US Senate race: A breakdown

2012-08-14 09:10

New York – November's election will be one of the best opportunities for the Republicans to regain control of the US Senate, possibly the most significant venue of American legislative processes before a bill lands on the president's desk.

Each state selects two senators to serve in the national senate, and they serve staggered six-year terms. So every two years either 33 or 34 senators are up for re-election.
If you remember, during President George W Bush's second term, the mid-term elections weren't good for Republicans. Democrats absolutely hammered them and one of the most significant places it was felt was in the Senate.

However, this means that this year's election will see 21 Democrat senators up for re-election, plus another two independents who caucus with Democrats, while only 10 Republicans face the chop.
The Democrats are attempting to protect their Senate majority of four votes – currently 51 to 47 (although two independents join the Democrats so it's actually 53 to 47). This means Republicans only need force a net gain of six Democrat or Independent seats, of the 33 being contested.
Unluckily for Republicans, 23 of those seats are in fairly safe hands.

Fifteen of them will most likely remain Democratic (California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia) and six will be safely Republican (Arizona, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wyoming).

Democrats will most likely pick up the Independent seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman representing Connecticut, and Bernie Sanders is odds-on to hold in Vermont.

Interestingly, two of the seats are safe bets for the opposition to the person currently holding them – Maine (Republican to Independent) and Nebraska (Democrat to Republican).
This leaves ten seats up for grabs. Let's look at some of them more in-depth:
Massachusetts: Elizabeth Warren (D) vs Scott Brown (R)

This is easily the most interesting Senate race going on this election cycle. Brown surprisingly won the seat in a special election after long-time Senator Ted Kennedy died in 2009. A Republican representing Massachusetts is not the most common sight in the world.

Elizabeth Warren was instrumental in the Obama administration's post-recession creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, allegedly a Kenyo-commie-socialist plot to destroy the banking system and American way of life by making lending practices more transparent, while rooting out anything illegal.

Both Brown and Warren are reasonable and respectable – neither, for instance, rails against the theory of evolution, or worry that universities indoctrinate children away from Jesus.

This race is neck and neck with the most recent six polls averaging out into a tie – two put Warren ahead, two put Brown ahead and two call it even. It wasn’t all that long ago, however, that Brown was well ahead. Warren certainly has the momentum heading towards November.
Indiana: Joe Donnelly (D) vs Richard Mourdock (R)

This seat shouldn't even be considered a possible Democrat win. Until a Republican primary in May, which unseated 36-year Senate veteran Richard Lugar (who, incidentally wrote the legislation which caused the USA to divest from apartheid South Africa), this seat was one of the safest.

But the chap who beat Lugar, Richard Mourdock, is a severely conservative Tea Party-policied candidate, who has laughed off co-operating with opposition politicians should he reach the Senate.

 Joe Donnelly is a congressman in the House of Representatives with enough political clout to put a campaign together.

What should have been a bankable seat for Republicans is now around 50-50, with a recent Rassmussen poll putting Mourdock ahead by two points, within the margin of error. To put that into perspective, Lugar only won two of his six elections to the Senate by less than 10 percentage points.
Maine: Angus King (I) vs Cynthia Dill (D) vs Charles Summers (R)

In February, Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe announced she would not defend her seat in November's election, which gave her party the shivers.

Maine is very likely to vote for Independent former governor, Angus King, who leads in polls by over 20 percentage points (although, to be fair, none are very recent). The real question here is which party King will caucus with when he is elected, with most pundits reasonably guessing he'll lean Democrat.
North Dakota: Heidi Heitkamp (D) vs Rick Berg (R)

North Dakota is a pretty red state: It hasn't voted for a Democrat as president since the sixties, and has Republican majorities in the state congress, senate and a Republican governor.

When Democrat Senator Kent Conrad announced his retirement last year, it was a logical conclusion to assume this would easily fall Republican this year. But the polls show Democrat Heidi Heitkamp is within spitting distance of Republican candidate Rick Berg, within five points.

Heitkamp is doing what Democrats in conservative states do: publicly arguing against unpopular Democrat policy, such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), in spite of praising it in 2010, and pushing for the Keystone oil pipeline.

She is also regarded as being strong at retail politics – ie. getting out and shaking hands, holding babies and talking to constituents. Also working for Heitkamp is that North Dakota has top economic conditions: Three percent unemployment (lowest in the country) and booming industry over local resources.
Missouri: Claire McCaskill (D) vs Todd Akin (R)

McCaskill is a one-term senator who joined the Senate in the mid-terms during George W Bush's second term in 2006.

However, she narrowly won while Democrats around the country smashed their way into the federal legislature, and in a pretty conservative state. Due to Missouri falling out of consideration as a swing state, McCaskill could also be hurt by the presidential machine leaving Missouri out of its plans.

The Republican candidate she will face is House Representative Todd Akin, who won a primary last Tuesday, and of all the candidates McCaskill faces probably the best chance at holding her seat against him, although it's pretty slim.

Akin is right of the conservative mainstream, and has a voting record to prove it, but is slightly more likely to win this election. Missouri, however, is one of few states where campaigning on increasing the minimum wage seems to work – it is a platform McCaskill has used before. Should she lose, Obama will lose one of his top allies in the Senate.

Montana: Jon Tester (D) vs Denny Rehberg (R)

Tester surprisingly won this seat in a conservative state in 2006, and will be facing an ally of the man he beat to win it.

Rehberg has held Montana’s only seat in the House of Representatives since 2000, so he knows how to win elections, in spite of losing an election for the US Senate in 1996 against Montana's other senator, also a Democrat, Max Baucus.

Whichever way this campaign works out – reliable polls haven't been conducted for this race since June – it will seemingly be dragged through the mud and involve outside money.

Tester will face accusations he is a buddy of Wall Street over his vote against a Federal Reserve plan limiting banks' rights to raise debit card fees, while Rehberg sued the city of Billings' fire department over the way a wildfire on his property was dealt with, which could land taxpayers with the bill. Amusingly, Tester brings Montana beef with him whenever he flies back to Washington DC from his ranch.
Before the election News24 will preview the other four key races in Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida and Nevada, as both parties do their best to take control of the US Senate.