Democrats Mark Udall of Colorado, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas voted for the legislation, but polls show that each trails in head-to-head matchups with a Republican challenger. In addition, Scott Brown, a former Republican senator from Massachusetts, has pulled closer in his race against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire after criticizing her vote for the legislation.
Losing control of the Senate would be a blow to congressional Democrats. The party has held the upper chamber since 2007. But holding onto seats in the sixth year of a presidency has proved elusive for the party in power. Democrats managed the feat in 1998 when Bill Clinton was in the White House, but neither party has gained or retained its number of seats since World War II.
The election cycle was no help. The party is defending 21 of the 36 seats in play. In addition, geography hurt the party’s chances of keeping its majority. President Obama lost 10 states at risk of changing hands – Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Kansas, and Alaska. Democrats will catch a break in two years, however. The party will defend 9 of the 31 seats in play.
Senators serve for six-year terms in the 100-member body. By contrast, all 435 members of the House of Representatives are on the ballot every two years. Political handicapper Charlie Cook said Republicans defended 27 open seats and Democrats 17 this fall. Although the election cycle hurt Senate Democrats this year, it is not expected to damage House Republicans as badly.
According to the Rothenberg Political Report, Republicans are likely to gain five to 12 seats. If the party gained 13 seats, it would reach a post-World War II high. Republicans have 234 seats, Democrats 201.
Many races may not be decided Tuesday night. Political observers expect the races in Alaska, Louisiana, and Georgia will remain undecided for weeks and months. The two southern states have runoff elections if no candidate receives half of the popular votes (Louisiana’s is December 5, Georgia’s January 6). Tallying votes in remote parts of Alaska is difficult, and races in other states may trigger recounts.
Although President Obama dragged down congressional candidates in competitive seats, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used his name to urge party loyalists to vote and tell their friends and neighbors to do the same. “Millions of Americans are proud to have voted for President Obama in 2008, and again in 2012. Now he needs your vote one last time,” the ad implored viewers.
Mark Stricherzcovers Washington for Aleteia. He is author of Why the Democrats are Blue.