. This is during heavy disapprovals of the Obama administration, with the preferred establishment candidate getting through each primary, and with Democratic incumbents that would likely underperform a Clinton ticket on the same ballot.
While a recaptured Senate is undoubtedly good news it does not foretell the doom of a Clinton ticket or validate the viability of the Republican brand. As conservatives, we still have a long way to go in rebuilding our brand and taking back the large swath of America which largely agrees with our issues but votes either Democratic or Independent. The Clinton machine will be stronger, more powerful, and better equipped than the current Democratic infrastructure.
Also incumbent with winning the Senate comes the extra political yoke of responsibility in the legislative process. Key to transforming our Senate win into a Presidential win will be staying on an agenda that is a positive foundation for an economically secure America. Forcing President Obama to make the decision between vetos and signing into law balanced budgets, lower business regulations, and small government reforms will put the Democrats on the defensive and allow Republicans to talk about solutions to our country’s issues. If, however, we focus our legislative efforts on attacking the Obama administration and an endless litany of investigations(whether deserved or not), we only doom ourselves to confirming middle America’s perception that we are equal partners in the partisan bickering.