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US Senate race: A breakdown - Part2

2012-08-16 12:31

New York - In Part One we previewed six of the ten major Senate races that will be contested in November, and could indeed hand control of what they call "the world's most deliberative body" (the current congress provides arguable opposition to that assertion) from Democrats to Republicans.

This would mean that Republicans could find themselves in the powerful position of having majorities in both chambers of the US legislature, no matter who the president is.
 
In Part One we ascertained that of the 33 senators up for re-election this year, ten contests will be key in deciding whether Democrats or Republicans take control of the Senate.

We covered Massachusetts, Missouri, Maine, North Dakota, Montana and Indiana, which leaves four more key states to discuss: Virginia, Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin.
 
It is worth pointing out that Republican presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney picked Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice-presidential running mate on Saturday, which adds a small element to each of these races.

Back to North Dakota


Before we kick off, let's return to North Dakota where Heidi Heitkamp (D) takes on Rick Berg (R) to replace long-time Democrat Senator Kent Conrad who is retiring.

Berg should take this seat as North Dakota is a strongly Republican state, but Heitkamp has managed to stay within spitting distance by arguing against unpopular Democrat policy, such as President Barack Obama's healthcare reform, and her top-notch retail politics.

However, she has a new weapon to beat Berg with, and that is Medicare. Paul Ryan has been the author of the last two Republican budgets which were voted on in the House of Representatives, which included plans to cut Medicare, a very popular healthcare provision for seniors in the USA.

These budgets have both passed congress, and Rick Berg, who was North Dakota's congressman in the House, voted for it.

Since the Ryan budget came into existence, many of those who supported and have run in special elections lost, solely due to agreeing to mess with Medicare. Heitkamp will mention this repeatedly, and she won't be the lone Democrat doing it.
 
Nevada: Shelley Berkley (D) vs Dean Heller (R)

Nevada has become a swing state but Dean Heller looks like he is going to hold onto this seat, in spite of the chaos in Republican politics in the state of Nevada, and the power plays therein.
 
Heller, like Rick Berg of North Dakota, has twice voted for the Paul Ryan budget, which would have changed Medicare.

Heller saw this coming and voted against the same Paul Ryan plan in May, claiming it was mere showmanship in congress (which it is – the Ryan plan had a snowball's chance in Durban of passing the Senate).

Heller possibly thought he'd got past this and would easily be able to blunt Berkely's predictable attacks on this front, but Ryan being selected as the Republican vice presidential candidate puts it all back into the spotlight.

While that might help Berkley, ethics violations won't, and she is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, chasing allegations she used her office to help her husband's medical practice.

The New York Times reported this has gone on for the last five years. I’d never put money on it, but I expect Republicans to hold on in Nevada, by a very, very slim margin.
 
Wisconsin: Tammy Baldwin (D) vs Tommy Thomson (R)

This race is as level as can be. Tommy Thomson may have the slight edge as a former governor – it means he knows how to win elections in Wisconsin, statewide, and he did so four times.

He might nudge ahead as he is pretty moderate, and is up against Tammy Baldwin who is far more liberal than Thomson is conservative. She is also bidding to become the first openly gay member of the Senate, after representing a district including the state capital of Madison since 1999, generally winning elections with over 60% of the vote.

That won't translate into immediate success statewide, however. This wouldn't be the first time that Baldwin has broken new ground either – she was the first woman elected to the US House of Representatives from the state of Wisconsin.

There is seemingly a lack of oomph for Thomson's campaign (likely due to the fact that he was only confirmed as the Republican nominee on Tuesday) and his campaign fundraising is testament to that.

Now that his nomination is secured, he should receive a bump in the polls but there is no indication of how sustainable that will be. Of all the Republican nominees, Thomson polled the best against Baldwin, but saw his lead eaten into overtime. This one is just too close to call.
 
Virginia: Tim Kaine (D) vs George Allen (R)

Of all the Senate races, this is probably the most high-profile for the voters who will be choosing them, because both candidates are former governors.

Allen also served in the US Senate for a term before losing out during the great cull of Republicans in 2006, losing to Democrat Jim Webb – in other words, he's going after a seat he once occupied.  

Allen has already had to deal with the Paul Ryan plan, and has been hammered by his opponents during the primary for being non-committal about it.

Both candidates will likely benefit from having both of the presidential hopefuls campaigning in the state all the time (in fact Romney announced Ryan as his running mate in Norfolk, Virginia) as it is now, alongside Ohio and Florida, one of the most significant swing states.  

Allen has tried to tie Kaine up with Obama – an odd strategy since Obama has a 49% approval rating in the state, and was the first Democrat to carry it in the 2008 election since Lyndon Johnson.

Obama remains consistently, if marginally, ahead in polls.  This one is also way too close to call, but is one of the more prominent and realistic hopes for Democrats in their quest to retain control of the Senate. Expect huge resources ploughed into this contest.
 
Florida: Bill Nelson (D) vs Connie Mack (R)

This should be an even contest but I'd say the Democrats have an advantage in the swingiest of swing states – in Florida there is hardly an advantage of being from either party.

Incumbent Bill Nelson has decent approval ratings and has a bigger war chest than Connie Mack. Florida is so big and so disparate that elections are often fought and won on advertising across the state's many media markets.

Although Nelson has performed better than most Democrats in Florida's conservative areas, according to the Tampa Bay Times, he is going to face an opponent who will also have a lot of financial clout.

Not so much by Mack's own donors but from national Republicans and outside groups (although, to be fair, he is likely to get outside help too). This somewhat negates Nelson's $13m in funds raised (compared to just $3.3m for Mack).

Mack has the advantage of name recognition: His father was a popular Floridian Senator from 1989 until 2001 and his grandfather was a baseball manager.

Although polls have the race in a dead heat, Rasmussen polls tend to favour Republicans, and the last few polls averaged out which dictate the race being even include a +9 percentage point awarded to Mack by Rasmussen.

And in case you haven't read enough about Paul Ryan yet, Florida is a state where the Medicare issue could potentially hurt Republicans as the state has a massive population of seniors.