Key Senate races could swing balance of power in Washington
This year 36 Senate races are being contested in 34 states (including special elections in South Carolina, Oklahoma and Hawaii). Among the most closely watched races are those in Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Iowa, North Carolina and Louisiana, which both parties say are crucial to boosting their chances. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate.
Major issues this year include immigration reform, climate change and the Affordable Care Act. Analysts say the Democrats may use the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri — spurred by the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer — as a campaign issue, with an eye toward turning out more minority voters.
During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment The Week Ahead, David Schuster spoke to Jeanne Zaino, a Democratic strategist and a professor at New York University and at Iona College, and to Dave Levinthal, a senior reporter at the Center for Public Integrity. They discussed a wide range of issues.
For several months President Barack Obama has said he will act alone on immigration reform in the face of congressional inaction on the topic. But now it seems that he may delay immigration reform until after the elections.
“I think the Obama administration is backing off because taking action on immigration is a bad sign for all of the Democrats trying to run in these key races,” said Zaino. “If he takes action on that, it is going to hurt them, and they’ve told him that.”
Another major issue is the Affordable Care Act. Three of the five states where Republicans are leading Democratic incumbents have refused the law’s Medicaid expansion. The White House says that refusal to participate has left an estimated 441,000 people uninsured in South Dakota, West Virginia and North Carolina. And recent polls show that “Obamacare” is more unpopular than ever.
“Democrats probably feel a little bit better about “Obamacare” as an issue today than they did a few months ago,” said Levinthal. But he added that a major problem may be Obama himself, whose approval rating is at 42 percent. Levinthal says Obama will probably not be able to help out too many Democrats.
This year will likely see an unprecedented amount of money spent on campaigns. So far, roughly $1 billion has already been spent, and it’s estimated that will increase to $4 billion by November.
The Republican National Committee announced this week that it is throwing an additional $8 million into hotly contested Senate races. This is on top of hundreds of millions of dollars being contributed by conservative groups, including one funded by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. Much of the focus of the spending is being put into negative campaigning, say analysts.
“This is an election in which depressed turnout is likely,” said Zaino. “It’s going to benefit Republicans, and Democrats have to work hard to get their constituents out.”
There are also 36 states that will hold gubernatorial elections in November. Currently, there are 29 sitting Republican governors and 21 Democrats.
“I think we’re probably going to see two Democratic pickups when we look at the gubernatorial races,” said Zaino. “I don’t think we’re going to see much more than that.”