How Many Senators Are Up For Reelection In 2016? Their Races Are Just As Crucial
While the vast majority of the nation's attention is turned to the presidential showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, there are 29 senators up for reelection this year who are hoping to hang on to their congressional seats on Nov. 8. With 22 Republicans defending their seats, compared to just seven Democrats, it's no wonder that statistical analysis site FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 66.8 percent chance of taking control of the upper chamber of Congress. To do that, they'll need to turn at least four red chairs to blue on Election Day.
Senators serve six-year terms, but the election of senators is staggered throughout even-numbered years, so about one third of seats are up for grabs in any given year. While Senate races might not be as glamorous (or, in this year's case, as hideous) as the race for the White House, the party that controls that upper chamber has some serious influence over how effective a president can be.
Need an example? Look no further than the unprecedented gridlock that Republicans made a key point of their campaigns in 2010, promising to block any bill President Obama sent their way. They might have failed in their stated goal to make Obama a "one-term president," but they effectively gummed up the normal functioning of government so severely that the Obama administration had to get creative in how it implemented policy changes.
This year, there are several hotly contested races, including some for offices held by prominent voices in their respective parties. These are the contests to watch — and if you live in one of these battleground states, your vote will be crucial to determining the course of the country over the next four years.
In New Hampshire, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is facing an uphill battle to keep her seat in the face of a pointed challenge by current Gov. Maggie Hassan. Ayotte was forced to walk back her suggestion that Trump was a good "role model" just days after saying it, but the damage might already have been done.
During a Clinton campaign rally in New Hampshire, both Clinton and Elizabeth Warren took aim at Ayotte, with the Massachusetts senator blasting Ayotte's willingness to stand by Trump as "weak." What New Hampshire really needs as a representative in Washington, Warren argued, is a "nasty woman" like Gov. Maggie Hassan. Ayotte and Hassan have jockeyed to take control of the polls, but at press time, FiveThirtyEight gave Hassan a higher chance of winning the election and ousting Ayotte.
In Pennsylvania, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is in a pitched battle to win over the voters who sent him to Washington for the first time six years ago. In these final days of the election, Toomey has refused to say whether he will vote for Trump, and several homes in his neighborhood were vandalized with anti-GOP graffiti over the weekend of Oct. 22.
His Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty, has stayed close on his heels in the polls, and now has a slightly higher chance of winning, according to FiveThirtyEight, compared to Toomey's chance of pulling out a victory.
Heading west, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, will possibly lose his seat. The staunchly conservative politician won his first Senate race in 2011, but now is poised to be clobbered by his Democratic opponent, Paul Feingold. FiveThirtyEight gives Feingold a whopping 90-plus percent chance of winning the election.
Just one state over, fellow Republican Sen. Mark Kirk might also soon be looking for a new line of work. The Illinois incumbent — who was relatively moderate during his time in Washington — was named "the most vulnerable senator of 2016" by D.C. blog The Hill back in May, while Politico called him "the most endangered Republican in the country."
Kirk is facing long odds against current Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, who won the Democratic party's primary to challenge Kirk. Duckworth, a veteran who lost a leg while deployed in Iraq, holds a commanding lead over her opponent, who is running his first campaign since he suffered a major stroke in 2012 that kept him out of the Senate chambers for nearly a year. FiveThirtyEight gives Duckworth a 90 percent chance of winning.
These are just a sampling of the high-profile, down-ballot races that can't be ignored on Election Day. In addition to the seven Democrats who are up for re-election (all in safely blue states), three are retiring at the end of the year, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, reliable progressive and women's advocate Sen. Barbara Boxer in California, and Maryland's senior Democratic senator Barbara Mikulski. While California and Maryland both tend to lean Democratic, the contest for Sen. Reid's seat in Nevada is one of the closest-watched races in this election. Reid has been campaigning hard for Democratic hopeful Catherine Cortez Masto, but Republican challenger Joe Heck is close on her heels.
Across the aisle, just two Republicans have decided to retire instead of seeking re-election: Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter. In Indiana, the race is close, but FiveThirtyEight gives the edge to the Democratic candidate, Evan Bayh. Louisiana holds its Senate candidate primary on Nov. 8 to determine which candidates will face off in a separate election held in December.
So while Americans of all stripes consider their best escape routes to Canada if their candidate doesn't win in November, it's worth remembering that the White House isn't all that's up for grabs this year. Which party controls the Senate will have a substantial impact on just how effective the next president can be — whether it's rolling back the progress we've made, or guiding us into a more progressive, inclusive future. While control of the Senate is still anybody's game, it's clear that Americans are profoundly dissatisfied with how Congress works (or doesn't) right now. And the best way to express that dissatisfaction is to vote all the way down the ticket — not just for those races you've been hearing about for the past 18 months.