2016 U.S. Senate Elections Preview

US President Barack Obama is greeted by Nevada senatorial candidate Catherine Cortez Masto as he arrives to speak at a campaign event for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Las Vegas on October 23, 2016. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

The 2016 U.S. Senate Elections is the most competitive two party contest heading into election day, as both Republicans and Democrats have clear paths to Senate control, depending on which direction things break for them. Here is a look at the most competitive Senate elections in the country with predictions for how Tuesday night will go. To help you follow along easily, we’ll examine each of the Senate seats by their race rating.

Safe Dem Seats: VT, NY, CT, MD (open), WA, OR, CA (open), HI

All of these blue states are going with Dem Senators again this year, Chris Van Hollen will be joining the U.S. Senate after years in the House, as he takes the open seat in Maryland for Democrats after winning a tough primary back in the summer. In California, Kamala Harris should roll past Latina candidate Loretta Sanchez, a fellow Democrat, to become one of the first black women in the U.S. Senate. Sanchez has been unable to get support from moderate and conservative voters, while Harris is rallying together all elements of the Democrat base for her campaign.

Likely Dem Seats: IL*, CO

Mark Kirk (R) has hung around against disabled veteran Tammy Duckworth (D) but the Illinois incumbent is too conservative for his state, and recent gaffes have only served as the final nail in his coffin. In another midwestern state, the moderate Kirk would serve as a model for Republicans, but his career in politics looks to have faded this year in Illinois. For her own right, Duckworth hasn’t campaigned overly hard, but that’s probably because she knows she has the race in hand, this race has not been buzzworthy in recent months besides for Kirk running his mouth.

In Colorado, underdog Darryl Glenn (R) is coming on too little, too late, against incumbent Michael Bennett (D). Bennett has led all polls and should outpace Hillary Clinton, in a state she will probably win anyway. Bennett will be pleased to avoid the close shave he had in 2010.

Lean Dem Seats: WI*, NV

The momentum is with incumbent Ron Johnson (R) in his rematch with former Senator Russ Feingold (D) but Johnson has trailed Feingold all year, and Democrats look to be ahead and stable in Wisconsin overall. Johnson will make this race closer than was expected, but it’s hard to see a path to victory for him as long as Dem turnout remains healthy. Johnson is too conservative for Wisconsin in terms of his voting record and views, and he’s not going to get enough split ticket support to win, even if he outpolls Trump.

In Nevada, Dems have built an early vote firewall and look to be winning Clark County with strong turnout, and Washoe, a traditional swing county, as well. Hispanic turnout and the Harry Reid machine should send Catherine Cortez Masto into the U.S. Senate as the first Hispanic woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. Nevada Republican Congressman Joe Heck wasn’t a bad recruit for the NV GOP, and he led this race for many months, but the Trump issue doomed him, and he hasn’t handled it well, he also has almost no Hispanic support in a state where some is needed. Nevada looks to be a clear bright spot for Dems this year.

Safe GOP Seats: OH, KY, SC, GA, AL, AR, OK, KS, IA, SD, ND, UT, ID, AK

Georgia could still see a runoff in three weeks if Johnny Isakson is kept under 50% by a Libertarian 3rd party candidate, but Jim Barksdale doesn’t have the momentum needed to make that runoff matter for Democrats, even if he stumbles into one. The rust belt senate races of Iowa, Ohio, and Kentucky were also taken off the map for Democrats by Republican incumbents running strong campaigns, and in Arkansas young gun candidate Conner Eldridge (D), a former U.S. Attorney, raised a lot of money, but failed to get real traction against John Boozman (R). The GOP has a good chance of clearing 60% or more in most of these senate races, except for Georgia.

In Alaska, GOP incumbent Lisa Murkowski is in no real danger, but she will relish beating up on her former GOP rival, and now Libertarian nominee Joe Miller, a tea partier tied to the Palin wing of Alaska politics. Democrats abandoned their own candidate, govt reform advocate Ray Metcalfe, in favor of former Republican Margaret Stock’s independent bid that has languished in the polls.

