October 27, 2021

Swing! U.S. Senate takes sharp right turn

senate

Mission accomplished: The GOP won a majority of seats in the Senate, giving Republicans control over both chambers of Congress for the first time since 2006 – and giving them hope of putting the brakes on President Obama’s promise to fundamentally transform America.

Asked if Tuesday represented a GOP wave, Fox News analyst Joe Trippi said, “It doesn’t get much wavier than this.”

Results are still to come from Virginia, Louisiana and Alaska.

In Kentucky, Democratic contender Alison Lundergan Grimes lost her chance of unseating incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell, who is now set to become Senate majority leader. McConnell told his campaign party: “[My wife] Elaine told me she wasn’t ready to have me sitting around the house working on my resume.” He added, “They (Kentuckians) want some reassurance that the people who run the government are actually on their side.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told Fox News, “It was a referendum not only on the president, but on Hillary Clinton as well. It turns out Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a lot of coattails in Kentucky.”

In Arkansas, Republican Tom Cotton defeated Democrat Mark Pryor.

In Colorado, Republican Cory Gardner won his race against Democrat Mark Udall.

In Kansas, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts won his race against independent challenger Greg Orman.

In Georgia, GOP candidate David Perdue won his race against Democrat Michelle Nunn.

In Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst won her race against Democrat Bruce Braley.

In North Carolina, GOP challenger Thom Tillis won his race against Sen. Kay Hagan.

But in New Hampshire, Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen won her race against GOP senator from Massachusetts Scott Brown.

In Virginia, Democratic incumbent Mark Warner was leading GOP challenger Ed Gillespie 49 to 48.5 with 99 percent reporting.

Louisiana is projected to go into a run-off on Dec. 6 between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (who had 42 percent) and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy (40 percent).

The GOP predictably won the following Senate seats: Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Steve Daines (Montana), Jim Risch (Idaho), Mike Enzi (Wyoming), Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Mike Rounds (South Dakota), Thad Cochran (Mississippi), Lamar Alexander (Tennessee), Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Sessions (Alabama), Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma) and John Cornyn (Texas).

Likewise, Democrats won the following seats, as had been expected: Dick Durbin (Illinois), Al Franken (Minnesota), Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Tom Udall (New Mexico), Cory Booker (New Jersey), Jack Reed (Rhode Island), Gary Peters (Michigan), Chris Coons (Delaware) and Ed Markey (Massachusetts).

If the GOP wants to roll back what it regards as Obama’s attempt to fundamentally transform America, the party must retake power: the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016.

The House is widely considered secure for the GOP, where analysts predict it will keep its majority, and likely even increase it by as many as six to 12 seats. Attention is now riveted on the Senate, where 35 seats are up for election, and Republicans must make a net gain of six seats to achieve a majority over Democrats. The prize of Senate control is tantalizingly close for Republicans.

With so many nail-biting races in play, undecided voters could have a major advantage in flipping the election outcome and determining control of the Senate.

Helping fuel the GOP momentum was the president’s nosedive in the polls. The president himself boldly proclaimed voters should consider the midterm election a referendum on his policies, telling students at Northwestern University on Oct. 2, “I am not on the ballot this fall. … But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot … Every single one of them.”

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released on the eve of the election indicated a record low of just 44 percent of Americans said they have a favorable view of Obama.

Still, Vice President Joe Biden had predicted Democrats would retain control of the Senate. He told CNN Monday, “I don’t agree with the oddsmakers. I predict we’re gonna … keep the Senate.”

Biden added, “If you look at every single major issue of the campaign, the American public agree with our position,” and he mentioned issues such as infrastructure, the minimum wage and homosexual marriage.

The eight tightest Senate races Tuesday included:

Kansas 

Sen. Pat Roberts won his race against independent challenger Greg Orman.

FiveThirtyEight listed the race as a toss-up.

Greg Orman

Roberts had an unexpectedly tough time securing a fourth term in the Senate, even though there is no Democrat in the race.

Orman, a wealthy businessman, hoped to capitalize on disgust with both major parties by running as an independent.

He said he hoped to inspire more independent candidates so “Voters who are dissatisfied with the status quo – voters who are dissatisfied with more of the same from Washington – might have real options in the future.”

Roberts claimed that was a ruse and charged Orman would help Democrats keep control of the Senate.

After their debate, Roberts exclaimed, “We’re going to win this election once people understand that my opponent is not shooting straight,” adding, “He is a liberal Democrat — by deed, by word and by campaign contributions.”

Roberts also charged Orman “knows he has a much better chance” of winning as an independent than a Democrat in a state where 31 percent of voters are not affiliated with either major party.

