Tomorrow's midterm federal elections in the United States will determine the political landscape of President Obama's final two years in office, and even though he's not up for re-election, his policies 'are on the ballot'.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the game-changing races, the political mood across the swing states, and what to look for on Tuesday night.
As President Barack Obama resides over the White House, the legislative branch is operated by a divided Congress, with the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives (233/199 with John Boehner as Majority Leader) and the Democrats in control of the Senate (55/45 with Harry Reid as Majority Leader).
The House of Representatives will remain firmly controlled by the Republican Party, whose historic sweep to victory in 2010 took 63 seats away from the Democratic Party. Even if the Democrats managed to win all 26 swing-elections this year, enough seats securely lean GOP to give the Republicans a comfortable majority (218+ seats).
It also appears the GOP will retain the majority of Governorships, though a few key races–like Governor Scott Walker’s (R) highly contested race in Wisconsin–threaten to throw GOP darlings out of office, who otherwise would be strong presidential candidates in 2016.
The real toss-up tomorrow will be which party controls the Senate for the next two years. And looking at the polls, it’s the Republican’s election to lose.
Republicans have to gain 6 seats in the Senate to have a clear majority - if they take 5 and leave the Senate 50 / 50, Vice President Joe Biden gets the tie-breaking vote, meaning Democrats would retain control of the Senate regardless of any other race won.
Currently, the GOP is set to pick up three ‘easy’ seats in West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana: traditionally red states on the state and national level; not to mention areas where President Barack Obama lost badly in 2012.
That leaves the GOP in need of three more wins in the swing states, of which there are roughly 7 or 8, depending on your source: Alaska, Colorado (leans GOP), Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina.
The Republican advantage
The GOP has small, built-in advantages to any mid-term election, though this year is looking even better for the party than usual. Unlike the House, where each elected representative is up for re-election every two years, Senate seats are elected every six years on a rotating basis. This year, it just so happens that more Democrat-held seats are up for re-election, and they’re up for election in areas that aren’t considered ‘safe seats’ or ‘strongholds’.
It’s also the case that significantly less people show up at the voting polls for mid-term elections than for presidential elections (roughly 37.8% in 2010, compared 56.8% and 53.6% in 2008 and 2012); and those who do show up tend to lean Republican.
Interesting race to note: Kansas and 'The Establishment'
“Why Kansas Senate race could decide everything” –No pressure, but the traditionally red state that should be a safe seat for GOP candidates has been upset by Democrat-mascarading-as-Independent Greg Orman, who is running against establishment GOP candidate Pat Roberts.
Orman is, for all intensive purposes, a left-wing candidate (left-wing enough for Kansas Democrats, at least, who pulled their candidate off the ballot to give Orman a better shot at the seat). He’s shown commitment to Obamacare and campaign finance reform, and hasn’t ruled out caucusing with Reid and the Democrats, even as an Independent, to give them the 51-majority-mark to retain control of the Senate.
But as opposed as Kansas voters are to Orman's policies, they're potentially more offended by Robert's status as a 'Washington insider'. This rebellion is not just a trend in Kansas, but rising up across the entire country, as the majority of Americans now claim they don't trust the Federal Government. The Tea Party movement capitalised on this sentiment in 2010, and even 2012, but has done little to convince Kansas voters that Roberts isn't part of the structural problem.
Interesting race to note: Colorado and the 'War on Women(?)'
Colorado’s Senate race between Cory Gardner (R) and Mark Udall (D) was thought to be a swing race until very recently, when polls started indicating that the race was leaning red.
Traditionally a semi-swing state, with strong recent ties to the Democratic Party (Colorado voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012), all signs indicate that it is not necessary the Democratic Party’s platform, but rather their political tactics, that have put left-leaning voters into the opposition’s camp.
Mark Udall (nicknamed Mark Uterus by journalists) used and abused the ‘war on women’ rhetoric to the point where it has become a joke, not just in Colorado, but throughout the entire country.
And unlike 2010/2012 elections, when it was politically popular and beneficial to use the phrase, Colorado Democrats are watching it backfire, as the gender-voting gap (for women, not for men) shrinks between Gardner and Udall.
It’s important to note the tide isn’t simply turning because of Democrat error. The GOP has finally gotten some sense on the issue, and Gardener has been campaigning to make birth control over-the-counter, non-prescription drug. A politically smart tactic on multiple levels: not only does it relieve fear that he is an anti-reproductive rights candidate, but making birth control over-the-counter is a step past what Democrats can offer women; Obamacare relies on birth control being provided via insurance policies.
If Udall loses tomorrow night, the Democrats would be unwise to see it as any kind of fluke. The ‘war on women’ has always been based on inaccuracies and lacked substance or evidence, and may not continue to sway voters as it once did.
Why is the Senate a game-changer?
Who controls the Senate for the next two years will not only have a deep impact on the end of Obama's presidency, also on the 2016 elections, when several prominent Senators will be looking to claim both the Democrat and GOP nomination.
Over the past four years, Harry Reid's policy of obstruction has stopped major legislation from being voted on in the Senate, protecting Democrats and the President from having to state their opinions publicly (by casting their vote or being put in the situation to veto legislation). If Republicans take control of the Senate, new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) will most certainly hold the Senate to votes on legislation from the House; come 2016, ambitious Senators will be running on their voting records, not just their political promises.
Early signs on Tuesday night
If North Carolina and New Hampshire, which are thought to be leaning ever-so-slightly blue, come out early for the GOP candidates, we are probably looking at a sweep across the board, with a strong majority of GOP reps taking the Senate.
Likewise, if Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia–all leaning red–turn out to be tight races with close vote counts, the GOP could be looking at a long night of close races and very possibly a crushing defeat.
If neither scenario plays out, anything goes. There's no doubt that the GOP will be taking seats away from Democrats on Tuesday night–but if they fall short of 6, even by 1, it's at least two more years Harry Reid and political gridlock, Not to mention an even tougher hill to climb come next fall. As if Capitol Hill weren't elevated enough.