Election Night is drawing nearer, so I thought that a list of races to watch would be beneficial to those not terribly familiar with individual races and national dynamics. Instead of relying on what CNN or MSNBC tell you on Election Night, take control by tracking a few key races that could determine which party controls the next Congress. We’ve made it easy by focusing in on five House and Senate races from across the country.
Out of all the states where Republicans are looking to capture House seats, perhaps Indiana is the best indicator of whether Republicans will win the House and by what margin. For starters, it will be the first state to report its vote totals. Polls close at 6 Eastern, although part of the state is on Central, so the results won’t begin coming until 7 p.m.
Indiana 9 is a district in Southern Indiana that straddles the Kentucky border along the Ohio River and includes college towns like Bloomington, home of Indiana University. Democrat Baron Hill is the incumbent here. He voted for the stimulus package and health care bill, but against the Wall Street bailout and cap-and-trade.
The district has swapped between parties a number of times this decade. Hill was elected in 1998 51% to 48%, re-elected in 2000 and managed to survive in 2002, a rough year for Democrats when they lost seats to the president’s party (this rarely happens, even though both 1998 and 2002 were exceptions). Hill lost in 2004 by 2,000 votes to Mike Sodrel, his opponent from 2002. Two years later, in 2006, Hill ran again and won against Sodrel as Democrats captured the House. Not satisfied with defeat, Sodrel ran a fourth time in 2008, losing to Hill by 20 points.
It is expected that this will be a tight race. Polls show that Hill is essentially tied with his opponent at 45 percent. While that is not where an incumbent wants to be in a year like 2010, it isn’t an insurmountable challenge, either. If Hill wins, the Democrats probably hold on to the House. If he loses, the Republicans will likely win the House; the only question is by what margin. That’s where the next district comes into play.
Indiana 2 is a Northern Indiana district that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 by 10 points after supporting Bush in 2004. This is a swing district at the presidential level, but favors Democrats at the Congressional level. Blue Dog Democrat Joe Donnelly has represented Indiana 2 since 2006. After losing in 2004 to Republican Chris Chocola, he succeeded by an impressive 8 point margin in 2006. In 2008, Donnelly won with 67 percent support as Obama carried Indiana for the first time since 1964. While Republicans do not need to win Indiana 2 to win the House, it would signify a sizable wave in the range of 55 to 60 seats.
The bottom line: It is hard to see how the Republicans can win the House if they cannot manage to win Indiana 9. While Obama improved his performance over John Kerry in every single county in Indiana, Southern Indiana was still McCain territory. These voters should be among the more skeptical of the current administration and more likely to vote Republican. Indiana 2 is anchored by St. Joseph County, which is strongly Democratic. If Republicans win this seat, it will be a barometer of how many seats their majority is, not whether they will win a majority.
The Senate will be a lot easier to monitor than the House whether it is about to switch party hands or not. For one reason, the House has 435 individual races, around 100 of which are truly competitive to any degree. The Senate has around a dozen truly competitive races, making it that much easier to track. The races that you will want to watch are the Toss-Ups. To make things easier to track, we are assuming Republican advantages in a number of states (Arkansas, Indiana, North Dakota, etc.). The “Must Win” states are ones that Republicans must win in order to have a chance at a majority. Instead of listing each of them, we are going to focus on the two most crucial. The “2 out of 3″ states are named such because Republicans will need to win 2 out of 3 to gain a majority, assuming they win the “Must Win” states:
Illinois is the best early indicator of whether Republicans have a chance of winning control of the Senate. Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias are in a tight race for President Obama’s former Senate seat. The president was in Chicago on Saturday to rally the Democratic base near his home in Hyde Park at the University of Chicago. Losing this seat will mean that Republicans are having a good night. On the other hand, if Democrats manage to hold onto Illinois, it will shut the door on Republican chances at capturing the Senate.
Colorado is expected to be one of the closest of all the contests on Tuesday. Senator Michael Bennet was appointed by Governor Bill Ritter to fill the seat of Ken Salazar, whom President Obama tapped to be his Secretary of the Interior. Had Salazar been on the ballot, winning his seat in 2004 against the odds, he probably would have easily won re-election. Bennet has run a good campaign, though, and is facing a far-right candidate in Ken Buck. If Republicans win Colorado and Illinois, it means that they are well on their way to knocking off Harry Reid in nearby Nevada and could gain control of the Upper Chamber. If Democrats win Colorado, it once again shuts the door on that possibility.
2 out of 3
Washington could be the state that decides whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate. Democrats may lose Illinois, Colorado and a number of other states, but hold on to Washington. The reverse will not hold true, though. If Democrats hold on to Illinois, Colorado, West Virginia, etc., Republicans will not win in Washington state.
Even with a win in Washington, Republicans will need to sweep the board in every other Toss-Up state, and win in California or West Virginia. The math would look something like this: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The bottom line: The Republicans essentially have to sweep everything in order to gain the majority: seats that Lean Republican, Toss-ups, and Lean Democrat. They need a net pick-up of 10 seats to get the 51 seat majority that would be needed to break Vice President Joe Biden’s tie. A 50/50 split in the Senate is not out of the question, as is what happened in 2000, although Democrats would retain the majority in that situation instead of Republicans.