Iowa 

Republican candidate Joni Ernst won her race against Democrat Bruce Braley.

FiveThirtyEight gave Ernst 70 percent chance of winning.

Ernst instantly made a national name for herself in the primaries with, arguably, one of the most memorable political TV ads of all time when she declared, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”

That line was immediately followed by a shot of a pig squealing.

Joni Ernst

Her opponent had more difficulties with name recognition, as both Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton could not remember Braley’s name on the campaign trail.

They both called the Democratic congressman “Bruce Bailey.”

While attempting to appear moderate, Braley courted the party’s left-wing and appeared with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., while Ernst moved noticeably to the center, distancing herself from previous calls for Obama’s impeachment and appearing with Mitt Romney.

Braley did not help himself in the farm state with such gaffes as calling Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, just “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.”

He also feuded with a neighbor who let her chickens into his yard, which prompted Ernst to ask, “How [can we] believe that you will work across the aisle when you can’t walk across your yard?”

Independent voters in Iowa outnumber both registered Republicans and Democrats, so both candidates courted the middle by painting each other as extremists.

Braley accused Ernst of being a stooge for the Koch brothers, the conservative bank-rollers, while she called him a beltway elitist who subscribes to “Nancy Pelosi’s and Barack Obama’s liberal agenda.”

Independents in Iowa were a tough sell according to David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, who said, “These are people who pretty much hate everybody.”

Ernst’s bio boasted of her identity as both a mother and a soldier, saying she teaches Sunday school in same church where she was married and baptized.

It also said she maintains a strong commitment to national defense as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, having served “as a company commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom where my unit was tasked with running convoys through Kuwait and into southern Iraq.”

 

The Iowa race was thrown for a loop with the October death in a plane crash of Libertarian candidate Doug Butzier, who remained on the ballot.

North Carolina 

Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan is clinging to a 0.7 percent lead over GOP challenger Thom Tillis. She has 44.1 percent, and he has 43.4 percent.

FiveThirtyEight gives Hagan a 69 percent chance of winning.

Issues have taken a backseat to campaign politics in the “Tar Heel State.”

Hagan seems to have hurt her chances with missteps, such as admitting to skipping an Armed Services hearing on ISIS in February to attend a fundraiser.

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.

She also took heat for her husband’s company allegedly profiting from money that came from the $767-billion stimulus legislation, for which she voted.

Politico reported he received almost $400,000 and pocketed the savings after lowering the cost of a stimulus-funded energy project, returning none of the difference to taxpayers.

However, Politico also charged Tillis with voting in 2010 for a bill that allowed a bank in which he had a financial interest to receive energy credits.

Both candidates filed ethics complaints against each other.

Colorado – (Polls close at 9 p.m. EST)

GOP challenger Cory Gardner won his race against Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall.

FiveThirtyEight favored Gardner with a 72 percent chance for the win.

Cory Gardner

Colorado has one of the most expensive and closely contested races, one that has been a dead-heat for months.

Gardner was fond of referring to a study showing Udall has supported the president’s policies 99 percent of the time, while the Democrat said another study showed the Republican congressman is the 10th-most conservative member of the House.

Udall attacked Gardner’s alleged lack of support for women’s issues and for supporting last year’s government shutdown in the battle to defund Obamacare.

Gardner didn’t shy away from criticizing his own party when he feels it necessary, saying he will challenge Republicans when they are wrong.

But he focused his ire on Udall, accusing his campaign of having become “too tired and too mean.”

Gardner strongly supports the Keystone pipeline, which he said will create tens of thousands of high-paying jobs, and he supports the development of domestic energy sources, calling it crucial to national security.

His first official act after election to Congress was to co-sponsor a balanced-budget amendment.

Elected to the Senate in 2008, Pryor also supports a balanced-budget amendment, as well as a presidential line-item veto and a ban on earmarks. His official bio mentioned his efforts to “protect our service members by reducing the military’s reliance on fossil fuels.”

Alaska – (Polls close at 1 a.m. EST)

GOP contender Dan Sullivan leads incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Begich by an average of 2.4 points. According to RCP’s polling average, Sullivan is at 46.2 percent, and Begich has 43.8 percent. FiveThirtyEight gives Sullivan a 74 percent chance of winning the race.

Begich is trying to avoid running against President Obama, as well as his Republican opponent.

The incumbent senator told a crowd of about 30 at a strip mall in Juneau in mid-October, “This is about Alaska’s future. Not his, ours.”

Dan Sullivan

He asked voters not to transfer their anger with Obama against him, arguing the race should be about veteran’s care, what he called reproductive rights and education, while not diving into the debates over Obamacare, Ebola and ISIS.

Campaigning with the first-term senator, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., called Begich a moderate who was not afraid to stand up to Obama.

