SEMA News—August 2014
LEGISLATIVE AND TECHNICAL AFFAIRS
By Christian Robinson
Spy Shots from the 2014 Campaign Trail
SEMA’s Guide to November’s High-Stakes Election
The mid-term elections are around the corner, and at no time in recent history has Washington been so divided. Lawmakers could not agree on how to stimulate the economy before becoming mired in the debate to reform the American health-care system.
Sound familiar? That’s because you’ve read those words before. In fact, it was in these very pages just four short years ago. The times have changed, but the song remains the same. Voters are fed up with Washington. Where do things stand heading into November’s midterm elections? Let’s have a look.
The Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), maintain a 34-seat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the Senate, Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Democrats hold the majority at 55 (53 Democrats plus two independents who caucus with them). Just down the street at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., President Barack Obama will call the White House home until his term expires in January 2017. While the jockeying to become the 45th President of the United States won’t begin in earnest until next year, the state of play in Congress—particularly in the Senate—remains up in the air.
Republicans have their best chance of winning back the Senate since they lost it in the 2006 elections. If that happens, they would control both the House and the Senate. Sure, Republicans would pass more bills, but a presidential veto would likely soon follow. Put differently, be prepared for more gridlock.
While many believe divided government will lead to more inaction, we see it as an opportunity for Republicans to turn the tables and erase the “party of no” label. Don’t like Obamacare? Send a substantive alternative to the President and force him to veto it.
Of the 36 Senate races on the ballot this year, Democrats currently hold 21. In other words, their backs are against the wall. In red states such as South Dakota and West Virginia, longtime Democratic Senators have decided to retire, all but ensuring Republican successors come November. So the Democratic defensive playbook comes down to seven key races in red or purple states: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan and North Carolina. Democrats must win five if they hope to keep the Senate blue, which many consider a tall task.
It’s not completely sunny for Senate Republicans, though. They too have seats to defend. In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing a legitimate challenge from Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. In Georgia, Senator Saxby Chambliss’s retirement has cracked the door open for Michelle Nunn, a Democrat with a family history steeped in Georgia politics.
In the House of Representatives, things are far less dramatic. With a 33-seat advantage, Republicans find themselves on solid ground heading into November. In order to reclaim the majority, Democrats would need to pick up 17 seats, which is the exact number of contests that are considered toss-ups. A clean sweep by Democrats is highly unlikely, as the party that controls the White House typically sees losses at this point in a president’s term.
For voters, the economy remains the top concern. On many accounts, the economy is stronger than it has been in quite some time. The stock market has seen record highs, unemployment is at a five-year low, auto sales are at a seven-year high, and the housing market is rebounding. However, most folks simply don’t feel good about things. Poll after poll continues to show that Americans don’t feel optimistic about the economy and their personal troubles. A sluggish economy, or the perception of one, will only hurt Democrats in November.
While the saying, “It’s the economy, stupid,” rings true yet again, October 3 is a date that everyone should circle on the calendar. That’s when the Labor Department releases its September unemployment report, the final jobs numbers before Election Day. Just as it did right before the 2012 presidential election, this report will face enormous scrutiny.
The one person whose name is not on any ballot this year but could end up being the most important figure in November’s election is President Barack Obama. By most accounts, the president’s approval rating has hovered in the mid-40s for much of the year. That’s a slight improvement from his standing in November and December, when he faced all-time low marks. If the trend holds up, it could spell bad news for fellow Democrats.
So how exactly will things shake out come Election Day? According to most handicappers, the chances of a Republican takeover in the Senate are slightly better than 50-50. We agree, but a lot can change between now and November. Our prediction: Republicans retake the Senate in a photo finish. Regardless of the outcome, the message from the voters is loud and clear: Get back to work!