There is an intense battle under way to determine who will control the U.S. Senate for the next two years. Each Senator is elected for a six-year term, and one-third of the Senate seats are contested every two years. This year there are 34 seats up for grabs, of which 24 are currently held by a Republican. The current Senate has 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats (including one independent). Thus, to gain control of the Senate the Democrats need to pick up 4 or 5 seats (depending on who wins the presidency, as the vice president votes to break a tie) to win control.
Created as a check on the House of Representatives
The Senate was created by the founding fathers as a check on the House of Representatives, where each member is elected every two years. The number of House seats is based upon population in each state, thus giving some states more power. However, in the Senate, each state is given two seats regardless of size or population.
For an act of Congress to become law, both the House of Representatives and the Senate must approve the identical piece of legislation.
Senate holds the power to advise and consent
However, certain powers are given only to the Senate under the “advice and consent” provision of the Constitution. The Senate is required to approve all treaties by a two- thirds majority vote. The Senate also confirms all important public appointees such as cabinet members, ambassadors, and justices of the Supreme Court. The Senate also adjudicates impeachment proceedings, which are initiated in the House.
The results of the 2016 Senate races will greatly enhance the power of the new president if the same party controls both the presidency and Senate. On the other hand, if one party controls the presidency and the other the Senate, then the powers of the new president will be impeded.
Two surveys are considered the most reliable
There are all kinds of polls on Senate races, some of which are commissioned and perhaps influenced by the candidates themselves. The two most reliable sources are the Real Clear Politics model which averages a number of different polls and the FiveThirtyEight website which uses probability forecasts based on a variety of surveys that are given different weight based on the 538 formula. Both polls are updated based on new data, which at this point in the campaign means almost daily.
The most recent Real Clear Politics Senate poll has 47 seats for the Democrats (which includes Sen. Angus King (I-ME) who currently caucuses with the Democrats) and 47 seats for the Republicans. Six races are rated as toss-ups.
Six toss-up Senate Races
The six races that are considered toss-ups by RCP are:
Indiana – Evan Bayh (D) vs. Todd Young (R). Bayh currently leads by 5.5 points.
Pennsylvania – Katie McGinty (D) vs. Pat Toomey (R – incumbent). McGinty leads by 0.2 points.
Nevada – Joe Heck (R) vs. Catherine Cortez Masto (D). Heck leads by 2.2 points in the race to replace Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
North Carolina – Richard Burr (R – incumbent) vs. Deborah Ross (D). Burr is up by 2.0 points.
New Hampshire – Maggie Hassan (D) vs. Kelly Ayotte (R- incumbent). In this contest between two women, Ayotte leads by 2.5 points.
Missouri – Roy Blunt (R- incumbent) vs. Jason Kander (D). Blunt maintains an advantage of 3.4 points.
Thus, if the election were held today and assuming that the polls were correct, the Republicans would retain control 51 to 49 and maintain their majority.
The FiveThirtyEight model has different outcome
The FiveThirtyEight model gives a different outcome. It currently projects a 57.4% chance that the Democrats will win control of the Senate while giving the Republicans a 42.6% chance. The FiveThirtyEight model predicts Democrats will win in Nevada and New Hampshire, which differs with the Real Clear Politics model that has the GOP leading in those states.
The FiveThirtyEight model also ascribes odds to the chance that any one state will be the deciding state in determining control. Currently, the model says that North Carolina has a 13.5% chanced of deciding the race, while Missouri, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Hampshire and Florida are given double digit odds of being the deciding state.
GOP odds have improved over past several weeks
Both models show an improvement on the part of Republican candidates over the past few weeks as Trump has closed the gap with Clinton in the national polls.
As a likely result of the improved Republican chances, a new super PAC was announced earlier this week to focus on the Senate races in several key states where Mrs. Clinton has outspent Mr. Trump by a wide margin on ads. Two billionaire Republicans, Sheldon Adelson and Joe Ricketts will contribute money to the PAC’s, whose goal is to quickly raise at least $25 million for ads. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the Clinton campaign has aired some 115,000 TV ad spots since mid-June compared to just 20,000 broadcast by the Trump campaign.
Outcome heavily dependent on who wins the presidency
The odds of the Republicans or Democrats controlling the Senate will continue to fluctuate depending on the fortunes of Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. If Donald Trump wins the presidency and the GOP maintains control of the Senate, it would be the Democrats worst nightmare as there would be significant policy changes as a result. Should Hillary Clinton win, the changes would be meaningful but not as dramatic as when the Democrats held the Senate majority until 2014.
Resolve the Supreme Court vacancy
The most immediate result would be clearing the vacancy that currently exists on the Supreme Court. If Clinton wins, she will have the option of pushing forward the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Obama in March or choosing a different nominee. If Trump wins, he will likely pick a name from the list of eleven potential candidates he publicly put forward last May.
The battle for control of the Senate will continue to intensify over the remaining weeks of the campaign. Both the candidates and the two political parties have much at stake in the outcome.