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GOP Senate Hold Could Crumble

GOP Senate Hold Could Crumble
Rand Paul after announcing he is stepping out of presidential race. (AP)

By Thursday, 04 February 2016 09:47 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Sen. Rand Paul's decision to abandon his presidential bid means that he is now free to focus earlier on his re-election campaign. And that's a good thing for Republicans — their hold on the Senate is tenuous in 2016.

“We’re better off for Rand’s candidacy for president because of the way he reached out to new people for the party and for his outreach to African-Americans,” former Republican National Chairman Mike Duncan, longtime GOP leader in Kentucky, told me hours after Paul’s Feb. 4 announcement. “And he’s well-positioned to win re-election.”

Duncan and other Bluegrass State Republicans insist Paul will have little trouble dispatching his certain Democratic opponent Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. But the chances are high that he will return to a Senate in which Democrats have ousted four or even five of his GOP colleagues this year.

Currently the breakdown in the Senate is 54 Republican seats and 46 Democratic seats. Democrats need a net gain of four to secure a tie (which would be broken in their favor if the next vice president is a Democrat) or a gain of five to give them an outright majority.

The arithmetic favors a Democratic takeover. A full 34 Senate seats will be decided by voters this year — 24 in GOP hands and only 10 held by Democrats.

The seats relinquished by GOP Sens. Dan Coats of Indiana and David Vitter of Louisiana seem cinches to be retained by Republicans, while that of presidential hopeful Marco Rubio in Florida seems a toss-up.

Two Democratic House members are competing for nomination for the Florida seat and two Republican House members and the state’s lieutenant governor are vying for the GOP nod.

A similar situation exists among seats where Democrats are leaving. Sens. Barbara Boxer  and Barbara Mikulski appear sure to be succeeded by fellow Democrats, while the Nevada seat of outgoing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid features a toss-up contest.

Among incumbent Democratic senators, GOP prognosticators are hard-pressed to name one who is vulnerable. Democrats, however, can point to five GOP incumbents they feel they can unseat.

Illinois — “The Most Endangered Republican in the Country,” blared a recent headline  from Politico. It referred to freshman Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who was behind Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth in recent polling.  

Five years after he suffered a severe stroke, Kirk, 56, has recovered to a great degree, but has several problems. His party’s conservative activists have never warmed to the centrist Kirk, who opposed closing the government over defunding Planned Parenthood and received an F from the National Rifle Association.

Wisconsin — Six years after he was unseated by Republican and tea party favorite Ron Johnson, former Sen. Russ Feingold is a cinch to win the Democratic nomination for a rematch in 2016. A just-completed Marquette University poll shows Feingold, best-known for co-sponsoring the 2001 campaign finance legislation with Sen. John McCain, leading the conservative Johnson among likely voters by a margin of 50 percent to 37 percent statewide.

Pennsylvania — after fellow GOP freshmen Sens. Kirk and Wisconsin, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey is almost always listed as “most vulnerable.” Toomey sports a solidly conservative record on fiscal and social issues, although he irked conservatives a bit by co-sponsoring gun control legislation with West Virginia’s Democratic Joe Manchin. The latest Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey shows him edging 2010 opponent and former Rep. Joe Sestak by a slim margin of 41 percent to 38 percent statewide.

The same poll showed Toomey defeating the other major Democratic contender, Katie McGinty (formerly top aide to Gov. Tom Wolf) by a margin of 43 percent to 36 percent. Working against Toomey is that the Keystone State has gone Democratic for president without exception since 1992 and that Democrats have an 800,000-plus advantage in registered voters over Republicans.

New Hampshire — in a state that has been increasingly Democratic in terms of electing a governor, national Democrats scored a coup by convincing Gov. Maggie Hassan to be their U.S. Senate candidate. A just-completed NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Hassan narrowly trailing Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte by a margin of 45 percent to 40 percent.

Ohio — Six years after he handily won his first term in the Senate, Republican Rob Portman is now in a desperate political situation. Widely admired for his intellect and knowledge of fiscal issues (he served as U.S. Trade representative and budget director under George W. Bush), Portman, 60, has taken some heat from his party’s cultural conservatives for becoming the first GOP Member of Congress to endorse same-sex marriage.

A Quinnipiac poll showed him trailing former Gov. Ted Strickland by a margin of 48 percent to 39 percent. Strickland, 74, faces a spirited primary challenge from Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and a super PAC supporting Sittenfeld is now running ads slamming the former governor for not being sufficiently supportive of gun control.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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Currently the breakdown in the Senate is 54 Republican seats and 46 Democratic seats. Democrats need a net gain of four to secure a tie (which would be broken in their favor if the next vice president is a Democrat) or a gain of five to give them an outright majority.
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Thursday, 04 February 2016 09:47 AM
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