As we draw nearer to the moment of truth for our country, I’ll take a moment now to instead focus on a small handful of the down-ballot races you should keep a close eye on.
Naturally, one of the major discussions that has come about as a result of the presidential race is the fight for control over Congress. Obama started off his term with strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, as a result of the Democratic landslide in the 2006 midterms, plus additional gains in the 2008 elections.
Then, as we all know, the Tea Party led a revolution that took the 2010 midterms by storm, making one of the largest landslide gains in the history of the Congress, as the Republican Party won 63 seats (more than twice the gains of the Democrats in 2006) and took back the House. The Senate remained under Democratic control up to 2014, when the Republicans made one of the largest Senate gains in recent history by taking 9 seats, thus giving them a narrow 5-seat majority. In that same year, the Republicans increased their House majority even further by gaining 13 more seats, thus resulting in their largest House majority and largest overall Congressional majority since 1928.
Even those who have the gloomiest outlook on Trump’s potential negative effects on down-ballot Republicans still admit that the House will most likely not leave Republican control anytime soon, and Speaker Ryan will keep the gavel for at least another two years. Thus, the real battleground is in the Senate, where the Republicans have 24 up for election this year, compared to the Democrats’ mere 10. Of these seats, 8 Republican seats are considered competitive to some degree, while only 2 Democratic seats are seriously in contention.
Of these 10 seats in question, I want to focus on three Senate races in particular that I think we need to keep an eye on.
Colorado has been a very interesting state for the last few years indeed. Over the last 6 years, there have been some shocking occurrences within their various state and local elections. In 2010, former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo mounted a third-party bid for Governor, as the nominee of the strictly conservative Constitution Party. He wound up receiving over three times as many votes as the Republican nominee, although he still lost to the Democrat, John Hickenlooper.
Most famously, the 2012 general election saw Colorado become one of the first two states in the country – the other being Washington – to legalize medical marijuana, which has arguably set the standard for future marijuana legalization efforts in such states as Oregon, and even California’s own Proposition 64 on such a measure this year.
Then, 2013 saw the first ever successful recall election of a member of the state legislature in Colorado’s history, when two Democratic State Senators – Senate President John Morse, and Senator Angela Giron – were successfully recalled and replaced with Republican candidates. The reason? Their strong support for stricter gun control measures, which voters widely took to be overstepping their boundaries. That same year, a third Democratic State Senator, Evie Hudak, was forced to resign for fear of also being recalled over the same issue.
Most recently, the 2014 midterms saw Colorado emerge as one of the key Republican victories in the battle for the Senate, as incumbent Democrat Mark Udall was defeated by rising star Cory Gardner, who is now considered one of the most conservative members of the Senate.
So, while Colorado has been viewed as a Democratic stronghold since 2008, it has gradually proven itself to actually be more of a libertarian and anti-establishment state, above all else. It was one of the first states to legalize marijuana, but has also shown a firm support for the Second Amendment. As these examples prove, several more fiercely conservative candidates have done surprisingly well on the statewide level, despite the voter registration differences. Thus, I believe that Colorado is a state where Trump could actually see a surprise upset, due to him undoubtedly aligning more with those ideas than his Democratic rival does. Trump is anti-establishment, while Hillary is the establishment. Trump is for Second Amendment rights, while Hillary is not. And, most recently, Trump is against the War on Drugs and has signaled that he’d be fine with marijuana legalization, while Hillary will allegedly impose tougher anti-marijuana laws at the federal level if elected.
As such, this would have a positive effect on the Republican nominee for Senate, Darryl Glenn. He is running against the incumbent Democrat, Michael Bennet. Glenn is a rather conservative Republican, running against an incumbent who easily personifies the establishment. Polling has not viewed his candidacy favorably, with Bennet leading Glenn in every poll since the beginning of July, often by double digits. However, that gap has noticeably decreased to consistent single-digit margins since mid-October, as most of the undecided voters (some of whom made up anywhere from 10% to 31% of the poll results) have made up their mind – and appear to move towards the challenger. As the election draws closer and more undecided voters move towards Glenn – with the help of the negativity surrounding the Democratic presidential nominee, and the political establishment as a whole – watch for this state to be a surprise upset for both Trump and Glenn.
