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Will Election Night Predict Changes in the 114th Congress?

By Kimberly Dean

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tuesday’s election is finally upon us. Are there congressional races to follow through the night that will aid in predictions of how Congress will act next year? You bet.

The biggest questions for Tuesday night are which party will end up controlling the Senate and how big of a win Republicans will achieve in the House. In the Senate, Republicans need a net gain of 6 seats to grab the majority. In the House, Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats to win control, which is highly unlikely given the makeup of many House districts. With the battle over congressional control happening only in the Senate, it is worth asking what Senate races on election night could act as indicators of how Congress will function over the next two years. Each state has their polls close at different times. Below are some Senate races to watch as election night proceeds (all times are ET).

7:00 P.M. Polls:

Kentucky. Senator McConnell (R-KY) has led the Republican caucus for 7 years. While his race is currently close, pollsters have it leaning Republican. Democrats believe they have a chance and jumped back into the Kentucky Senate race with last minute funding. If his opponent, Alison Grimes, is able to win, McConnell’s defeat will have a dramatic impact on the way the upper Chamber functions. A McConnell loss will likely mean that the national mood is supportive of a Democratic majority in the Senate, so Republicans could very well remain in the minority. It is unclear who would take over as Republican leader, which could have an effect on how Republicans operate next Congress. Additionally, a McConnell loss could mean conservative members would be able to pull the Senate Republicans further right.

New Hampshire. If the Democrats lose this race, it could mean a long night for them. While Senator Shaheen (D-NH) has maintained a lead in the New Hampshire Senate race, her opponent, former Senator Scott Brown, has narrowed the lead to make this race a toss-up. One recent poll has him in the lead by 1 percentage point. If Brown is able to pull off an upset, it could be an early indicator of how the Democrats will fare in other Senate races the rest of the night. Chris Cillizza, a Washington Post political analyst, recently said that all races are “influenced at some level by the national mood”. A Republican win in New Hampshire could very likely early on show that Republicans will obtain the majority in the Senate.

7:30 P.M. Polls:

North Carolina. The latest Rasmussen Poll has the North Carolina race in a dead heat with Senator Hagan’s (D-NC) slight lead within the margin of error over Republican Congressman Thom Tillis. North Carolina is truly a 50-50 Republican/ Democrat state. In 2008, it went for President Obama. In 2012, Mitt Romney pulled off a narrow victory. If Tillis is able to beat her, this could be an early indication that Republicans are likely to take over the Senate.

8:00 P.M. Polls:

South Dakota. With the retirement of Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), the South Dakota Senate race is an open seat election. The latest polling shows former Governor Mike Rounds has a double digit lead over his opponents Larry Pressler (I) and Rick Weiland (D). Because of Rounds’ lead in the polls, the South Dakota Senate seat is expected to become Republican. If Rounds is elected to the Senate, he will join eight or nine (depending on the outcome of Senator Shaheen’s race in New Hampshire) former governors in the chamber.

With the support of BPC’s Governors’ Council, former governors in the Senate have come together to create a Senate Governors Caucus with the goal of bringing the pragmatic, get-things-done attitudes of state chief executives to federal policy-making. The senators who make up the caucus are often those in the middle of negotiations to resolve some of the most difficult policy debates. Their experience as chief executives who had to deliver accomplishments and constituent services could help ease some of the Senate inaction. The former governors have tended to address policy problems rather than politicize and prolong debates.

9:00 P.M. Polls

Louisiana. The latest polling in Louisiana indicate this is a tight race causing Senator Landrieu (D-LA) to have one of the toughest political fights of her career. With Louisiana’s 50% threshold requirement, it is very likely that the race will go into a run-off against Bill Cassidy on December 6th. As the current chair of the Senate Energy Committee, if Senator Landrieu loses her race, it could have a large impact on the type of energy issues Congress considers next year. If she wins her race, the Senate Energy Committee will likely focus on oil and gas. If she loses and Senator Cantwell (D-WA) takes over as Chair or Ranking Member the Senate Energy Committee may instead focus more on other energy issues such as electricity.

With all the tight races in the Senate this cycle, another important concept to note is the type of members that remain may also bring a different atmosphere in Congress next year. If traditionally moderate Democrats lose the Senate, such as Mark Begich (D-AK), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Mark Udall (D-CO), the Democratic caucus will become more liberal. This may make negotiations with Republicans tougher causing a continued fractured, inactive Senate.

Tonight will be a night to tune in to see the election outcomes. A recent survey by The New York Times gives Republicans an edge to win control of the Senate. If this happens and Republicans control both chambers, will Congress produce more legislative policy? Stay tuned and don’t forget to vote. With the tight congressional races, every vote counts.

KEYWORDS: 114TH CONGRESS, 2014 MIDTERM ELECTIONS, MITCH MCCONNELL, SURVEYS AND POLLS