By Frank J Biga III -
With the GOP currently holding a 54-44-2 majority in the U.S. Senate while having to defend 24 seats out of 34 up, a subplot of election night will be many of the Senate races as control of the chamber will partially determine any subsequent fight over Supreme Court justices, among other legislative battles. So let’s take a look at some of the more interesting races throughout the country besides our own Kirk vs. Duckworth race:
New Hampshire - One term Incumbent Kelly Ayotte (R) faces what will essentially be a make or break race for her career. If she can win a second term, it will become more difficult to dislodge her, even in a swing state like New Hampshire. Her opponent is popular two term Governor Maggie Hassan. A recent poll shows Ayotte pulling in to an 8 pt lead of 49-41 after the Republican convention. Donald Trump is also ahead by similar number in the state so perhaps there is some correlation. Gubernatorial terms in NH are only two years, so Hassan runs the risk of not holding office if she loses this Senate race.
Hassan is also under fire somewhat for not living in the Governor’s mansion and instead living in the mansion associated with Philips Exeter Academy, which is led by her husband who lives there. The mansion at the Academy is more spacious and this has created some backlash. Hassan will try to duplicate the strategy of current senior Senator Jean Shaheen who nipped transplant Scott Brown in 2014 by 16000 votes out of about 480,000 total. Shaheen ran strong in Merrimack County which is anchored by the capital city of Concord winning by 8000 there. She also did well in the more rural and far northern Grafton and Coos counties winning in both by 8000 and 6000 margins respectively. In 2010 Ayotte beat a lesser known opponent by over 100,000 votes and carried every county, although she barely won Grafton county.
This is a lot different in the race, though, in that it is in a Presidential year. The last such Senate race was in 2008 between Shaheen and John Sununu Jr.. Shaheen won that race by about 45,000 votes with about 673,000 votes cast. Sununu carried only three of 10 counties and each of those was very close.
So, despite the recent poll showing Ayotte up by 8, I expect this race to be one that goes late in to the night. A lot will depend on how high of margins Ayotte can run up in conservative Rockingham and Hillsborough counties as well as if she can hold her own in the city of Concord and the northern counties. She won her race when only 480,000 voted whereas Shaheen won in 2008 when 673,000 voted. That is a big difference and the total votes cast will likely come somewhere in between those totals. Structurally, like many races in Presidential election years, this one must be labeled as advantage Democrat. But this is not a normal year to say the least.
Ohio – This will probably be the most interesting race of all of them to watch on election night. The incumbent Republican is Rob Portman and he will be facing former Governor Ted Strickland. Ohio is a critical state for both Presidential candidates. I guarantee that this race will not be called early. Ohio is a state with several key urban areas that trend Democratic (Cleveland and Toledo) and then several urban areas where Republicans do better (Columbus and Cincinnati). In fact, in 2010, Portman beat his opponent Lee Fisher in both Franklin County (Columbus) and Hamilton County(Cincinnati). Fisher won in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) by 60,000 votes and in Lucas County (Toledo) by about 6,000. Fisher also won several counties in northeastern Ohio anchored by Youngstown. This area though is more likely to turn out higher vote totals for Donald Trump because of the effects of free trade on local industries. Ever been to Youngstown? It is a city with its best days behind it. If any city in this country can serve as an archetype for the negative effects of free trade, Youngstown is it.
But even though Portman beat a weaker and lesser know opponent in 2010 by close to 670,000 votes, this is also the year that John Kasich also won against incumbent Ted Strickland. Kasich won by only 77,000 votes out of about 3.7 Million ballots cast. Strickland’s race here is a much better proxy for what will happen in this race considering that once again it is a Presidential year. In 2012, when incumbent Sherrod Brown ran for re-election, the total ballots cast were about 4.3 Million. Brown beat his opponent by 5%, not a resounding win.
Unions have generally voted for Democrats in this state over the years. But recently the Fraternal Order of Police union endorsed Portman and quickly thereafter he also picked up the endorsement of the Ohio Conference of Teamsters (which generally backs Democrats). Some Democratic leaders fear Strickland isn’t running the best campaign and there are palpable fears by some unions’ leadership that the rank and file are not going to vote for Strickland this year as they did in past races.
So, considering that Portman will have the advantages of incumbency tempered by familiarity by the voters with Strickland as well as Trump’s presence on the ticket in the areas most hard-hit by hollowed out factories, this should be a race that goes down to the wire as well. A recent poll showed the race deadlocked at 43%. Portman though has beaten Strickland soundly in the fundraising arena.
Ultimately this race will depend on turnout. How much can Trump rely on his unorthodox model to bring new voters to the polls and overwhelm the generally superior ground game of the Democrats? Will this continue to work as it did in the primaries? And wouldn’t it be ironic if Trump was able to bring more new voters to the polls because of his views on trade and some of the benefit of this would inure to a man who once served as the US Trade Representative in the second Bush administration?
Stranger things have happened in politics. My guess is that Portman will win here by a narrow margin and it will be because of smaller losses in places like Akron, Youngstown, Lorain, and Canton as well as new Republican dominance of the “Appalachian” counties along the Ohio river.
Other U.S. Senate races to watch coming shortly ...