As we approach Labor Day, the traditional kickoff date of campaigns, many Senate races are too close to call. The current Senate has 54 Senators who caucus with the Democrats while the Republicans have 46.
You would think that the Republicans would have broad smiles on their collective faces by now, but that is not the case. Republican candidates for the Senate have 3 distinctive advantages. One advantage is that there are 22 Democrats running who but for retirements and other reasons outnumber Republicans seeking re-election by 2-1. Off year elections after a Presidential election favor the out of power party. Third and most compelling is the fact that of the toss-up states, the President only averaged 46% of the vote in 2012.
But here we are in the last critical weeks before election day with the outcome unknown. Polls are flawed and 8 states are deemed to be up for grabs. The polling results in the toss-up states are so close that they are within the statistical realm of error. We will see what the voters have to say.
One can safely say that 3 of the states needed to change the Senate leadership are well in hand. Republicans are well ahead and are expected to win in South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia.
Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, and Kentucky are the states to watch on election night.
Interestingly enough, two states Arkansas and Louisiana, were anticipated to be easy wins for the Republican Party when the campaigns started. Reality has set in and both Arkansas and Louisiana are defying Republican expectations with the eventual outcome being in serious doubt. It is difficult to imagine the Republicans taking the Senate without victory in both Arkansas and in Louisiana.
The bad news for Republicans is that even though they may re-take the Senate, the states that should have been easy wins for what was thought to be a solid Republican south are in doubt. The question of interest for professional Republican politicians is what is going on?
If all politics is local, each race may be determined by local issues and the popularity or lack of popularity of state candidates for federal office and for the governor’s races that are taking place in the South. One can find reasons or excuses for the closeness of certain races but is the fact that these races are so close indicating a new trend in the South?
One can excuse the race being close in Kentucky by claiming that Mitch McConnell has been in the Senate for a long time and incumbents in general are having a hard time.
Georgia though, may be a story of both changing demographics or a changing electorate or a combination of both. The Democratic Party has put up two famous name in Georgia political history, former Senator Sam Nunn’s daughter, Michele, is the Senate candidate and the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter is running for Governor. Is this a candidate specific race or is there more to it than that?
Both Democratic candidate Senator Pryor of Arkansas and Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, are running solid campaigns in heavily Republican states. They are both known for bringing to their states governmental help. Seniority and the influence that comes with that are powerful facts that give both incumbents a fighting chance for re-election. Will that help them eek out a narrow victory in November?
Even Hope, Arkansas, the hometown of Bill Clinton has gone Republican. The President Obama’s favorable numbers are in the toilet in Arkansas at a misery level of 13%. Representative Cotton voted against a farm bill which would have been a death sentence in the past but he is still in the fight, which shows how Republican the state has become of recent years.
Perhaps the fact that Democratic Senator Pryor has brought home the bacon and his family name and popularity still holds him in good stead and explains why he still has a good chance of re-election.
Perhaps the radicalism of the Republican brand has begun to show in what was thought to be a solid Republican South.
Famously, former President Lyndon B. Johnson said that after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Bill, the Democratic Party had lost the South for a generation. Maybe an aging white population and declining white voting totals have begun to tell a different story for the future. States like Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia have all seen their population’s increase substantially and with that population increase we have seen closer elections. In the last two Presidential elections, Virginia has voted Democratic.
The face of the American electorate may be changing and with that change the Republican Party may be faced with a new reality. What has worked for them in the South in the last 40 plus years may not work for them for much longer.
So get your score cards out and put your feet up. It could be a long night, this coming election night in November. The Republicans may very well squeak by to gain a majority in the Senate. But will a victory, if it happens, tell a different story for Republicans in their future?