Off year national elections, like the ones being staged this year, often don’t get the attention from the media that is customary in years when the presidency is up for grabs. However, every two years elections are held for every one of the seats in the House of Representatives and roughly a third of the seats in the Senate. Control of one or sometimes both of the houses of Congress often passes from one party to the other during these midpoint elections between two presidential races. Traditionally it is the party that lost the presidency two years early that has the advantage, especially when the sitting President is in his second term.
The US House of Representatives will almost certainly remain under Republican control. As are result of the 2012 House elections they currently hold 233 seats to the Democrat’s 201. I won’t bore you with the polling details, but suffice it to say that Democrats have virtually no chance of taking back control of the House in the 2014 elections. At best they might take back a seat or two.
On the other hand, the US Senate is up for grabs. Currently the Democrats hold 53 seats and the Republicans 45. The other two seats are held by independents that caucus with the Democrats. However, in this election year the numbers do not favor the Democrats. Nineteen states will elect a new US Senator this year and 15 of those seats are currently held by Democrats. The Republicans have only 4 their current seats at risk. The Republicans are positioned to gain some Senate seats, but the question is how many.
Combining the Democratic Senators not up for reelection and those likely to be reelected according to the latest polls, 45 Democratic seats are reasonably safe. In the same manner 46 Republican seats appear to be in the Republican column. That leaves 9 tossup races which are much to close to call at this point. The outcome of those nine races will decide which party controls the Senate.
Those close Senate races are:
Alaska: Mark Begich (D) vs. Dan Sullivan (most likely R)
Arkansas: Mark Pryor (D) vs. Tom Cotton (R)
Colorado: Mark Udall (D) vs. Cory Gardner
Georgia: Michelle Nunn (D) vs. David Perdue (R)
Iowa: Bruce Braley (D) vs. Joni Ernst (R)
Kentucky: Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) vs. Mitch McConnell (R)
Louisiana: Mary Landrieu (D) vs. Bill Cassidy (most likely R)
Michigan: Gary Peters (D) vs. Terri Lynn Land
North Carolina: Kay Hagan (D) vs. Thom Tillis (R)
With the House securely in Republican hands for another two years, it is important for the Democratic to hold on to the Senate. It is equally important for Republicans to gain control of the other house of congress. The party in the majority the Senate will assign one of its Senators to chair each of the Senate committees. In almost all cases the party in the majority will fill a majority of seats on each committee. Many Senate committees are very powerful, determining which major pieces of legislation are written, how they are written and amended, and whether or not these bills are recommended for a vote of the full Senate or not. The Senate Majority leader determines which bills come up for a vote by the full Senate and which do not. And of course the majority party in the Senate has the most influence of which bills are approved by the chamber and which are not.
One power granted by the Constitution solely to the Senate is the duty to confirm Presidential appointments, including those of judges of federal courts and the Justices of the Supreme Court. It is the latter appointments which could be vitally important to all of us. Recently several controversial far reaching Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United and Hobby Lobby were decided by five to four decisions so the future direction of Supreme Court Decisions could depend on the next appointee to the Court. It is also certainly conceivable that there could be one or more vacancies on the Supreme Court during the last two years of President Obama’s term.
Usually the President’s appointments to the Supreme Court are confirmed by the Senate even when the opposition party controls the chamber, but not always. In the last fifty years three of the twenty two appointees voted on by the Senate were not confirmed. Robert Bork, nominated by President Reagan in 1987 was the last to fail to obtain Senate confirmation. Several others nominees withdrew before a confirmation vote, probably because their chances of being confirmed were not good. If in the next two years there is a vacancy on the Court, in this highly partisan political environment it is certainly conceivable that Republican controlled Senate could vote down anyone that the President Obama might nominate. If the Republicans control the Senate, President Obama may have to ultimately nominate a more conservative judge than he would otherwise to get the Senate’s confirmation.
Many major issues which divide the two parties politically are likely to be decided by the Supreme Court during the next two years. The party that controls the Senate could have major role is determining how those decisions are decided.