U.S. Senate races to be closely watched, Democrats tipped to retain control of House

Control of the Senate is a razor-thin proposition in Tuesday’s election, as Republicans fight to retain their majority against a surge of Democratic candidates confronting the president’s allies across a vast political map.

Both parties see paths to victory, and the outcome might not be known on election night. Democrats have more than one route to secure the three or four seats needed to capture the majority.

Securing the Senate majority will be vital for the winner of the presidency. Senators confirm administration nominees, including the Cabinet, and can propel or stall the White House agenda. With Republicans now controlling the chamber, 53-47, three or four seats will determine party control, depending on who wins the presidency because the vice-president can break a tie.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped to remain the Republican majority leader alongside President Donald Trump.

But he acknowledged the tough Senate races could flip control to the Democrats.

“Obviously, that depends on what happens,” he said, making a final campaign swing Monday in Kentucky as he faces Democratic candidate Amy McGrath, the former fighter pilot.

What started as a lopsided election cycle with Republicans defending 23 Senate seats, compared with 12 for Democrats, quickly became a starker referendum on the president and his party.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, left, faces off in a Senate contest debate with Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison in Columbia, S.C., on Oct. 3. Graham has appealed for cash to help hold onto a seat Democrats would love to swing. (Joshua Boucher/The State/The Associated Press)

Some of the nation’s most well-known senators are in the fights of their political lives.

Stuck in Washington to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett a week before the election, senators quickly fanned out — some alongside the president — for last-ditch tours, often socially distanced in the pandemic, to shore up votes.

In South Carolina, Democrat Jaime Harrison is trying to topple Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the president’s top allies.

The two crisscrossed the state in a rush of final campaigning, Graham acknowledging the tight contest and previously making direct appeals on Fox News for cash.

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, right, prepares to debate Democratic challenger Mark Kelly at Arizona State University on Oct. 6, in Phoenix. Kelly has led in polling throughout the year, with the winner to serve in the next congressional session along with Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. ( Rob Schumacher/Getty Images)

Also in the Carolinas, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina is in a tough battle with Democrat Cal Cunningham in a widely-watched race.

Arizona could see two Democratic senators for the first time since last century if former astronaut Mark Kelly — the husband of former congresswoman and gun control advocate Gabrielle Giffords — maintains his advantage over Republican Sen. Martha McSally for the seat once held by the late Republican John McCain.

In Kansas, Republican Roger Marshall and Democrat Barbara Bollier are battling for a seat previously held by Republican Pat Roberts, who announced he would retire from Congress.

When Johnny Isakson retired in Georgia, fellow Republican Kelly Loeffler was appointed by the governor to take the seat. She now faces his first electoral test, not just from Democrat Raphael Warnock, but also Republican congressman Doug Collins.

In a three-person race, there is a strong chance the top two candidates will vie in a runoff election on Jan. 5 if no candidate reaches 50 per cent of the vote, per Georgia’s rules.

That also applies to the other Georgia senatorial contest on Tuesday but that’s largely a two-person race — incumbent Sen. David Perdue, a Trump loyalist, and Democrat Jon Ossoff, who called Perdue a “crook” in a recent debate. Ossoff made the charge based on the fact that Perdue (as well as Loeffler) dumped stocks as the pandemic was beginning to hit the U.S., while downplaying the coronavirus publicly.

Here are other contests in the Senate that will be watched closely, with the incumbent candidate listed first:

  • Alabama: Doug Jones (D), Tommy Tuberville (R).
  • Colorado: Cory Gardner (R), John Hickenlooper (D).
  • Iowa: Joni Ernst (R), Theresa Greenfield (D).
  • Maine: Susan Collins (R), Sara Gideon (D).
  • Michigan: Gary Peters (D), John James (R).
  • Montana: Steve Daines (R), Steve Bullock (D).
  • Texas: John Cornyn (R), MJ Hegar (D).

Pelosi likely Speaker for another 2 years

In the House, Democrats pushed to seal control of the House for two more years.

Both parties’ operatives agreed that the Republican Party was mostly playing defence and would be fortunate to limit Democratic gains to modest single digits. Democrats control the House 232-197, with five open seats and one independent. It takes 218 seats to control the chamber.

“The president’s numbers have fallen off a bit in districts he won by double-digits, he’s not performing at that level in some places, and that’s creating a bit of a down-ballot drag,” said Republican strategist Liesl Hickey.

Should Democrat Joe Biden defeat Trump and Democrats win the Senate majority, the party would fully control the White House and Congress for only the second time since 1995. They last held the presidency, Senate and House in 2009 and 2010, the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency.

A larger Democratic majority would make it easier for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass party priorities that include expanding health-care coverage and creating jobs with new infrastructure projects. After a two-year run as one of her party’s most effective counterpoints to Trump, the 80-year-old Pelosi is all but certain to serve two more years running the House.

As in 2018 when they grabbed House control, Democratic ads emphasized pledges to make health care more accessible, preserve coverage for pre-existing conditions and shield voters from Republicans out to terminate those requirements.

Many Republicans say they want to dismantle Obama’s health-care law while retaining its coverage for pre-existing conditions, but they’ve not presented a detailed proposal for doing that.

WATCH | States, voter blocs to watch:

Four CBC reporters who’ve been covering the U.S. election share their thoughts about what to watch on election night including the key battleground states, important voter groups, the role of mail-in ballots and the importance of the Senate race. 2:39

The coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 Americans and is worsening in nearly every state, has only amplified the party’s focus on health care. 

“This has pushed the fight to the health-care battlefield, and that’s a great place for us,” said Democratic consultant Ian Russell.

For Republicans, a failure to move significantly toward retaking the House — let alone losing seats — would trigger a reckoning about why they remain trapped in the chamber’s minority.

Another Republican disadvantage was that far more of their incumbents are already leaving Congress. Republicans were defending 35 open seats of lawmakers who didn’t seek reelection, resigned or lost party primaries. There were just 13 Democratic-held vacant seats caused by departures, including one death — Georgia congressman John Lewis, the civil rights hero.

Read more at CBC.ca