One of the most amazing things about this election cycle has been watching the gaudy spectacle of the presidential race absorb all of the media’s oxygen and resolve, leaving little energy left to focus on the many other races that will be decided on election night. That’s right! There are Senate races galore. Even House races. Probably some ballot initiatives, too. It’s not all Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton in the Terrordome of American politics.
And to be honest, we’re missing out whenever our attention strays too far from the down ticket battles. The competition looks to be tight ― many of our august political augurs are looking at a potentially split Senate, with our mostly forgotten vice presidential candidates potentially looming as long-term tie-breakers and deal makers (as president of the Senate, the vice president can be called on to cast votes in a deadlock).
Not to mention the fact that in the U.S. Senate, 51 votes is often not enough. Trump and Clinton may have designs on and desires for the Supreme Court ― but neither of them is good enough to necessarily avoid dying at the hands of the Senate filibuster.
Right now, Democrats are telling their contributors and voters that they had better step up now because come 2018, they have a raft of people up for re-election, and are going to be very exposed. And let’s remember our history: Should Hillary win, she’ll face a problem that continually bedevils the party holding the White House ― in their first midterm election, their legislators tend to get creamed.
So the stakes are high. But there’s something else that you can only find when you start glancing at the down ticket races ― blessed normalcy. The arguments over issues, the wrangling of party machers, even all the Beltway-centric cocktail party chatter as to whether the relatively quiet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) will continue to preside over the upper house, or if Congress’ most loquacious microphone fiend, Chuck Schumer, takes over ― it all feels like a serene reminder of the time before rejected horseman of the apocalypse Trump turned American politics into a deranged arrangement.
We never thought that we’d find a soothing tonic in a battle between Evan Bayh and Todd Young over an Indiana Senate seat, but here we are. And on this week’s first to last, we revisit the barnburner Senate match-ups that could end up shaping our near future.
FLORIDA: MARCO RUBIO (R, incumbent) vs. PATRICK MURPHY (D)
This could be the surprise of election night, with most polls saying it’s at a dead heat. Rubio has still refused to unendorse Trump (why, we don’t know), and Murphy is holding strong, despite the fact that national Democrats have pulled their resources out of the race. Murphy is a somewhat damaged candidate ― early on in the race the Rubio camp made hay over several significant examples of resume inflation. But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s decision to leave Murphy to his own devices has some people puzzled.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: KELLY AYOTTE (R, incumbent) vs. MAGGIE HASSAN (D)
Things are looking grim for Ayotte in the latest WaPo poll, which has her down 8 points. Ayotte’s whole Trump is-or-isn’t a role model thing right before the leaked tape probably didn’t help. The Boston Globe has pointed out that New Hampshire tends to vote for Democratic senators during presidential election years, a trend to which the state seems to be reverting.
PENNSYLVANIA: PAT TOOMEY (R, incumbent) vs. KATIE McGINTY (D)
Trumpians thought they had a chance in Pa., what with all that Deer Hunter country. He’s probably going to lose, but moderate Republicans who feel guilty voting for Clinton could split their tickets and save Toomey.
INDIANA: EVAN BAYH (D) vs. TODD YOUNG
Middle-of-the-road Evan Bayh wanted it both ways: he works as a lobbyist in D.C. and then returns home to run as an outsider. But the Chamber of Commerce, with which he once worked, has made him its number-one target. To the dismay of liberals, Bayh kept $10 million from his PAC in 2008 rather than give it to the Democratic Party. He’s now spent it all, but could still lose to sharp young conservative Rep. Young.
ILLINOIS: MARK KIRK (R, incumbent) vs. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D)
Duckworth is killing the fundraising game, outraising Kirk 3-to-1 over the summer. Will all those ad buys pay off? She leads in the polls but savvy Illinois Democrats worry that Kirk has a way of surviving by shuckin’ and jivin.’ He plays “moderate” with the best of them.
MISSOURI: ROY BLUNT (R, incumbent) vs. JASON KANDER (D)
In the last two weeks according to Nate Silver, the chances that upstart Kander ends up taking this election from Sen. Blunt has risen over 22 points. 22 POINTS. Blunt is suffering from both edges of the Trump effect ― an outsider new to politics is running against him (he’s just a democrat) and Trump is imploding. Plus, one of the most genius ads of the election cycle hasn’t hurt Kander’s rise either. And Sen. Al Franken, a leader in the Dems take-back-the-Senate drive, has been touting presciently Kander for a year.
WISCONSIN: RON JOHNSON (R, incumbent) vs. RUSS FEINGOLD (D)
Another former senator trying a comeback, Feingold is a better bet than Bayh. It’s another state the Trump forces targeted, but Feingold has more than enough anti-establishment juice to survive, or even thrive, in this era. He could also be a next-generation Bernie in 2020 if he wins.
NEVADA: JOE HECK (R) vs. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO (D)
This is a race to replace the irreplaceable, irrepressible, inimitable and ― to his many detractors ― annoying Harry Reid. With its right wing casino crowd and mass of Hispanic voters, Nevada is on the fault line of politics. If Hispanic turnout gives Hillary Clinton a victory, it could sweep in Cortez Masto, too.
NORTH CAROLINA: RICHARD BURR (R, incumbent) vs. DEBORAH ROSS (D)
In North Carolina, incumbent Sen. Richard Burr is holding off his Democratic challenger ― but perhaps only just. In a familiar story, Burr’s prospects are being weighed down by his party’s presidential standardbearer. As a recent NPR report details, whether or not you disavow or embrace Trump has a distinctive damned-if-you-do-or-don’t flavor. Trump’s flame-out has helped Ross add to her campaign coffers, but the word is that Burr has enough cash on hand to last out the cycle.