Friday, 27 Nov 2020

U.S. election: Breaking down the race for Senate

Nov. 3, 2020 — the big day is here. That’s right, the United States is about to elect a new … slate of senators?

Though the 2020 Senate race hasn’t commanded much attention compared with the presidential election — especially here in Canada — the stakes are high for both Democrats and Republicans.

Republicans are looking to maintain or boost the 52-seat majority that has allowed them to execute U.S. President Donald Trump’s agenda — including, for instance, the controversial confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett just weeks before the election.

Democrats, who currently have a majority in the House of Representatives, are hoping to gain control of the upper chamber as well.

If Trump loses to Democrat Joe Biden — an outcome polling suggests is likely — Democrats will need the Senate to move ahead with campaign promises.

“Given the degree of polarization that we see in the U.S., without support in both houses of Congress, a president really can’t legislate,” politics professor Rob Goodman of Ryerson University said in a recent Global News interview.

Democrats have 45 seats in the Senate, plus two independents who caucus with them, so the party would need to gain three or four seats to clinch a majority.

Why three or four? It depends on who wins the presidency. Since the vice-president breaks tied votes in the Senate, either party could take control of the legislature with 50 seats if it also won the White House.

Unlike in the House of Representatives, only a third of the upper chamber’s 100 seats are up for election at a time. Elections are held on even years.

In the 2020 election, 35 senate seats are up for grabs — 23 were Republican prior to the vote, and 12 Democrat.

Included in this year’s contest are two special elections, one to replace the late John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona who died in 2018, and another in Georgia due to the 2019 retirement of Sen. Johnny Isakson.

The website Fivethirtyeight.com, which runs simulations based on polls and other data, is projecting that Democrats are favoured to get a majority in the Senate.

The top five tightest races, according to the site, are in Iowa, Georgia, Maine, North Carolina and Montana.

Several high-profile Republicans will be facing the electorate for the first time since Trump became president.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate and the sole GOP vote against the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, is “fighting for her political life,” as Reuters put it in a recent article.

The outlet reported that Collins is behind in both polling and donations compared to her opponent, former state legislator Sara Gideon.

Mitch McConnell is another big name on the ballot. The Senate majority leader (i.e., spokesperson for Republicans within the Senate) is seeking a seventh term as Kentucky’s senator. Amy McGrath, his opponent, is a former fighter pilot.

In South Carolina, prominent Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is facing a challenge from Democrat Jaime Harrison.

Last month, Harrison became the first-ever U.S. Senate candidate to raise more than US$100 million.

On the Democratic side, former presidential candidate and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is facing off against Republican Rik Mehta, a pharmacist and lawyer who once worked for the Food and Drug Administration. Booker is widely considered to be the favourite.

Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, who is married to former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is running in Arizona. He is looking to unseat Martha McSally, who was appointed to replace McCain.

And Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who started his career in the Colorado state legislature, will be on the ballot alongside another very familiar name to those in the state — former governor John Hickenlooper.

— With files from the Associated Press and Eric Sorensen, Global News

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