Written for Fundamentals of Journalism course, unpublished.
The Republican Party was poised to gain a narrow majority in the Senate and retain control of the House of Representatives in November’s midterm elections in the midst of a shifting immigration debate, a growing threat from an Islamist militant group and nationwide dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama’s job performance.
Of the 36 Senate seats up for grabs this election cycle, Democrats held 21 and Republicans 15. According to the RealClearPolitics’ analysis of the Senate race based on its aggregation of polling data, control of the Senate came down to races in 10 states, six of which Republicans needed to win in order to gain a 51-seat majority.
Republican challengers held narrow leads over Democratic incumbents in Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana, this week’s RCP Averages found. Races were within one or two percentage points in Colorado, where Republican Cory Gardner challenged incumbent Mark Udall (D-CO), and Iowa, where voters swung back and forth between Republican Joni Ernst and
Democrat Bruce Braley, who vied for the seat longtime Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) left vacant with his retirement.
The only Republican likely to lose his seat is Pat Roberts (R-KS), whose independent opponent, Greg Orman, widened his lead after Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out of the race, according to RCP.
All 435 seats in the House of Representatives were contested, but RCP projected the GOP would keep at least 230 seats, a clear majority, on Election Day. Republicans, who currently hold 233-seat majority, had five more “safe” seats than Democrats, who hold 199. Just six Republicans were in danger of losing their seats, as opposed to 15 Democrats, RCP said.
The top issue in the midterm races was the economy, according to a Wednesday Washington Post poll. Voters had slightly more confidence that Republicans could handle the economy than Democrats, though mistrust in both parties was high, the poll found.
Republicans incumbents and challengers alike, however, focused their campaigns on their opponents’ affiliation with Obama. Obama’s nationwide disapproval rating was 53 percent, according to Wednesday’s RCP Average, and 50 percent were opposed to the Affordable Care
Many Republican Senate candidates promised to repeal Obama’s signature healthcare law once they gained control of Congress, though actually dismantling the law was unlikely, Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn argued.
“Options would range from a targeted repeal of small slices of the law to a broad slash-and-burn strategy,” Haberkorn wrote. “Republicans say that if they win in November, members will decide together how exactly to move ahead. But GOP sources said some strategy discussions already are underway.”
Immigration reform also came to the forefront in some Senate races. According to the L.A. Times’ Maeve Reston, Republicans such as New Hampshire’s Scott Brown and Tom Cotton of Arkansas characterized their opponents as soft on border control, while others attacked Obama for delaying executive action on immigration reform until after the midterms.
“The president, they note, merely postponed his threat to use his executive power, and could well grant legal status to as many as several million people now here illegally,” Reston said. “Though it is Republicans who have stalled immigration reform in the House, they believe
Obama’s delay has given them a new opening to attack Democrats — for addressing issues affecting Latinos only when it is politically convenient. Potentially at stake is control of the Senate.”
The growth of the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which prompted Obama to order airstrikes in both countries, became an issue in recent weeks, prompting security-themed political ads in several states, including New Hampshire and North Carolina, according to CNN.
Even if Republicans gain control of Congress, the party is unlikely to gain a 60-seat majority in the Senate, which would allow the possibility of Democratic filibusters on top of Obama’s veto power and constrain the G.O.P.’s ability to pass the laws it wants.
The GOP also faces serious internal challenges as the gulf between Tea Party conservatives and mainstream moderates widens. House majority whip Eric Cantor lost his seat to Tea-Party-affiliated Dave Brat in a June primary, and several Republican incumbent senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and six-term incumbent Thad Cochran (R-MS), faced significant primary challenges from Tea Party opponents.
The divide within the Republican Party would do little to relieve the Congressional gridlock ahead of the 2016 presidential elections, some observers argued.
“Republicans will be going to war with the party they have, not the party they wish to have,” Bill Scher wrote for Politico. “All this incarnation of the GOP can win in November is the opportunity to work out its dysfunctional family issues under the white-hot spotlight of a presidential campaign.”