Sullivan didn’t shy away from a strong Washington connection, releasing a 30-second television ad featuring an endorsement from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Our nation and the world face serious threats to our security. And who we send to Washington really matters,” said Rice in the spot, while adding, Sullivan’s “extensive national security experience will make our country better.”

Sullivan worked under Rice as director on the National Security Council staff when she was secretary of state and national security adviser.

He is currently a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, having served for 20 years as an infantry and reconnaissance officer.

Sullivan was appointed attorney general by former Gov. Sarah Palin in June 2009 and commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources by Gov. Sean Parnell in December 2010.

Republicans did what they could to make the election a referendum on the top Democrat, with State GOP chairman Peter Goldberg calling Begich “a Democrat who does not support our own principles and is voting with a liberal president and Senate majority leader, like President Obama and Harry Reid.”

Georgia

This is another state where the Republican was expected to win easily but has found himself in a dogfight.

It is also another state, like Louisiana, that will have a runoff if neither candidate gets 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 4, a prospect that looks increasingly likely in Georgia.

With Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., retiring, GOP candidate David Perdue, 47.8 percent, held a three-point lead over Democrat Michelle Nunn at 44.8 percent. FiveThirtyEight gives Perdue a 75 percent chance of winning.

A businessman, Perdue has followed the strategy of fellow Republicans attacking the president, particularly on his handling of ISIS and Ebola. Obama lost Georgia by 7 percentage points in 2012.

David Perdue

But Democrats fell back on a strategy used against Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race, attacking Perdue for outsourcing jobs. And it apparently has been working.

Perdue mounted a defense similar to the one employed by Romney, telling reporters he was “proud” of his record.

“The criticism I’ve gotten over the last few weeks is coming from people who really have no business background and really don’t understand, you know, what it takes to create jobs and create economic value – which is really what this free enterprise system is based on,” he said .

According to the Washington Post, the focus on outsourcing caused a turning point in the race, “with Nunn gaining ground and even leading the contest in some polls.”

Democrats used money they had taken out of other races to buy millions of dollars of ads charging Perdue outsourced services and jobs to other countries.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee responded by spending at least $1.45 million on ads in Georgia, and a PAC spent $2 million on ads.

In one ad, Perdue insists, “I’ve helped create and save thousands of American jobs, regardless of what Michelle Nunn says.”

Louisiana – (Polls close at 9 p.m. EST)

This state is peculiar in that it holds an open primary Tuesday. Any candidate who captures more than 50 percent of the vote will win the race. If no candidate breaks that threshold, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held on Dec. 6.

So, two polls are of significance, one that ranks all the candidates and one that focuses on the two leading contenders.

Among all candidates, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu leads the pack with a 5.7 percent advantage over the field. She has 40.2 percent while Rep. Bill Cassidy has 34.5 percent and Republican Rob Maness has 11.2 percent.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

However, in a head-to-head poll between the two top contenders, Cassidy leads Landrieu by 4.8 percent. That poll gives Cassidy 48.8 percent and Landrieu 44 percent.

FiveThirtyEight gives Cassidy a 81 percent likelihood of winning the race.

Although Cassidy has a head-to-head edge over Landrieu, if there is a runoff, control of Senate may not be known until Dec. 6.

Despite an endorsement from Sarah Palin, tea-party candidate Maness lagged far behind in the polls.

Cassidy is an establishment candidate, having appeared across the state recently with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who emphasized the need to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Cassidy has been working hard to tie the incumbent to the president, declaring during their debate, “We need a better economy than the Obama and the Obamacare economy. Senator Landrieu, when she voted for Obamacare — essential vote — in a sense put a wet blanket over that economy.”

Cassidy called it the “unaffordable health care act.”

A physician, Cassidy’s bio mentions he “co-founded the Greater Baton Rouge Community Clinic, a clinic providing free dental and health care to the working uninsured.”

Landrieu, the first woman from Louisiana elected to a full term in the U.S. Senate, defended her vote for Obamacare but said it needs amending.

She distanced herself from the commander in chief, saying, “While President Obama is not on the ballot, the future of Louisiana is,” and highlighted her differences with the president, noting she supports the Keystone pipeline and expanding domestic energy production.

Maness may have helped Cassidy by taking aim at such remarks in the debate, sharply retorting, “The president’s policies are on the ballot, and they’re in your person. And we talked about energy jobs a moment ago, and (the president’s policies) are hurting energy jobs.”

Cassidy also attacked Obama, calling him a “zero,” but the establishment Republican agreed with Landrieu that health care is a right.

In what is described as an increasingly red state, most political observers doubt Landrieu will avoid a runoff, where the polls show Cassidy will be favored.

