2016 is going to be a big year for American politics. In addition to what should be a highly contested and consequential Presidential race, the elections for Congress are going to have major ramifications for the nation going forward. Specifically, a lot is going to depend on which party controls the Senate come January 2017 (The House will more than likely remain GOP controlled, albeit with a smaller majority). A Democratic President is going to have a much more difficult time building a legacy while he/she faces two politically hostile houses of Congress. The same is true for a Republican President who would want to make reforms to, or replace entirely, the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), complete tax reform, secure the border, or any other Republican agenda items if his/her party doesn’t hold the Senate. Put lightly, Senate control is a must for both parties.
Next month, the new Senate will convene with 54 Republican, 44 Democrats, and 2 Independents who caucus with Democrats. Assuming no vacancies/appointments/special elections, this means that the power breakdown will be 54R-46D going into election day 2016.
The 2016 Senate map is not favorable for Republicans. 34 Senate seats are scheduled to be up for election, and 24 of them are Republican controlled. Here is the full breakdown:
Republicans will start off election day 2016 with 30 seats that are not up for election. Democrats will have 36. Unless something unexpected happens, like the upset Pat Roberts almost experienced this past election cycle, the following seats should be held by their party as well:
Alabama – R
Alaska – R (If Murkowski is uncontested).
Arizona – R (Even if McCain is successfully primaried, Arizona should be red for the Senate on election day).
Arkansas – R
California – D (The golden state has been voting blue statewide a lot recently. A strong Republican could feasibly beat Boxer, but it would be very hard).
Connecticut – D
Georgia – R (Unless another Democrat can make Georgia relatively competitive again).
Hawaii – D
Idaho – R
Indiana – R
Iowa – R (Grassley is getting old. He will be 83 on election day, but he still says he is running. The veteran senator should win no problem assuming he goes through with it).
Kansas – R
Louisiana – R
Maryland – D
Missouri – R (Blunt won by 15 points in 2015. But Missouri is still only a lean-red state, and isn’t as solid as a state like Utah. This could go the wrong way with a strong Democrat challenger and a bad re-election campaign).
New York – D
North Dakota – R
Oklahoma – R
Oregon – D
South Carolina – R (Having picked up this seat in a special election this cycle, Tim Scott should handley beat any Democrat he goes up against).
South Dakota – R
Utah – R
Vermont – D
Washington – D (Patty Murray narrowly won last time, by a margin of only about 5 points. However, this is blue Washington, and 2010 was also a midterm election where turnout favored the GOP. Unless she has a strong challenger again, she should be safe).
Tallied up and added to the seats that aren’t up: R – 46 D – 44
Here is where things get complicated:
Colorado – Michael Bennet was able to scrape by in 2010. He will have the advantage of a Presidential year turnout this time around, as well as incumbancy. Republicans can still win if they put up someone as strong and likeable as Cory Gardner. The advantage is easily Bennet’s for the time being.
Florida – Rubio is strong. Republicans will need to play a good defensive game here, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to maintain this seat.
Illinois – At the moment, this looks like the hardest seat for Republicans to defend. Kirk is not going to have it easy for a variety of reasons: political, health, etc. In addition, this is Illinois. Sure, it barely elected him in 2010, but Illinois in a Presidential election year is a whole different beast. Chicago turnout machines aren’t too easy to overcome.
Kentucky – The only reason Kentucky is on the “complicated” list is the incumbent’s Presidential hopes. Technically, Rand Paul cannot run for President and Senate at the same time under state law, but that hasn’t stopped him from fighting back (you can read about it here). If he is blocked from his re-election effort, or is successful at winning the Republican nomination, we still think it is likely he will be replaced by another Republican in the general election. Kentucky is still a fairly strong R for now.
New Hampshire – Senator Ayotte did great last time, winning with over 60%. However, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Democrats throw the book at her. New Hampshire is a purple state that is slightly blue, making Kelly Ayotte’s seat a clear target for pick up.
Nevada – Reid got real lucky in 2010. He only had to face Sharron Angle, a complete disaster of a candidate. Something tells us 2016 will be different, and that mistake won’t be made twice. Among the possible GOP nominees to face off against the unpopular Senator, is Governor Sandoval, a popular hispanic Republican who won re-election with 71% of the vote last month.
North Carolina – Richard Burr can win, but Republicans would do well to remember 2008, when Barack Obama won North Carolina, as well as Thom Tillis’ nailbiter victory last month. Incumbancy in a slightly red state is no guarantee of anything.
Ohio – Portman is a great candidate, and has it better than most Republicans on this list. But Ohio is still a key swing state, and if Democrats do well in the Presidential election, a strong Democratic challenger could also ride some coattails. Being cautious here will help Republicans.
Pennsylvania – Pat Toomey has it almost as bad as Mark Kirk. He slightly won out in 2010, and Pennsylvania is lean-blue. It consistently votes Democratic for the Presidency, meaning Toomey will have to overcome the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh urban turnout, among other things.
Wisconsin – Ron Johnson has it better than Toomey and Kirk among Republicans, but that’s about it. The Senator narrowly won in 2010. The good news is Wisconsin seems to be trendy somewhat more Republican recently. Scott Walker’s three wins in a row are a positive sign to say the least.
Assuming Republicans get all 46, and Democrats all 44 of their ‘likely’ seats, these ten elections will determine everything. If a Republican takes back the White House in 2016, the party will only need four of these ten seats to have a majority with a Vice Presidential tie breaker vote. The most likely four, in order, are: Kentucky, Nevada, Ohio, and North Carolina (at least that is our best guess for the time being). A fifth, which will be needed if a Democrat wins the White House would probably be New Hampshire or Florida. The other four are going to be tough. Here are the current ratings for these ten races:
Likely R: Kentucky
Lean R: Nevada, Ohio, North Carolina
Toss-up: New Hampshire, Florida, Wisconsin
Lean D: Illinois, Pennsylvania, Colorado
At the risk of political overload, it is worth pointing out that the 2018 Senate map is going to be awesome for Republicans. Since it will be a replay of 2012, they will be defending 8 seats, and Democrats will be defending 23 (including both independents). So if Democrats are able to retake the Senate, it might only be for two years. 2018 will also be a midterm election, making it a potential repeat of 2014.
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