In politics, it’s never good to count your chickens before they’ve hatched. We’re still three weeks out from the most divisive and ugly election in a generation, but it’s almost certain that on Tuesday 8 November Hillary Clinton will ensure a third term in the White House for the Democrats against Republican challenger and controversial candidate Donald Trump. But that’s not the only election taking place. Up and down the country, governorships, state legislatures, the House of Representatives and most importantly a third of the Senate seats are up for grabs. Whoever wins in the upper house of Congress will determine how much Clinton could able to accomplish as the first female Commander-in-Chief – from foreign policy to economic stimuli and filling the vacant Supreme Court seat.
Each of the 50 U.S. states sends two Senators to Congress, with 100 in total. Currently 54 Senate seats are held by Republicans, with 46 held by Democrats, who lost majority control of the chamber after the 2014 midterms. If Clinton wins the Presidency, the Democrats need to win only four from the Republicans, if there’s a President Trump in the White House come January 2017, they’ll need five to complicate his Presidency.
But how likely is the U.S. Senate to swing to the Democrats, and which seats are the most competitive? We take a look at the most hotly contested races in the country this election.
This year New Hampshire, the most conservative northeastern state, is competitive at both the Presidential and Senate level. Incumbent Kelly Ayotte has seen herself in hot water due to her (recently rescinded) support for Trump and her view of him as a ‘role model’ for the nation’s children, and popular Governor Maggie Hassan is now neck-and-neck in polls.
A lot of competitive Senate seats are in Democratic-leaning states with Republican incumbents elected during the anti-Obama wave of 2010. Pennsylvania is no exception. Senator Pat Toomey has always known he would face a tough re-election battle against little-known Kathleen McGinty, even before Trump became his party’s nominee. It’s now looking increasingly likely he’ll lose in November as polls continue to move away from his favour.
On a Presidential level, Missouri is ruby-red and expected to go heavily for Trump, but its Senate race is very much up for grabs. Lobbyist and career politician Roy Blunt is facing a strong challenge from ex-military and pro-gun thirtysomething Jason Kander, who has impressed and surprised pundits with his simple yet effective campaign. Polls have narrowed in recent weeks, with the momentum in Kander’s favour, in what could be the biggest surprise pick-up for the Democrats this election.
The Democrats narrowly lost their North Carolina Senate seat in 2014, but it looks like they could gain the other one as polls show a dead heat between incumbent Republican Richard Burr and Democratic challenger Deborah Ross. Burr suffers from low name recognition and a lack of funds, and similarly to Kander in Missouri, the polls have been consistently moving in the Democrats’ favour.
During his failed presidential run, Marco Rubio promised he would give up his Senate seat regardless of the race’s outcome. But after his primary loss in his home state of Florida, he decided he would run again for his seat, and polls show he’s consistently led his Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy in the Sunshine State.
Outgoing long-time Senator and Minority Leader Harry Reid is vacating an increasingly competitive seat in Nevada, which could determine control of the chamber. Catherine Cortez Mastro is aiming to make history as the first Latina Senator, with Republican hopeful Joe Heck hoping to pick up a vital seat for his party.
Incumbent Republican Senators Mark Kirk and Ron Johnson of Illinois and Wisconsin respectively were helped into their blue-state seats by the backlash against President Obama during the 2010 midterms. Both are almost certain to lose their seats to Iraq War veteran and double-amputee Tammy Duckworth and ex-Senator Russ Feingold this year, despite distancing themselves from Trump and their self-proclaimed moderate credentials.
Similarly to Missouri, Indiana is deeply Republican at the Presidential level. Both states were almost certain to go to the Republicans this time last year, but the late entrance of popular former Governor and Senator Evan Bayh means this year Indiana is increasingly likely to break for the Democrats and give it control of both of Indiana’s Senate seats.
Back in the summer of 2015, both parties saw Rob Portman’s seat in Ohio as vulnerable. A Republican in an increasingly Democratic state, it was expected this would be one of the most hard-fought campaigns of the year. But fast forward a year, and with Trump faring better in Ohio than almost all of the other states that Obama won in 2012, it’s almost (surprisingly) certain that Portman will keep his seat for another six years against former Governor and Democratic challenger Ted Strickland.
Taking back the Senate would be a huge coup for the Democrats – this cannot be understated. What looked more like a pipe dream twelve months ago is increasingly looking like a reality, and with a Democratic Senate Hillary Clinton would above all be able to nominate a liberal Supreme Court Justice and ensure a Democratic legacy that long outlives her Presidency, along with an easier passage of much of her liberal agenda. Political website FiveThirtyEight has the Democrats at a 65-70% chance of taking control of the Senate – their highest probability in weeks – with high volatility in almost every competitive race. One thing is for sure though; the result of the Presidential race is definitely not the only election we should be watching come November 8.