New Hampshire

Scott Brown

Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen won her race against former GOP senator from Massachusetts Scott Brown in the “Granite State.”

FiveThirtyEight gave Shaheen a 79 percent chance of winning.

Brown, the former senator from Massachusetts who lost his seat in 2012, switched states and challenged the only woman to have served as both a governor and a senator in America.

Brown, with his three decades of service in the National Guard, had narrowed the gap by linking Shaheen to Obama and focusing on the threat posed by ISIS.

In a twist from the usual divide between the major parties on the abortion issue, Shaheen countered by attacking Brown’s “pro-choice” record.

Brown defended his position, telling a Newsweek reporter he voted to protect money for Planned Parenthood because of his concern for women who are assaulted, and that “he has a house of daughters and defended his family against an abusive father.”

Other key races to watch

Arkansas

Republican candidate Tom Cotton won his race against Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor. FiveThirtyEight had favored Cotton, giving him a 96 percent likelihood of winning.

Cotton made sure voters knew he was running against the president as well as his opponent, telling the media immediately after the candidates’ first debate, “[W]e just reminded my opponent and the voters that he has voted with Barack Obama 93 percent of the time, and on critical issues such as Obamacare, immigration and foreign policy.”

The Republican hammered Pryor for his support of Obama on all those issues.

Cotton contrasted his support for “securing our border and enforcing immigration laws already on the books” with his opponent’s vote for the immigration bill the Senate approved, adding, “Anything that’s close to Barack Obama’s amnesty, I will fight.”

Tom Cotton

As for the negative effects of Obamacare, Cotton noted, “[O]ver 4,000 Medicare Advantage plans have been cut and Walmart has just cut health benefits for 30,000 part-time workers. Other retailers such as Target, Home Depot, Walgreen’s and Trader Joe’s are making similar moves. not to mention lumber mills and other employers right here in Arkansas.”

On national security matters such as ISIS and Russia’s backing of rebels in Ukraine, the first-term congressman said Obama “doesn’t have a political strategy in dealing with situations such as these. He’s not engaged at all.”

Before his election to the House of Representatives, Cotton was an Army Ranger who completed two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he was awarded the Bronze Star. In Iraq, he led an infantry platoon on daily combat patrols.

On the campaign trail, Pryor chose to appear several times with a president other than Obama, Arkansas native son Bill Clinton.

Pryor’s official biography touted his ability to bring federal money home, citing the “millions of highway dollars for Arkansas.”

Kentucky

In the bluegrass state, a gaffe by Democratic contender Alison Lundergan Grimes cost her a chance of unseating incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell, who will become Senate majority leader if Republicans net at least six seats.

By 7:02 p.m. EST, the race was called for McConnell.

During a recent interview, Grimes refused to say whether she had voted for President Obama. The backlash was so strong to that and other gaffes, the Democratic Party stopped spending money on her race.

Grimes may have sabotaged her own campaign in other ways, in what initially seemed like a surprisingly good shot at knocking off the Senate minority leader.

Alison Lundergan Grimes

The Washington Post fact-checker gave her campaign “4 Pinocchios” for what it called a “flimsy and misleading” attack ad that claimed McConnell and “his wife personally took $600,000 from anti-coal groups.”

The Post concluded, “What did McConnell have to do with of any of this? Nothing.”

But that may not have been the worst of it, in a state where coal is king.

Guerrilla journalist James O’Keefe secretly filmed Grimes supporters and volunteers at a Harvey Weinstein fundraiser, one of whom insisted Grimes would (expletive) the coal industry after she got elected.

Grimes has insisted she strongly supports the coal industry, but Democratic fundraiser and real estate businessman Niko Elmaleh gushed on camera, “She’s going to have to do what she has to do to get elected and then she’s going to (expletive) them.”

Grimes took heat from the left for an ad that accused McConnell of supporting amnesty for 3 million illegal immigrants.

Virginia

Republicans may have given up on the Senate race in a state where they had increasingly little success in recent years, and where GOP challenger Ed Gillespie was trailing by 11 points.

GOP Senate candidate Ed Gillespie

Even though Gillespie is considered “one of the Republican establishment’s most respected advisers and powerful fundraisers,” he has been short on cash and stopped running TV ads.

By contrast, Democratic incumbent Mark Warner covered the state with ads, and his campaign recently announced it had more than $8 million to spend.

Gillespie’s struggles might also contradict the belief of Karl Rove that establishment candidates are more electable than conservatives.

The Virginian has served as Republican National Committee chairman, was a top adviser to President George W. Bush’s administration and a key aide to Mitt Romney in his 2012 presidential campaign.

 Developing …

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