Decisive November: The Battle for Senate Control…

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In 2024, Democrats in the Senate will live dangerously.

Compared to any prior election in the 2020s, the number of Senate seats that Democrats will be defending this autumn is more vulnerable due to unstable political climate. The last three Senate seats held by Democrats in areas that went for Trump in 2020 and five more in states where Joe Biden won by three percentage points or less are on the list of states with difficult races this year. Republicans, meanwhile, will not be defending any Senate seats in states that went against Trump in 2020 or had a margin of preference of three points or less for him.

If Biden can improve his standing in the crucial swing states by November, the Democrats will have a far better chance of winning, as this math shows. In recent years, a striking pattern has emerged in the Senate elections: candidates from the opposite party are finding it incredibly challenging to secure seats in states that typically vote against the president.

That tendency might be broken this autumn by the Senate Democrats campaigning in challenging political terrain. What happens to Biden in November, though, might decide who controls the Senate in 2025 and beyond if they are unable to do so.

Democrats may still have a shot at reclaiming the Senate majority this decade if Biden has a solid resurgence and takes most of the important swing states. This may happen even if Democrats lose the majority in November. In spite of this, the Democrats risk falling into an insurmountable Senate deficit if Biden loses the majority of the swing states. This is particularly true given the lack of realistic chances for the party to reclaim seats currently held by the Republicans.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the political newsletter “Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” published by the University of Virginia’s Centre for Politics, warned that Democrats risk losing the Senate for an extended period if Biden’s campaign were to collapse.

The makeup of the federal courts, particularly the Supreme Court, and the passage of legislation are both profoundly affected by that possibility. The age of 70 will be reached by four judges of the Supreme Court in the year 2028. Just like Mitch McConnell did in 2016, when Barack Obama was president, a long-lasting Republican majority in the Senate may refuse to fill any of the open seats, even if Biden is president in 2024 and a vacancy occurs. The Supreme Court could be without a justice for a long time, according to Kondik.

Senate majority in the twenty-first century have typically been quite modest and transitory. Neither party has managed to secure 55 Senate seats in the twelve legislative sessions that have begun after 2001. In contrast, during the ten sessions that spanned 1980–2000, a majority of 55 or more Senate seats were gained seven times by a single party. It should come as no surprise that smaller majorities are more challenging to defend: The Senate has changed hands four times this century—in2002,2006,2014, and 2020.

The increasing link between states’ presidential and Senate votes is the primary cause of the chamber’s current level of division. Because of this, barring extraordinary circumstances, the number of Senate seats that one party can win is restricted.

Electing senators from one party and the presidential nominee of the other was a typical way for voters in the late 20th century to split their tickets. States that supported Ronald Reagan in both of his successful presidential bids had around half of their Senate seats controlled by Democrats after the 1984 election.

However, the results of the presidential and Senate elections are now almost in sync with one another. Of the 50 Senate seats up for grabs in the 2024 election, 47 are held by Republicans in the 25 states that went for Trump in 2020. In contrast, among the 25 states that supported Biden in the past election, Democrats controlled 48 out of the 50 Senate seats.

This apparent parity in the Senate positions of the two parties belies a more fundamental difference, which essentially clarifies the danger that the Democrats confront this year.

Trump and Biden both won 25 states in 2020, but Biden narrowly won a considerably larger number of them. Therefore, states that lean marginally one way or the other in the presidential campaign are far more important to Senate Democrats than to Republicans.

Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin were the three states that Biden narrowly defeated in 2020. Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Michigan were the other three states where his victory margin was less than 3%. Eleven out of twelve Senate seats in those six states are currently held by Democrats. (Among these states, the sole Republican senator is Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.)

Interestingly, out of the 25 states that supported Trump, the only one where his margin of victory was less than 3 percentage points was North Carolina, a state where Republicans hold both Senate seats. If we expand the net to states that Trump won by a margin of less than 5%, we still only get Florida, where Republicans not only control the House but also the Senate.

A chasm opens up between the parties as a result of this discrepancy. A total of fourteen Senate seats are currently held by Democrats, three of which are in states that Trump won in 2020 and eleven of which are in places where Biden nearly lost. With Florida included, the maximum number of states won by Republicans is six: two by Biden in 2020 and four by Trump in states won by tight margins.

According to Michael Podhorzer, a former political director for the AFL-CIO, “democrats always have to get a straight flush” when there are numerous states where the opposite outcome is now unthinkable. “They’d be utterly bereft if they relied on the Senate or the Electoral College for their safety, so they’d have to run the table.”

In areas where Biden’s victory margin was three points or less, Democrats will be defending five out of their eleven seats this year. The number of seats from those states that Democrats will have to defend in every election this decade, from 2020 to 2028, is at its highest concentration.

Democratic incumbents Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Jacky Rosen of Nevada are all up for reelection to the Senate this year. Additionally, there is an open seat in Michigan that is currently held by Democrats (with Rep. Elissa Slotkin as the party’s likely nominee) and the seat in Arizona currently held by independent Kyrsten Sinema, who caucuses with Democrats. Even though Sinema hasn’t said anything about her reelection plans, Democratic Representative Ruben Gallego is formally campaigning to succeed her. (Republican former governor Larry Hogan announced his intention to run for the vacant seat in Maryland last week, presenting an unexpected challenge to Democrats in a state that consistently votes for Democrats in presidential elections.)

Also, in states that went for Trump in 2020, Democrats have to defend all three of their Senate seats this year. Among them are the current members of Congress of Ohio (Sherrod Brown), Montana (Jon Tester), and West Virginia (the seat being left vacant by Joe Manchin’s retirement). This year, neither of the two Republican senators from North Carolina—the state which Trump won by his narrowest margin—nor either of the two Republicans from Maine (Susan Collins) nor Wisconsin (Johnson), two states that Biden previously won.

Everyone in the political spectrum agrees that the Republican Party will easily win the vacant seat in West Virginia. Biden is likely to lose both states—Tester and Brown—and maybe by large amounts, despite the strength of their personal brands. If he does, Brown and Tester will have to break a virtually unbroken trend in presidential election years if they want to survive.

For the first time ever in 2016, the party that carried the presidential battle in each state also carried the Senate race. With the exception of Maine, where Collins was re-elected even though Biden won the state, all Senate races in 2020 followed the presidential outcome.

Because of this trend, Democrats were quite irritated in 2020 when they attempted to fundraise for Senate candidates in states that lean Republican, like South Carolina, Texas, Iowa, Kansas, and Kentucky. But when Trump easily won those states in November, every single one of those Democratic candidates for the Senate also lost.


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