Fred Barnes | The Fate of the Senate

Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard:

Senate candidates aren’t as important as they used to be. Republican and Democratic presidential nominees have intruded. The outcome of Senate races in 2016 will be heavily affected, if not determined, by which party’s presidential candidate wins a state. This is especially true in tossup states.

There’s a “new rule of politics in a polarized, partisan era,” says Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia. “The party winning the presidency in a state carries the Senate seat that’s up in that state about 80 percent of the time. Could possibly be even higher in 2016.”

This means the Democratic nominee must win the White House for Democrats to have a credible chance of taking control of the Senate. If a Republican wins the presidency, “the top of the ticket is going to help keep [Republican] Mitch McConnell the majority leader,” says Scott Reed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief political adviser. Republicans now have a 54-46 advantage in the Senate.

What Sabato calls a rule isn’t an iron rule. And it’s not new that presidential contests have an impact on state races. They always have, thus the phenomenon known as presidential coattails. When Ronald Reagan won in 1980, he pulled in a dozen new senators, giving Republicans control, 53-46. When Barack Obama won in 2008, Democrats netted 8 seats and their control of the Senate grew to 59-41. Democrats gained 2 seats with Obama’s reelection in 2012.

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