Nevada can be seen as the opposite of Colorado in many ways. This is the one other Democratically-held Senate seat in 2016 that is seen as potentially competitive, but much more so than Colorado. Unlike Bennet, the incumbent Democrat here is retiring – Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. At this point, even Democrats have had enough of Reid, and they are all too eager to see him finally step down. Thus, the anti-establishment narrative is even stronger in Nevada than it is in Colorado. Reid was projected by hypothetical polling to lose reelection against any of the major Republican candidates.
The state has also seen a rise in statewide Republican figures in recent years, even as the state voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Republican Dean Heller was appointed Senator after John Ensign’s resignation, and was narrowly reelected in 2012.
And then, of course, there’s the incumbent Governor, Brian Sandoval. He was elected as part of the Republican tsunami in 2010, defeating Reid’s son Rory by a margin of more than 10%, and winning every single county in the state. He was then reelected in 2014 with over 70% of the vote, in the single largest gubernatorial landslide that year. Sandoval most likely has a bright future in national politics – he was temporarily considered the frontrunner for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, and he was also considered the frontrunner for this very Senate race, although he ultimately rejected both of them. While Harry Reid was projected to lose against any Republican, Sandoval was widely projected to win against any Democratic opponent by massive margins, further reflecting his popularity.
But the race, as it stands now, is between the Democrat, former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, and the Republican, Representative Joe Heck. The polls have depicted it as a tight race, with more polls ultimately giving Heck the edge by close or wide margins. I truly believe that this race will be an up-ballot race: There will be strong Republican turnout, but it will be more focused on the Senate race as a referendum on Harry Reid, the Democratic leadership, and the political establishment as a whole. Thus, those voters will turn out for Heck, and subsequently vote up-ballot for Trump as well, giving him the state.
This is another race to keep a close eye on for the up-ballot effects, but also particularly for its generational implications for the winning and losing parties.
The race for the Republican nomination has been a rather bumpy ride indeed – incumbent Marco Rubio first had to choose between running for reelection and running for President – since state law prevents appearing multiple times on the same ballot. This was made especially difficult when he emerged as one of the top three candidates for the nomination. He ultimately chose to continue running for President, thus leaving the seat open. He reaffirmed this choice after his humiliating, double-digit loss in the Florida primary to Trump, and in the halls of Capitol Hill in the following days, gave a more melancholy version of Nixon’s “last press conference” when he declared that he intended to go back to being a private citizen. During this period, a number of candidates were considered for the Republican nomination, such as Congressman David Jolly, Congressman Ron DeSantis, and Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera. However, after the tragedy of the Orlando nightclub shooting, Rubio felt compelled to return to the Senate so as to continue doing his duty, and announced his reelection after all. He easily won the nomination after most of the others stepped aside.
Conversely, the Democratic nomination was much less chaotic, and Congressman Patrick Murphy easily won over fellow Congressman Alan Grayson. Despite being one of the more moderate Democrats in Congress (as a result of being Republican for most of his life), Murphy is especially reviled among Republicans for the fact that he was the one who ousted popular Tea Party Congressman and former Army Lieutenant Colonel Allen West in 2012; it was the most expensive House race in U.S. history, as well as one of the closest that year. Only 29 years old at the time of his election, Murphy has been seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party.
Polling has overwhelmingly favored Rubio by slim or comfortable margins ahead of Murphy – even with pockets of voters still undecided, or voting for the Libertarian, Paul Stanton – and that also bodes well for Trump’s chances in the presidential race. Already, Fox News has reported early voting numbers out of Florida – combining mail-in ballots and early in-person voting – as giving the GOP a very narrow edge of just under 12,000 votes. And that’s not counting the registered independents who overwhelmingly break for both Rubio and Trump in similar polling. Thus, it is indeed quite possible that both of the big statewide Republicans will not only win, but win “bigly.”
And that is exactly why the race in Florida is so crucial. Rubio vs. Murphy is a battle of the generations. This race is seeing two of the rival party’s rising stars facing off against each other, with both of their political careers on the line: A second consecutive statewide loss for Rubio would finish him off forever, while Murphy has declined reelection for his House seat to run for the Senate. In addition, the margin by which the victor claims victory will be significant: If either wins a resounding victory, it will be a stinging referendum on the other party’s mascot of youth, and even on the fact that both consider themselves among the moderates of their party. With this election determining potential ideological shifts for both parties, only the winning party can afford to have room for moderates. The losing party will need to cut the weakest links loose and double down for the future.
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