In any presidential election, the spotlight shines brightest on the top of the ticket — perhaps no year more than this one, considering we have a celebrity television host as one of the major party's nominees. But apart from the ubiquitous POTUS race, hundreds of Senate and House seats are also up for reelection. And many of those races, though less glamorous, are critical to what types of legislation get attention over the next several years.
A total of 34 Senate seats are currently in contest. That's one-third of all Senate slots, with senators' terms lasting six years. Over in the House of Representatives, there are 435 elections. That's a lot. Thankfully, voters only need to focus on their state and district contests, though knowing a bit about the handful of "big" races will help make following Nov. 8 headlines much easier.
This year, the big story will be whether or not Democrats regain control of the Senate. Currently, Republicans hold 54 seats to the Democrats' 46. In order to gain control of the Senate, Democrats need to either pick up four seats and win with Clinton, or pick up five seats if Trump become president. (The vice president is the tiebreaker vote in the Senate.)
But before that, a reminder of why Congress matters:
The big factor to all of this Congressional reelection is Trump. Republican senatorial candidates in the eight states with competitive races – Florida, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – have been mostly hurt by Trump's candidacy. Many of them were polling ahead of their Democratic challengers before the party conventions. Since then, poll numbers have been slipping for the six of the eight Republicans (though most are still outperforming Trump).
The outliers are Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Despite Trump, Portman has managed to gain in popularity, while Rubio's poll numbers remain roughly unchanged.
The House of Representatives seems likely to stay in Republican control, but hopeful Democrats see the possibility of total control of Congress. (Nancy Pelosi recently suggested she'd be taking over her old spot as Speaker of the House.) This is highly improbable, as Aaron Blake at The Washington Pos t says:
To take over the House, Democrats need to pretty well run the table. We currently rate 52 seats as at least somewhat competitive, and Democrats would need to win 38 — 71 percent — of them to get to 218 seats and a House majority.
That 71 percent would be extraordinary, and indicative of what's known as a "wave election." These occur when voters are so disgusted with one party that they overwhelmingly abandon usual loyalties and send the other side stampeding into D.C. And though there is plenty of disgust out there, it is directed in a bipartisan manner. This year does not look like the wave sort.
The big news on election night, besides who becomes our next president, will probably be whether or not Democrats take back the Senate. But keep an eye on the House races as well, since that could be the sleeper story of this election.
Video: School House Rock via YouTube