Battle for Senate control a ‘jump ball’ — but late momentum favors GOP

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(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Patrick Semansky

Battle for Senate control a ‘jump ball’ — but late momentum favors GOP

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The race for control of the 50-50 Senate will come down to a handful of key races in a midterm cycle that carries high stakes for the future of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

Historically, the president’s party loses seats in midterm elections, and in the final stretch, Republicans appear to have the political winds at their backs in the battle for Senate control. The political landscape looked more optimistic for Democrats earlier this summer after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and boosted their base’s enthusiasm, but recent polling indicates the economy appears to be motivating most voters.

Election analyst FiveThirtyEight gives Republicans a 56 in 100 chance of reclaiming a Senate majority, while the Economist’s model shows Republicans with a 57% chance of winning Senate control. A recent ABC News-Ipsos poll found 49% of people named the economy or inflation as the most important issue influencing their vote for Congress, compared to 14% who said the same of abortion.

The Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, but Democrats have control with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote in the chamber. Republicans need a net gain of one seat to flip the majority.

Races in Georgia and Nevada have for weeks been considered dead heats, while contests for Democratic-held seats in Arizona and New Hampshire, as well as a Republican-held seat in Pennsylvania, have become nail-biters in the final days of the midterm cycle as Republicans surge in the polls.

“The Senate map in general has taken a decided turn towards Republicans,” said Brandon Howell, a GOP operative based in Georgia.

In the Georgia Senate race, Republican challenger Herschel Walker is up by 1 percentage point over Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling average. Republicans have coalesced around the professional football legend amid reports that Walker allegedly paid for the abortions of at least two women despite his anti-abortion stance.

Howell believes the race will ultimately be decided in Walker’s favor, even if the two head to a runoff. Georgia law mandates that candidates must receive a majority of the vote in order to win. If neither candidate reaches 50%, as polling suggests will be the case, Warnock and Walker will advance to a runoff election on Dec. 6.

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“I think the turn in momentum reflects which message has more potency because we can talk about things in Herschel Walker’s past, but that doesn’t change the fact that because of things Raphael Warnock has voted on in the Senate, life is harder on people when it comes to the grocery store, when it comes to gas,” Howell said. “I think you’re seeing people care a lot more about votes in the Senate now than they do about things from Herschel’s past, including things he’s abjectly said that are not true.”

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Mastro’s (D) race against former Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) appears to be one of the GOP’s best opportunities to pick up a Democratic seat and gain control of the chamber. The economy and inflation seem to be driving the dynamics of the race in a state where the inflation rate is among the highest in the nation and gas prices are still averaging nearly $5 a gallon.

“It was always going to be a tough election. And the election as far as I’m concerned was always going to revolve around the economy. Now, I’m just waiting to see how it’s all going to play out,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and longtime staffer to late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, continues to predict Republicans will end up controlling 52 Senate seats and has even said Republicans have a pathway to 55.

“I think we have a really good shot in Arizona. I think we have a shot — a real good shot — in New Hampshire,” he said on NBC News’s Meet the Press on Sunday.

Scott declined to say whether he would run for majority leader if Republicans gain control of the Senate in the midterm elections. There’s been a major rift between the Florida senator and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has voiced concerns about “candidate quality” in Republicans’ pursuit to gain control of the Senate, a reference to GOP nominees endorsed by former President Donald Trump. In mid-September, McConnell downplayed expectations of a GOP majority next year.

“We’ve got a bunch of hard-fought races, we’re all giving it our best on both sides, and I think it’s a jump ball,” McConnell said at a Senate Republican leadership press conference.

The Senate Leadership Fund, McConnell’s super PAC, pulled out of races in Arizona and New Hampshire after it lost confidence in GOP nominees there. But, outside Republican money is flowing into those states and flooding the airwaves with ads amid a late surge in the polls for the candidates.

“In some races, you’re seeing outside funding having to come in because Democrats are outraising Republicans. But clearly, Republicans will have the funds they need and are more poised today than they were yesterday to have a good election night,” said Doug Heye, a veteran Republican political strategist.

Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said on MSNBC last week that he was optimistic Democrats would keep their Senate majority because of the party’s get-out-the-vote infrastructure and Republicans’ “incredibly damaged and inferior candidates.”

The race in Arizona between incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Republican Blake Masters is among the races that will decide which party is in control of the Senate in 2023. The Cook Political Report and Politico moved the race from favoring Kelly to a toss-up as recent polling showed Kelly’s lead shrinking to a few points, significantly tighter than in surveys taken throughout the summer. Nonetheless, Democrats in the state point to the fact that Kelly has consistently held a lead over his Republican challenger.

“I think there is an element in Arizona for candidate quality to be a factor, and Mark Kelly is a good candidate,” said Roy Herrera, a Democratic election attorney and consultant in the state. “I still feel very good about him, and he can appeal to the type of independents and Republicans that you’re going to need in a midterm year.”

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The battle for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat has become the most expensive in the country, according to OpenSecrets, bringing in more than $300 million in total spending. Republican television doctor Mehmet Oz has been gaining in the polls since the summer against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who suffered a stroke earlier this year.

A Republican majority in the upper chamber would likely mean GOP control of Congress, which would force Biden to work with Republicans to accomplish elements of his agenda.

A net gain of one seat in the Senate would give the GOP control over what judicial picks and executive personnel get floor votes. The party would also have the power to launch committee investigations and issue subpoenas.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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