Consider The Senate
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Consider The Senate

With all of this year's focus on the presidential race, important and exciting senate races often get overlooked.

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Consider The Senate
www.fivethirtyeight.com

This presidential race has been shocking, scandalous, and fascinating. There is no denying that. However, has it been the most fascinating race in 2016? I think not. With such a dynamic presidential race, we often overlook those down ballot races that may have an equal impact on our country: Senate races. The electoral map has some big changes on the way, with Hillary outperforming Obama in the South and the West, yet underperforming in the blue Northeast stronghold. Yet, these are not representative of actual changes in ideology, geopolitical leanings or demographics. Trump is a truly strange candidate who is not representative of the GOP’s typical voter, and therefore Trump and Hillary pull more across demographics and less across party lines. To truly see how a state is feeling in an election year, look to the Senate. Just because Senate races don’t have the glitz, glam, money or comedy that the Presidential race usually does, that doesn’t mean it is lacking in excitement or importance. Even if your state doesn’t have a competitive senate race or doesn’t have one at all, you should still pay attention to them because the Senate may impact equally on your life as the President. Here are some of my favorite Senate races this year and what makes them so interesting. You may just learn a thing or two!

Ohio - Portman vs. Strickland

Senator Rob Portman (R) and Democratic Fmr. Governor Ted Strickland (D)

Ohio’s senate race confounds logic and statistics at first glance. Like many of his colleagues up for reelection, Rob Portman is a freshman senator elected in the massive republican sweep of 2010 and should have a tougher time in 2016. Presidential election years, because they typically have much higher turnout than midterms, tend to go more blue in down ballot races even though splitting tickets has become rarer. On top of that, Portman is facing off against Ted Strickland who should be a formidable foe. Strickland, the former democratic Governor of Ohio was extremely popular during his tenure, with high approval from Republicans as well as Democrats. Yet Portman is wiping the floor with him. It isn’t even a contest. FiveThirtyEight, Larry Sabato, Cook Political Report and Real Clear Politics have all removed it from battleground status, and they did it months ago. Yet, despite the rarity of ticket-splitting in 21st century politics, Hillary Clinton has a narrow lead over Trump in Ohio while Portman leads with double digits. One reason for Portman’s strength may be due to his status as a centrist, a common-sense conservative and even sometimes a RINO. He has received the support of unions who previously supported Strickland as Governor. He has also received a ton of financial support from the NRCC and from the NRA who gave him an early leg up in the money race, whereas Strickland’s usual supporters (excluding the DSCC) failed to come through. Now, the DSCC has all but pulled their monetary support of Strickland as the race looks hopeless. Whether Democrats like it or not, Rob Portman is a moderate breath of fresh air in a year where Donald Trump’s alt-right shenanigans and Ted Cruz’s super-conservatism have dominated the airwaves. This race quickly started trending towards Portman in mid-july; The FiveThirtyEight polls-plus forecast went from a 56% chance of a Portman win in July to a 96.0% chance of a Portman win now.

New Hampshire - Ayotte vs. Hassan

Governor Maggie Hassan (D) and Senator Kelly Ayotte (R)

This race has many similarities to Ohio; It features a freshman republican senator swept into the Senate in a swing state during a very conservative election cycle now trying to defend her seat from a popular democratic Governor. Sidenote: I hated it when people told me during the primary (when Bernie Sanders was an option), “You probably love Bernie, you’re just voting for Hillary because she’s a woman!” Well in this race that can’t happen because both major candidates, Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Gov. Maggie Hassan, are women. This, I believe, helps take out a lot of that sexist bull**** and allows people to focus on their candidates' records, careers and policy proposals. Despite this race’s similarities to the race in Ohio, Ayotte is not faring nearly as well as Portman. Though she was initially leading, her lead began to dip and then evaporate by August. One reason for her troubles may be her attitude towards Donald Trump, which was seen as indecisive, then counter-intuitive and now cowardly. After tiptoeing around the subject as long as she possibly could, she said she would vote for but “stand up to” Trump, hurting her in her state where Trump has never led and often times has trailed Clinton by double digits. Then, following the release of Trump’s infamous Billy Bush bus video, Ayotte rescinded her lukewarm endorsement, alienating much of her conservative base while doing little to appease independents and Democrats. Maggie Hassan meanwhile endorsed Hillary Clinton more than a year ago and has stuck by her ever since, maintaining the high ground in her criticism of Ayotte’s actions towards Trump. This race is very close with Real Clear Politics giving Ayotte a slight edge but FiveThirtyEight giving Hassan a 66.5% chance of to win in their polls-plus model.

Missouri - Blunt vs. Kander

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) and Senator Roy Blunt (R)

