The Republican Senate Isn’t a Lost Cause

September 15, 2016

Obscured by the drama of the presidential campaign is a battle royal for the U.S. Senate. Today Republicans control the upper chamber with 54 seats to Democrats’ 46. But the balance could tip either way in November, making or breaking the agenda of President Trump or President Clinton.

Next year’s Senate will include at least 44 Republicans: 30 who are not up for re-election this fall, and 14 who face only nominal challengers. On the other side of the aisle will be at least 45 Democrats: 36 who are not up for re-election, and nine who face only nominal opposition.

That leaves 11 seats up for grabs. Democrats now hold one of these: Nevada. Republicans hold 10: Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. For the GOP this isn’t all friendly territory: Seven of these 11 states went for President Obama twice.

To maintain Senate control, Republicans must win seven of these races. (Or six if Donald Trump is elected, since the vice president holds the tiebreaking vote in a chamber split 50-50.)

Democrats believe that their best chances to knock off Republican incumbents are Illinois and Wisconsin. In the former, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk won his deep-blue state in 2010 by only 1.6 percentage points. Mr. Kirk is running an aggressive campaign, while his opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, has yet to unite Democrats. Still, he has his work cut out for him. In Wisconsin, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson faces an attempted comeback by the man he defeated six years ago, former Sen. Russ Feingold. Mr. Johnson trails, but tenacious campaigning has brought him to within 3 points, according to a Marquette University poll from late August.

In Florida and Indiana, Democrats had hoped to easily claim open Republican seats. The Sunshine State’s Sen. Marco Rubio had opted to run for president instead of re-election. But at the last minute Mr. Rubio re-entered the race. Then his opponent, Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, had his claimed resume challenged by a Miami TV news report. Mr. Rubio now leads by 5.4 points.

In Indiana the Democrat, former Sen. Evan Bayh, is up by a similar margin. Mr. Bayh retired six years ago, but Democrats substituted him for their lackluster nominee in July. Voters have since soured after learning that Mr. Bayh hasn’t lived in Indiana since retiring. Republicans picked a superb candidate in Rep. Todd Young, a Naval Academy grad and Marine, who is hitting Mr. Bayh for supporting ObamaCare, the stimulus and cap-and-trade.

As a result, Democrats are moving money into Missouri, North Carolina and Nevada. The Show-Me State’s Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, a leader on veterans’ issues, is up by 4.8 points. He faces Secretary of State Jason Kander, a supporter of ObamaCare and a national energy tax who was given an “F” rating from the NRA.

In North Carolina, Republican Sen. Richard Burr leads by 3.3 points. He faces a former state director of the ACLU, Deborah Ross, who defended flag burning while refusing to aid a veteran seeking to overturn his condo association’s rule against flag displays. She also sought to ban Christmas songs from elementary schools. That might play better in Vermont.

The Nevada race to replace the retiring Sen. Harry Reid is tight. GOP Rep. Joe Heck has had a slim lead, 1.2 points. This is due in part to questions about Democrat Catherine Cortez-Masto performance as state attorney general. But Mr. Heck, a doctor and general in the Army Reserves, also has crossover appeal.

In two states, Democratic hopes may be evaporating.

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