Let the games begin! Republicans are on the cusp of winning back control of the Senate and expanding their hold on the House in Tuesday’s midterm election – one widely characterized as a referendum on President Obama’s job performance for the past six years.
With a job approval rating of just 41 percent, Obama can claim less public support for his domestic and foreign policies than his last two predecessors, Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George W. Bush, were able to do during the 1994 and 2006 midterm elections, according to pollster Glen Bolger.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. An astounding $4 billion has been spent by the two sides to try to influence the election’s outcome, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a watchdog.
If things go as many analysts predict, the GOP will pick up at least the six seats they need to reclaim control of the Senate, which the Democrats currently control by 55 to 45 seats. Republicans will prevail by practically running the table in key races in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Louisiana and North Carolina, seven of which are held by Democrats.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” publication on Monday issued its final forecast for this election, predicting Republicans will pick up eight seats to forge a new Senate majority of 53 to 47.
Sabato and his analysts also projected a nine-seat pickup for the Republicans in the House, for a new GOP majority of 243 to 192.
The Rothenberg Political report has the GOP picking up five to eight seats in the Senate, while the Cook Political Report puts the pickup at five to seven seats.
It may take weeks before the dust settles – with the likelihood that the Senate battles in Georgia and Louisiana may be forced into a run-off. Yet Republicans are convinced their decade-long push to regain Senate control is finally at hand.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as well as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are already planning strategy for challenging Obama in the final two years of his second term.
“I think the wind's at our backs,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a likely 2016 presidential candidate, told CNN over the weekend. “I think this election is going to be a referendum on the president. Even he acknowledged it. His policies will be on the ballot, he will be indirectly on the ballot, and there’s a great deal of unhappiness in the country.”
McCarthy told a group of Long Island Republican donors recently that gains in the House and Senate would amount to little during the 2016 presidential campaign if the GOP can’t show that they can govern over the next two years, according to Politico.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the Tea Party firebrand, told The Washington Post he would “push hard for a Republican-led Senate to be as conservative and confrontational as the Republican-led House.”
The widespread disenchantment with President Obama and the Democrats has enabled the GOP to expand its political map into Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire, where they have mounted highly competitive races.
Republican Rep. Cory Gardner is leading Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado, while Republican Scott Brown, a former Massachusetts senator, is giving New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen a scare. Republican Dan Sullivan is leading Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska, and Mitch McConnell appears to have a comfortable lead over Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky.
Yet many other races are so excruciatingly close that GOP leaders and political pundits who have predicted a Republican victory will be sweating out the results.
Just when it looked as if Republican Joni Ernst had wrapped up her campaign against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley for an open Senate seat in Iowa, a Quinnipiac University poll on Monday showed a dead heat, with each candidate getting 47 percent of likely voters. The poll bolstered the Democrats’ contention that the Des Moines Register poll over the weekend, showing Ernst up by seven points, was an “outlier.”
Veteran Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas was hanging on by a thread against Greg Orman, a wealthy political independent who argues that the 78-year-old Roberts has lost touch with the state. Democrat Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former senator Sam Nunn, is waging a strong campaign against Republican businessman David Perdue for an open GOP seat in Georgia. Perdue is up by four points in the latest Marist poll, but neither candidate is likely to breach the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
Source: Public Opinion Strategies
Republican losses in Kansas and Georgia constitute one of the Democrats’ few narrow paths to preserving a majority – or settling for a 50-50 split that would be broken by Vice President Joe Biden to determine Senate leadership. “I don’t agree with the odds makers,” Biden told CNN on Monday. “I think we’re going to keep the Senate.”
As is often the case, voter identification and turnout will be a crucial factor in this election year, when voters have grown disgusted with both political parties and turned off by the partisan bickering and gridlock. While Obama’s approval rating has hovered in the 40s, only 21 percent of Americans approve of congressional Republicans and 29 percent approve of Democrats.
Veteran pollster John Zogby wrote in Forbes that while the Democrats “look to be on the ropes” heading into the election, “the most notable fly in the ointment for the GOP” is the Democrats’ vaunted voter identification and turnout operation. “Polls show that more Republican likely voters are enthusiastic about voting than Democratic likely voters,” Zogby said. “But the polls also show that there are simply more Democrats than Republicans. So call that one equal. Hence, the polls are showing close races.”
Ron Brownstein, the editorial director of National Journal and a political expert, said yesterday on CNN, “Essentially the only remaining question in the final hours is who turns out the vote.”
“Does the actual electorate look different than the electorate that the pollsters are modeling, particularly in some battleground states where Democrats have spent a lot of money trying to turn out their presidential year coalition? If they can do that – in places like Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina being the best examples – they may be able to salvage some seats. But if they can’t – and if the model of who the likely voters are holds up – then Republicans could have a very, very good night.”
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