This is one of two elections that featured huge reversals this year. Republican Senator Roy Blunt was heavily favored for reelection just a month ago, but now Democrat Jason Kander has upended his lead and the race appears to be heading for an upset. Everything that has seemingly worked for Donald Trump is working for Jason Kander, except better. He has branded himself as an outsider in an election where Washington politicians and their ilk are sharply mistrusted, and as clearly the more macho of the two candidates. Unlike with Trump, however, this is all pretty much true for Kander. Kander, at least relative to Blunt, is far from a Washington Insider having never actually worked in Washington. He served as a Missouri House Representative and then Missouri Secretary of State. Somehow in his short time the legislature (state legislators are term limited in Missouri) he somehow managed to start a huge bipartisan push for political ethics reform. This, however, has not been his major selling point. Kander was relatively obscure until the release of what I believe is truly the best political ad this election cycle and maybe even the best since LBJ’s daisy ad. The ad, put out in mid-September features Kander standing behind a table in an abandoned warehouse. We then see Kander perform the amusing and captivating feat of seamlessly putting together a rifle while blindfolded as he clarifies his stance on gun control, painting Blunt’s campaign as dishonest about his views and record, saying that he supports stricter background checks but still defended the second amendment in the state legislature. Kander, an army veteran, used this ad to create a clear picture of who his is: a rough, tough and tumble young soldier being attacked by an out-of-touch entrenched politician (whose wife and two kids are lobbyists). He ends the ad by saying “I approve this message, because I’d like to see Senator Blunt do this.” It was a powerful and effective video that quickly went viral, started trending on Facebook and now has more than a million views on Youtube. The ad took Kander from complete obscurity to national fame and has given him rising-star and golden boy status within the Democratic ranks. Kander’s campaign has started to receive significant funding and FiveThirtyEight recently put him in the lead with a 58.4% chance of prevailing over Blunt in their Polls-Plus forecast.

North Carolina - Burr vs. Ross

Senator Richard Burr (R) and Fmr. State Assemblywoman Deborah Ross (D)

This race has been slowly but steadily trending towards a Democratic upset since July, with Democrat Deborah Ross presenting a tough challenge to Republican Senator Richard Burr. Ross is truly one of a kind. Despite having just intermediate political experience, Ross, a former North Carolina state director of the ACLU and 5 term State Assemblywoman, has Burr seriously vulnerable for reelection. Why is this? Well I actually got a chance to sit down with Deborah Ross a couple months back, and what I took from the conversation is that Ross’s campaign is making this election a referendum on Richard Burr. For good reason too. Just 44% of North Carolians approve of Burr according to a Morning Consult Survey, making him the 13th most unpopular Senator (Though this may not be a great indicator since in the same Morning Consult survey, Rob Portman has an identical approval rating). Burr has taken many controversial opinions, including embracing Donald Trump as the nominee (Despite being the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and knowing the foreign policy risks he poses) and saying he approves of Trump to pick Supreme Court nominees, taking hardline conservative policies on everything from abortion to gay rights, to the nomination of Merrick Garland. On the infamous HB2, better known as The Bathroom Bill, Burr was originally firmly in favor but later stated it needs to be rolled back, though this was primarily to distance himself from what is essentially political poison. Ross’s campaign has been quick to point out these many discrepancies in their criticism of Burr, and has been inching closer and closer to Burr’s heels. With just a few weeks left, Real Clear Politics has Burr narrowly up by 2.8% whereas Five Thirty Eight’s polls-plus model has them in a close race with Burr at a 56.6% chance of winning and Ross at a 43.3% chance (relatively close by Five Thirty Eight standards). With this race so close, nearly anything could swing it, but for now Deborah Ross has the momentum.

Indiana - Young vs. Bayh

Fmr. Governor and Senator Evan Bayh (D) and US Representative Todd Young (R)

This race and its shocking twist did not recieve nearly as much national coverage as I think it should’ve. This race was shaping up to be a solid Republican hold. On May 3rd, the Republicans nominated US Representative Todd Young and the Democrats nominated Former US Representative Baron Hill. What was significant is that Baron Hill and Todd Young were both Representatives from the same district. That’s because in 2010, Young unseated Hill by a more than 10% margin. So, it appeared, Young would once again prevail over Hill and all would be well for Indiana Republicans. That is until July 13th when popular former two term Governor and Senator Evan Bayh announced he would be running to take back his old seat and Baron Hill stood aside for him. Suddenly, this race flipped and Bayh looked to be the clear victor. Despite a few close polls, this lead seems to be holding steady now even as Young and the NRSC have painted the town red with attacks against Bayh’s post-senate lobbying career. Bayh’s unshakable lead can be attributed to multiple factors, including the fact that he carries with him a massive war chest, has strong personal connections in the Indiana, possess a packed resume and has a legendary family name. This helped him achieve a 26 point lead in early August polling. But that lead has now dwindled to about 6%, probably due to Republican attacks at his insider status and the money he made while lobbying, while he has also had trouble shaking the image that he was very reluctant to run for his seat again. While this race was narrowing for a while, it has started to once again widen in Bayh’s favor following the release of the incriminating Trump tape. Currently, Real Clear Politics has Bayh averaging a 3.5% lead while FiveThirtyEight gives him a 69.6% chance of winning and their polls-only model gives him an 81.5% chance of winning.


There are many other races you should pay attention to in addition to these. Florida is becoming tighter and tighter with Rubio losing ground to Murphy. Wisconsin is pretty much a guarantee for Russ Feingold, a former senator looking to win back his seat. In Illinois we see a moderate but unpopular Republican Senator who suffered a stroke in 2012 pitted against an Asian woman who suffered the amputation of both her legs during combat in Iraq. In Utah, the Democratic Nominee, Misty Snow, is the first ever transgender candidate to win a major party nomination for US Senate. Though she is likely to lose to incumbent Senator Mike Lee, she has made history in what is typically a conservative state, even in terms of their Democrats. Other races to look at are the tight contests in Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada, as well as the less-tight contests in Colorado, Georgia, Arizona and Iowa. Each race presents its own unique set of candidates, issues in focus and demographic and ideological leanings that make them so important to look at to understand the true direction of this country. You can find news about senate races here and polling and predictions here.


Note: The publishing process can take up to a week and therefore the polling presented in this may not all still be accurate for the present.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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