Campaign

Are Senate Republicans facing an election wipeout?

It’s still a ways off, but Democrats are feeling very good about their chances of winning control of the U.S. Senate. Right now, they are four short of being the majority party. (That is, if Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton wins the presidency and Tim Kaine, as vice president, therefore becomes president of the Senate and can break a tie vote.)

{mosads}Two Republican seats are widely viewed as definite losses: Mark Kirk of Illinois will get beaten by Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin will lose to former Sen. Russ Feingold (D), a rematch of six years ago. Feingold seems to have regained his former magic.

The next Senate incumbent in deep trouble is Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Right now, she is trailing Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) by a significant margin.

Pennsylvania is fundamentally a Democratic state, as former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) reminded me on the floor of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia this summer. There are 900,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R) barely won the last time. He beat Democrat Joe Sestak by 2 percentage points. Clinton is running far ahead of GOP nominee Donald Trump and just two years ago, the incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett was defeated by Democrat Tom Wolf. The tide is definitely running toward the Dems in the Keystone State.

Katie McGinty (D), Toomey’s opponent, has never been elected to office before, but she has the backing of a united party and an opponent who is seen as too far to the right. If elected, McGinty would be the first woman to represent Pennsylvania in the Senate.

By my estimates, those four seats — Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania — are locks.

Now the question is: Are there even more seats that Democrats can pick up and help pad their margin? For the lack of a better term, I will call them “sleeper slots.” By this, I mean seats that have not received a lot of attention, but will get our attention on the evening of Nov. 8.

The top of the list would be the contest in North Carolina. The incumbent is Republican Richard Burr; the Democratic candidate is Deborah Ross, a lawyer and a former state legislator. Burr was first elected in 2004. This is a guy who does not have much of a high profile in the Senate or, it seems, in his own state.

Obama won North Carolina in 2008; two years ago in an off-year election, Sen. Thom Tillis (R) barely beat Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan by 1.5 percentage points. Now with 2016 being a presidential election year, more Democrats will be registered and come out to vote. Clinton is doing well in the state, one that is becoming less rural and less conservative with the addition of new arrivals from the North. Ross is also doing everything she can to register and energize the African-American vote. All of this leads to a possible upset and a Democratic pick-up.

Another possible sleeper is Indiana, where Republican Sen. Dan Coats is retiring. Indiana is a conservative state: notably, Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s running mate, was chosen for his pronounced and highly apparent conservative credentials. Obama won Indiana in 2008 but lost it in 2012. The Hoosier State does have a Democratic senator in Joe Donnelly, but he was very lucky to have had a Republican opponent named Richard Murdoch, who said the following during the campaign: “[L]ife is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

However, Evan Bayh, the former Democratic senator and governor who left the Senate in 2011, has now decided to run again. His last name — his father was a prominent U.S. senator from the state — and his following is huge. Hoosiers will not turn Bayh down.

Other possible sleepers are former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) beating Republican Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) beating Sen. John McCain (R) in Arizona.

On their end, the Democrats look like they will not suffer any losses. Sen. Michael Bennet is safely ahead in Colorado and Catherine Cortez Masto, running to replace retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), will keep that seat in Democratic hands.

With 24 Republican seats up in 2016, there were bound to be some defeats, but with Trump at the top of the ticket, there will be more than anyone ever expected. Who knows — the 2017 U.S. Senate might have as many as 55 or 56 Democratic senators if senators like Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Roy Blunt (Mo.) lose in a wave.

2016 might go down as the year of the Republican wipeout.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Ann Kirkpatrick Chuck Grassley Dan Coats Donald Trump Harry Reid Hillary Clinton Joe Donnelly John McCain Kay Hagan Kelly Ayotte Mark Kirk Michael Bennet Mike Pence Richard Burr Rob Portman Ron Johnson Roy Blunt Thom Tillis Tim Kaine

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