Over the summer, Democrats had something to seriously stress over: losing their precious Senate majority in the November 6th elections. Some polls had Republicans gaining control by a wide margin mostly due to hard fights in a relatively large number of “toss-up” races: it looked like the outcome would be decided by those few crucial crossover voters who were sure of their presidential pick, but willing to defy party lines when voting for their senator.
Now as the big date nears, Democrats (due to diligent campaigning and a few dream candidates) may have the Senate in the bag despite Mitt Romney’s recent post-debate glory. Latest polls show Democrats leading in most of the “toss-up” States – meaning they could keep their hands on the Senate, as long as there are no last minute surprises.
Here is a rundown of the key races:
Jeff Flake (R) vs. Richard Carmona (D), to replace retiring Senator Jon Kyl (R)
Arizona is a red-leaning State. Home to long-time Republican Senator and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, Arizona is known as a relatively secure conservative turf. However Republican Congressman Jeff Flake is in a tough battle with Democratic candidate Richard Carmona – who is of Puerto Rican descent and grew up in Harlem to parents with drug problems. He was a high school dropout who joined the Army, eventually became a decorated veteran, a surgeon, a deputy sheriff and a Surgeon General. Due to his “self-made man” persona and “against-all-odds” history (both of which are extremely appealing to American voters), Carmona has been described as a “dream candidate”. If he wins, he will also become Arizona’s first Hispanic senator – and the first Democratic one since 1995.
Chris Murphy (D) vs. Linda McMahon (R), to replace retiring Senator Joe Lieberman (I)
Connecticut is a blue-leaning State, where Republican candidate Linda McMahon has run a tenacious campaign, putting herself side-by-side with Democrat Chris Murphy. While McMahon’s hard work has been key, she has also received major support from the Republican Party and from heavy weight conservative groups like Karl Rove’s Super PAC Crossroads GPS. Connecticut is a key battleground for Republicans, though the latest polls show Murphy leading.
Richard Mourdock (R) vs. Joe Donnelly (D), to replace incumbent Richard Lugar (R)
Indiana is a red-leaning State, but Republican candidate Richard Mourdock, a Tea Party member who beat 36-year incumbent Richard Lugar in the primary, may lose to Democratic lawmaker Joe Donnelly due to his too-far-right views. Donnelly, a centrist, has been known to bash his own party to gain votes and has effectively fought for space in this conservative State causing the race to be described as a “toss up”. The latest polls show the Democrat in the lead.
Incumbent Bill Nelson (Democrat) vs. Connie Mack (R)
Florida was a hotly contested State over the summer as Republican candidate Connie Mack was head-to-head with Democrat Bill Nelson. Now, as Romney soars in Florida, Mack is falling behind – possibly thanks to strong TV ads placed by the Nelson crew which are filled with personal attacks. Pollsters are now declaring that Democrats are likely to keep this one.
Charlie Summers (R) vs. Angus King (I) vs. Cynthia Dill (D), to replace retiring Senator Olympia Snowe (R)
Maine looked like a clear “pick-up” State for Democrats until former Governor and Independent Angus King got into the race and became the leader in the polls. The question now is with whom will King caucus if elected to the senate seat? Either way, Republicans will likely lose this seat and even if King caucuses with them, he could lean Democratic at any given moment making things tough for conservatives.
Incumbent Scott Brown (R) vs. Elizabeth Warren (D)
In 2009, Brown did the impossible: he beat the Democratic candidate in the special election to succeed Senator Ted Kennedy for the remainder of the term and became the first Republican to hold a Massachusetts senate seat since 1972. Brown has tried to come off as a moderate in this declared blue State, but it doesn’t seem to be working as polls show his competitor Democrat Elizabeth Warren growing in popularity over the last few weeks and now leading in polls.
Incumbent Claire McCaskill (D) vs. Todd Akin (R)
Missouri, traditionally a swing State, has grown more conservative over the years. The State was supposed to be a safe “pick-up” for Republicans until Republican candidate Todd Akin made an out-of-touch comment about “legitimate rape”. Incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill now enjoys a strong lead over Akin.
Incumbent Jon Tester (D) vs. Denny Rehberg (R)
A conservative State, Montana elected Democrat Jon Tester to the Senate in 2006 by just 1% and today Tester is fighting to hold on to his seat in an ever-more red Montana. The latest polls show Tester with a slight advantage, but this is one seat Democrats could lose to Republicans.
Incumbent Dean Heller (R) vs. Shelly Berkley (D)
Nevada could be another “pick-up” State for Democrats. Republican incumbent Dean Heller has had to fight very hard to keep his slight lead over Democratic competitor Shelly Berkley. Though most polls predict the seat to remain in Republican hands, especially because of the State’s red-leaning stance, Democrats still have a fighting chance.
Heidi Heitkamp (D) vs. Rick Berg (R), to replace retiring Senator Kent Conrad (D)
North Dakota is a red-leaning State where Romney grows more popular every day. Democrat Heidi Heitkamp has campaigned hard to stay neck- and-neck with Republican Rick Berg. Her success is due to her “dream candidate” appeal: Heitkamp, a former State Attorney General, is conservative enough to win favor with the opposition and has made it clear that she is not afraid to work independently of the Democratic Party.
Incumbent Sherrod Brown (D) vs. Josh Mandel (R)
The race in Ohio tells a similar story to that of Florida. Republican State Treasurer John Mandel was neck-to-neck with Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown over the summer. Now, despite the Republican tidal wave in the presidential race, Brown is a solid front-runner in the polls. Also here, Democrats can bank on keeping this seat.
Tim Kaine (D) vs. George Allen (R), to replace retiring Senator Jim Webb (D)
Virginia, a red-leaning State, was also considered a possible “pick-up” for Republicans. The State has been on the “toss-up” lists since the beginning of the campaign, as both former Democratic Governor Tim Kaine and former Republican Governor and Senator George Allen are very popular (though Allen lost in 2006 after being seen on YouTube saying a racial slur). But recent polls show Kaine leading and many now expect Virginia to remain in Democratic hands.
Tammy Baldwin (D) vs. Tommy Thompson (R), to replace Senator Herb Kohl (D)
Wisconsin originally represented another possible “pick-up” State for Republicans. Despite this being a blue-leaning battleground, Republican candidate Tommy Thompson ran a good campaign and remained neck-to-neck with challenger Democrat Tammy Baldwin until very recently. Though still considered a “toss-up”, most polls show the Democrat in the lead.
Republicans need to gain four seats to win a majority in the Senate – though their dream of winning both the White House and the Senate in a total Republican takeover seems less likely every day despite Romney’s newfound popularity. However, if Romney takes the presidency, his party could take control of the Senate by gaining only three seats. The reason: then-VP Paul Ryan, as President of the Senate, would tip the balance of power by casting any needed tiebreaking vote.
The US Senate, comprised of 100 seats (two for each State), is currently divided among 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans. Among the 33 seats up for grabs on November 6th are 23 belonging to Democrats (including the two held by Independents who have caucused with Democrats) and 10 filled by Republicans. Senators, though their main job is approving laws, can also confirm judicial nominees, ratify treaties and impeach federal officers – even the president.