Likely GOP Seats: LA (open), AZ

Louisiana will see a runoff, probably between Republican John Kennedy, and Democrat Foster Campbell, presuming Campbell can get into the runoff and avoid being overtaken by the other Dem in the race, Caroline Fayard, and Kennedy holds off a host of GOP congressman, the strongest of which is probably tea partier John Fleming. Kennedy is a relative moderate by Louisiana GOP standards, and has lost statewide before, while Campbell is a well liked Democratic populist. Still, Democrats have a miserable time in federal races in Louisiana these days.

In Arizona John McCain has fought off a challenge from Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, and looks headed to his final Senate term.

Lean GOP Seats: FL

Lesser known Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy, a current South Florida congressman, has clearly been trending upwards against incumbent Republican and GOP golden boy Marco Rubio, but he still trails Rubio in public polling, and even if Democrats take Florida for Hillary Clinton, Rubio appears to be getting a good number of split ticket voters. Murphy found himself cut off from national help for a few weeks before it came back late in the race, and he’s faced serious problems due to his empty, and perhaps falsified resume, along with his wealthy father, the main reason he’s in politics, being tied closely to Donald Trump. Murphy is moderate enough for Florida, but he’s honestly been a terrible candidate with a trail of bad ethics issues, and since Rubio got back into this Senate race, Democrats were going to have a tough time winning it.

Rubio should win re-election by 3-6 points and set himself up to run for President in 2020, while Murphy, a former Democratic golden boy, will probably fade away.

Toss-up Seats: NH, PA*, NC*, IN*, MO

These five eastern and central time zone seats will decide the fate of Senate control. In New Hampshire, Governor Maggie Hassan (D), has run hard against Kelly Ayotte (R), but Ayotte has seemed to be somewhat teflon, and is likely holding onto a narrow lead heading into election day. Trump has hurt her and made this race a toss-up, but Hassan isn’t going to get as many Republican women as she would have gotten against a male GOP nominee, and I have a feeling Ayotte will find a way to wriggle her way out of a tight spot and survive.

In Pennsylvania incumbent Senator Pat Toomey (R) isn’t out of it, but he’s trailing Katie McGinty, and the story is much the same as in other states. Toomey has had the money and messaging to win his race, and is outpolling Trump in PA, but the Dem turnout machine looks strong, and Trump is dragging his party down. With a transit strike ending before election day, it’s even more clear that McGinty will probably sneak this one out by a small margin. McGinty has not run a great race, and Joe Sestak, who the DSCC openly spent and campaign against, would have put this seat into the lean column for Dems. A win is a win though.

North Carolina will be the closest state in the country if you ask me, Deborah Ross originally wasn’t a top tier recruit against Richard Burr, but Burr has ran a poor re-election campaign, featuring plenty of gaffes, and Ross has run a strong, consistent race, without having any visible baggage as she was a blank slate to most voters. If you think Clinton will win North Carolina, I think you have to pick Ross to win the Senate race, but if Burr can slightly outpoll Trump he probably hangs on. This is a true coin flip to call, but I’m going with Ross.

Evan Bayh (D), a former Senator, has been leading his lesser known GOP rival Todd Young for months, in large part due to higher name recognition, but Bayh has been exposed by the media over and over again as the ultimate crony politician, and his complete disinterest in serving the people of Indiana, or fighting special interests is making it harder for him in a red state. I’m still going with Bayh by a razor thin margin, but as the bad news piles up for Burr, Young winning in GOP Indiana would not surprise me.

Missouri will be close, but it still feels a little too out of reach for Democrats, given Trump is clearly outpolling Clinton in the state and I sense the GOP and Roy Blunt have a better turnout machine. Dem Jason Kander has been the recruit of the cycle and has run a great race, worst case his campaign has diverted GOP resources that would have been used in other states. The blue dog Kander wouldn’t quite fit his Senate caucus, while GOP war horse Roy Blunt is a skilled D.C. insider. I just find it hard to believe Missouri will boot Blunt out, despite the compelling case Kander is making.

*denotes party change in seat

Presuming the Senate races go as predicted, a Clinton presidency would result in a 51-49 Democratically controlled Senate, with the House staying in GOP hands it looks like we’re headed back to divided government. If Republicans are going to hold onto the Senate, they will need North Carolina, Indiana, New Hampshire, and one of Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. Everything else seems decided right now, presuming they hold Missouri.


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