2016 Senate races make or break candidates’ promises
While the 2016 presidential election has captured the attention of many Americans, there is more at stake on Election Day than just the selection for commander in chief. Although the president has considerable influence, the legislative branch remains critical to advancing or hindering the president’s agenda. All members of the House of Representatives face reelection, and 34 of the 100 seats of the Senate may change hands during this election cycle.
Although the 2014 election cycle had more Democratic seats up for grabs which contributed to the Republican takeover in the Senate, this election cycle has 24 of the 34 seats up for grabs currently belonging to Republicans. Democrats would need to win a net gain of six senate seats to retake the majority, assuming Senator Joe Lieberman (I–CT) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I–VT) continue to caucus with the Democrats.
Though most sitting senators end up getting reelected, some change is guaranteed. Three Democrats and two Republicans are retiring from the Senate. On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV), Senator Barbara Boxer (D–CA), and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D–MD) are calling it quits. For the Republicans, Senator Marco Rubio (R–FL) and Senator Dan Coats (R–IN) are packing up.
Some states are gearing up for competitive races that may determine the balance of power in the Senate. According to the Sunlight Foundation, the Pennsylvania race has so far seen the fourth highest amount with $8.1 million already spent. In the search for the Democratic challenger to Senator Pat Toomey (R–PA), former Pennsylvania environmental secretary Katie McGinty, retired Navy admiral and former rep. Joe Sestak (D–PA), and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman are vying for the chance to take on Toomey. According to a poll taken from March 1-2, Sestak led the candidates with 33 percent of people polled indicating support to him. McGinty came in second with 17 percent, and Fetterman was close behind at 15 percent. McGinty, however, may yet outstrip Sestak. Both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed McGinty on Wednesday, an unusual show of support in a contested primary election.
In Illinois, the third most expensive race so far at $8.5 million pits Senator Mark Kirk (R–IL) against Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D–IL). Though polling has been sparse, the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call ratings identify the race as tilting Democratic, backing up the existing polls that have Duckworth with a small advantage over Kirk.
Wisconsin, the fifth most expensive race at $5.9 million, features Senator Rob Johnson (R–WI) in a rematch against former senator Russ Feingold (D–WI). A recent poll conducted by Marquette Law School has Feingold with a three point advantage over Johnson. Feingold, who is famous for pushing for campaign finance reform with Senator John McCain (R–AZ), may use his credentials to his advantage, as 68 percent of Wisconsin voters opposed the Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court that helped issue in an era of super PAC funded races.
With these seats and several others likely to be hotly contested, Americans need to give weight to their selection of senators. Though the presidency is the biggest prize available in 2016, control of the Senate and the House of Representatives will be critical to how well the president will be able to implement a vision for the future. In this era of intense partisanship when the word “compromise” disgusts millions, the decision to vote or stay at home could be the difference between a government that will actually act and two more years of obstruction and blame.