With President’s Barack’s Obama approval ratings hovering below 50 percent and a large number of Senate Democrats running in conservative states, analysts predict Republicans will not only hold the House next month but may win the six seats needed to seize control of the Senate.
But just what that would mean in terms of impact on the American public — and on Ohioans — is not entirely clear.
“If Republicans control both the Senate and the House, they would set the agenda,” said John Green, director of the Ray Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.
They would have the power to block any of Obama’s appointments to the administration. They could approve deeper reductions in federal spending and perhaps even scrap the 2010 health law known as Obamacare, as least legislatively. But because Obama would have enough Democratic votes in the House and Senate to sustain his veto, there is little chance that many Republican initiatives would become law.
Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia, said a GOP victory would “produce more gridlock and make it even more difficult for Obama’s legislation to pass over the next two years.”
Unlike presidential elections when Ohio often decides the outcome, the state this year will more of a spectator. Each of the state’s Republican and Democratic House members are expected to handily win and neither Republican Sen. Rob Portman nor Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is on the ballot.
But in the aftermath of the election, House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, could emerge as major winners if Republicans hold the House and win the Senate.
Republican control of both houses of Congress “would make John Boehner a more influential person,” Green said. By holding the House, Boehner would be assured of serving another two years as speaker.
Portman, too, would benefit. He is the chief fund-raiser for Senate Republicans, and those close to him believe if Republicans win the Senate, he would be inclined to run for president.
‘They have the map’
Democrats are working feverishly to fine-tune their voter turn-out effort and are putting big money into key races. But a spate of surveys show difficult road map. Democratic Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Mark Udall of Colorado are in tough re-election fights. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a prominent Republican once thought to be endangered, has rebounded to take a consistent lead against his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundgren Grimes.
Democrats are trying to overcome two major disadvantages. Even though Obama was handily re-elected in 2012 in large part because of a massive turnout from women, African-Americans, Hispanics and young people, this year those groups may not vote in large enough numbers to save vulnerable Democrats.
Even more alarming for Democrats, is that many of the close races are in states carried in 2012 by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. If Republican voters in Arkansas, North Carolina Louisiana, Kentucky, and Georgia show up next month, the GOP could sweep them all.
“We don’t see a big wave, but Republicans don’t need a wave because they have the map,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor of the Senate races at the non-partisan Cook Political Report in Washington.
Sabato is more cautious. “Currently it looks like the Republicans could take the Senate by a seat or two,” he said, “but it is no slam-dunk for the GOP and there are still more than five weeks to go.”
No such suspense exists in the House. Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington, said because House districts are so carefully drawn by Republican and Democratic state legislators, only 50 of the 435 seats are truly competitive. Rothenberg predicted a Republican gain of “between two and 10 seats” in the House.
“This is not like 2010,” said Sabato, referring to the Republican gain that year of 63 seats, which allowed them to seize control of the House. “Four years ago the Republicans won most of the seats they could win in the House, so they can’t grab a large number of new seats.”
Runoff possibilities loom
Historically the party holding the White House loses seats in the congressional off-year election of a president’s second term. During the sixth year of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency in 1958, Democrats won 13 Senate seats and a staggering 47 in the House.
Democrats repeated that triumph in 2006 during President George W. Bush’s second term, capitalizing on voter disillusionment with protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to gain six Senate seats and 31 in the House and seize control of both houses. A key victory was Brown’s win over Republican Sen. Mike DeWine in Ohio.
“If there is a strong breeze at the back of one of the parties and they have nominated decent candidates, often the close races break their way,” said Rothenberg.
The key to the evening will be North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Kentucky, where polls close at 6 p.m. Duffy said “if Republicans pick up New Hampshire and North Carolina, it could portend a good night for them. If they lose Kentucky, they have a problem.”
Because of unusual election laws in Georgia and Louisiana, Americans may not even know on Nov. 4 which party controls the Senate.
With multiple candidates on the ballot in Louisiana, there is little chance that either Landrieu or Republican challenger Bill Cassidy will receive 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff between the two on Dec. 6.
Georgia too could have a runoff. A Libertarian is on the ballot there, as well as Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn. If neither Perdue nor Nunn receive 50 percent of the vote total, the two highest vote getters would face each other in a runoff on Jan. 6, three days after the new Congress is scheduled to convene.
“This thing is going into overtime,” Duffy said.
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