The election we aren't following and why it matters

The election we aren't following and why it matters
Comment: While Trump and Clinton steal the headlines, it is the race for control of the Senate that should be brought into focus, writes Roxanne Perugino.
5 min read
17 Aug, 2016
To break legislative deadlock, one party must win both the presidency and the Senate [Getty]

While most of the United States is focused on its presidential election, there is another taking place that has not garnered much national attention. That is the battle between Democrats and Republicans for control of the Senate. 

The success of either party will be crucial to the success or failure of the next president.

The US voter is not thrilled with the government these days. A large part of voter dissatisfaction lies with "the do-nothing Congress". Owing to bitter partisanship and paralysing legislative gridlock, this title is clearly deserved. 

Both main presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are asked what they would do to heal the political divides. A good question, but the answers lie not in who gets elected president, but rather who controls the Senate.

In November 2016, elections will be held for 34 of the 100 Senate seats. Whether Republicans maintain control of the Senate depends on this election. Whichever party controls the Senate in January 2017 will either help or hinder the new president. If Clinton wins and Democrats take back the Senate, she will have a much easier time pushing through her legislative initiatives. 

The Republican-controlled House, which will stay in Republican hands, will continue efforts to thwart a Democratic president, but with Democrats firmly in control of the Senate, Clinton should have a better legislative record of wins than President Obama. 

On the other hand, should Republicans retain the Senate, Clinton will face yet more political and legislative gridlock - if not outright hostility - from some Republicans.

Democrats believe they have a good chance of reclaiming the Senate, but to do so they must achieve a net gain of five seats

Trump too will encounter a recalcitrant Senate if he wins the presidency but has to deal with a Democratic majority, most of whom are likely to oppose all of Trump's legislative proposals. Should Republicans retain control of the Senate, Trump will have a solidly Republican Congress with which to work. 

But Trump's vague proposals are likely to raise concern among Senate Republicans, many of whom have already come out in public opposition to Trump's candidacy. One can only hope saner Republicans will rein in some of Trump's more bizarre policy recommendations, should he win.  

Democrats believe they have a good chance of reclaiming the Senate, but to do so they must achieve a net gain of five seats. If Clinton is elected, only four seats will be needed for the majority, as her vice-president can break any tied vote. Fortunately for the Democrats, several of the seats up in 2016 are held by Republicans in states President Obama won in the 2012 presidential elections. This could be an advantage for Democrats, particularly in light of Trump's unpopularity.  

While it is also true that Clinton is unpopular with a large segment of voters, it appears Republican chances of holding the Senate are going the way of Trump's slump.

Republicans are defending 24 seats to a mere 10 for Democrats, most of which look safe. Of the 24 Republican seats at stake this year, seven are considered to be "toss-ups," two are "likely Democrat" and three are "leaning Republican". Democrats have only one race considered a "toss-up" - the open seat in Nevada. 

Winning five seats may not be an easy task, but Democrats are cautiously hopeful about their chances.

Given President Obama's July 31 approval rating of 54 percent, according to a CNN/ORC national poll, it would appear that Democrats could gain the five seats needed for majority, or even more. However, both Clinton and Trump are controversial candidates. If Trump does better in the presidential race than anticipated, Democratic gains could be kept to a minimum, but currently the mathematics favour the Democrats. 

Trump's recent antics have hurt his poll numbers, and it remains to be seen if he can recover from his current slump.

The toss-up races

The outcome of the seven Republican and single Democrat "toss up" races will determine which party controls the Senate. At time of writing, it appears Democrats can pick up three or four of these seven Republican seats, but they must keep control of the open Nevada seat to win the Senate.

These are the eight races to watch: Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin

Republicans are in better shape to keep the Florida seat now that Rubio has decided he wants to remain a Senator. Rubio must fend off a primary challenger on August 30, but polls give him a substantial lead over potential challenger Representative Patrick Murphy (D).

In Illinois, Democrats have a better-than-even chance of flipping the seat from Republican to Democrat. In Indiana, Republicans will have a tough road to hold on. In New Hampshire, both the Democrat and Republican incumbents are strong, making this race a true "toss up". In Ohio, the Republican candidate is slightly ahead - but a Democratic victory is still a possibility. Pennsylvania is another close race where either candidate could win. Finally, Wisconsin is a likely pick-up for Democrats; the Republican incumbent trails the Democrat challenger by ten points.

So these are the eight races to watch: Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. They will determine who controls the Senate and how well a Republican or Democratic majority will work with the new president.

To break the cycle of legislative gridlock, the ideal outcome would be for one party to win both the presidency and the Senate. With three months to go until the election it is anyone's guess who will prevail. The current wind is blowing in the direction of Clinton and the Democrats, but hurricane season is nearly upon us, and politics, like the weather, is unpredictable. 

Roxanne Perugino is a Legislative Policy Analyst at the Arab Center Washington DC.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.