Every two years, all 435 seats in the US House of Representatives and around one-third of the senate seats are up for grabs.
In the Midterm elections, which happen in even years between US presidential elections, historically, the party in power loses seats. Currently the Democratic Party, led by Barack Obama, the country’s president, holds majorities in both the House and Senate, but high unemployment numbers, the growing deficit, and widespread public anger with Washington that could all change on November 2.
The midterm elections are three weeks away. Here’s a look at where things stand:
Races tend to tighten in October. The political parties target their money at the contests they think they can win. It’s also debate month, where candidates square off, allowing undecided voters the opportunity to finally make up their minds.
Incumbents polling way behind at this stage will likely lose. There isn’t enough time to make up the difference. But in many toss-up races, the polls are within the margin of error. The key to winning is getting the electorate to the polls, since midterms usually only attract the most committed voters.
Democrats are on the defensive. They’re trying to find a message that resonates with voters, but haven’t hit on a successful theme. Now Democrats are cutting their losses. They’re pulling out funding and support for several candidates to concentrate their resources where they believe they can win.
Currently the Democrats have a 59-vote caucus, a solid majority, but 37 seats are up for grabs.
There are several Democratic incumbents in trouble, but no Republican incumbents are likely to lose their seats. It would be possible for Republicans to regain the Senate if they won in every state where they have a viable challenger, but given recent polling it seems improbable.
With just three weeks of campaigning left, Republicans seem likely to pick up between five and eight seats in the upper chamber of congress. Democrats are pretty much ceding Arkansas, Indiana, and North Dakota. Republicans look like they are going to win Pennsylvania. Incumbents in Colorado, California, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Washington are very vulnerable. Open seats in West Virginia and Illinois are also too close to call.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is one of the vulnerable. His Republican opponent, Sharron Angle is a Tea Party favourite.
Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, and voters may be ready to take out their frustrations on Reid. However, Angle is an experienced candidate who is prone to making major political misstatements. Republicans must be lamenting that she is their candidate, not someone who could easily knock off the unpopular Reid. Also if voters feel they can’t stomach either candidate, they can pick the “None of the Above” box on their ballots in Nevada.
There are also two three-way races – one in Alaska and the other in Florida.
In Florida, the sitting Governor Charlie Crist left the Republican Party to run as an independent after Marco Rubio, a Tea Party-lite candidate threatened to win the Republican primary.
They will both face Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek. Meek is one of only two African-Americans running for Senate this year. Right now the polling doesn’t look good for him. He and Crist are splitting the Democratic vote. Rubio is polling ahead.
House of Representatives:
Since the second world war, the party of a new president has lost an average of 24 House seats in the Midterm election. Republicans have to win a net 39 seats to regain the majority, which is likely considering the number of hotly contested races.
The possibility of a Republican wave is growing stronger. The party and its interest groups are spending loads of money on advertisements to influence voters. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent $8.25 million in 29 districts last weekend alone.
Pennsylvania may be the state that determines whether or not Democrats hold the House. There are five or six toss-up seats in this bellwether state. If Democrats lose all of them, they’ll almost certainly lose the House by a wide margin.
The governors’ races:
The Midterms have implications for the 2012 presidential election as well.
Thirty-seven governorships are being contested this year. Governors and state legislatures will redraw congressional district lines next year based on the 2010 census. While drawing district lines based on political party advantage is illegal, it happens. Particularly noteworthy is the perennial bellwether Florida, which is expected to gain an additional two congressional seats next year, meaning it will have even more influence in electing the next US president.
Republicans stand a good chance of picking up five or six governors mansions. And they could win in three important states – Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. But they could lose governors races in three other important states – California, Texas, and Florida.
Former EBay CEO Meg Whitman is running against former governor Jerry Brown to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger for California’s top office. Both Republican Whitman and Democrat Brown have muddled through a number of scandals and gaffes during the campaign, each losing the momentum as soon as it seems like they’ve captured it.
California is the most populous state, and is a powerful force in American politics, having boasted two presidents, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and being home to the current Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. It boasts the world’s eighth largest economy, but the state’s finances have been in dire straits for more than a year. Both candidates promise to fix it.
Republicans are deploying money and trying to capture the anti-Washington sentiment to win the race. The Democrats are deploying the force of personality – President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, and former President Bill Clinton are frantically campaigning to win the base. But neither Party has offered a platform of concrete proposals and both are telling voters that the other party is to blame for the nation’s problems.
*There will be another update on the races next Tuesday.