Teaching the 2016 Election: Battle for Control of the U.S. Senate

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

In most presidential election years, we pay abundant attention to the battle for the leader of the free world, with good reason. In 2016, with both major party nominees historically unpopular, it’s quite possible that record numbers of voters will choose to sit this election out. That’s unfortunate for a number of reasons, including the other contested contests down the ballot, the battle for control of the U.S. Senate in particular.

Republicans currently hold a 54-46 seat majority in the Senate. This is of course short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture to break a filibuster, but enough for control of the body and its committees. One-third of Senate seats are contested every two years, and 34 of them are at stake in 2016, 24 currently occupied by Republicans.

Therefore, Democrats need only a net gain of 5 seats to retake the majority, or 4 should Hillary Clinton win the White House and her Vice President Tim Kaine be positioned to break the 50-50 tie in the Democrats’ favor.

Of the 34 seats in play, Republicans are a strong bet to win 11 of them. They are likely to hold three others, and two (Arizona and Missouri) lean in their direction. By contrast, Democrats have a strong grasp on eight seats and are likely to keep a ninth. Only one Democratic seat (Nevada) is in the toss-up category, while eight Republicans seats are in peril, including Senator Mark Kirk’s in Illinois.

Kirk is perhaps the most vulnerable Republican incumbent given the dark blue hue of Illinois in presidential years paired with Donald Trump’s unpopularity in the population-heavy Chicago area. He has unendorsed Trump and expressed his intention to write in either retired Generals Colin Powell or David Petraeus instead.

Kirk is among the most centrist members of the Republican caucus, but has drawn a formidable Democratic opponent in Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth. A disabled veteran that has long drawn the favor of Democratic Party stalwarts like Illinois’ other Senator, Dick Durbin, Duckworth is well-positioned to reclaim Barack Obama’s former seat.

Thus far, the race has been dominated by a barrage of personal insults, with both candidates attempting to associate the other with disgraced members of their own parties (Trump for Kirk and Blagojevich for Duckworth). Duckworth has gone so far as to suggest that Kirk has tempermental issues, perhaps resulting from a stroke he suffered earlier in his term. The closest we’ve come to an actual issues discussion has been around the Iran nuclear agreement (Duckworth supports and Kirk opposes) and the Obama Administration’s plan to welcome refugees from Syria (Duckworth initially called for an even larger number).

All told, control of the Senate may well come down to the Midwest, with Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania each joining Illinois in the toss-up category. It is one of many reasons why the 2016 Election is consequential and reason for sustained interest and participation.

No comments :

Post a Comment