Tags: senate | runoffs | georgia | louisiana

Senate Control May Be Decided by Runoff Votes in Louisiana and Georgia

By    |   Monday, 03 November 2014 07:04 AM

Both parties are closely watching the battle for Senate control, which will largely shape Barack Obama's agenda for the final two years of his presidency.

But if the outcome of that battle hinges on two tight races that are likely to advance to runoffs, Obama and the Democrats will be forced to make more immediate adjustments to their legislative priorities.

The president has a narrow window to act on a host of key issues, including immigration reform, replacing Attorney General Eric Holder, new EPA power-plant regulations, closing the Guantanamo prison, and the Keystone XL pipeline.

But while his best chance to push these measures is during the lame-duck session that starts shortly after Tuesday's midterms, doing so could further complicate the prospects of two Democrats likely to advance from competitive Senate races into post-election runoffs: three-term Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Democratic Michelle Nunn  in Georgia.

Both Louisiana and Georgia will hold runoffs if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday's election. Landrieu is bracing for a runoff with Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy on Dec. 6 if a third candidate, tea party favorite Rob Maness, draws even a small bloc of votes.

In Georgia, Nunn may face a runoff with Republican businessman David Perdue on Jan. 6 — three days after the new Congress is sworn in — because Libertarian Amanda Swafford is likely to pull at least 4 percent of the vote Tuesday.

It's a headache-inducing dilemma that Obama and his beleaguered party would rather not face: Should the president risk further delays and resistance to major initiatives in order to protect Nunn and Landrieu in low-turnout runoffs? Or should he take unilateral actions during the lame-duck session to advance key priorities and promote his legacy, even if it might cost his party two Senate seats and, quite possibly, control of the Senate?

The issues on the docket are particularly polarizing. Conservatives have been using voter opposition to the immigration reform favored by Obama and other Democrats to drive voter interest and turnout, particularly in southern states. And a decision to take up Keystone XL and the EPA power-plant regulations would have a particularly heavy impact on Landrieu, whose campaign rests on the notion that as chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she can influence those two Obama priorities.

If Senate control hangs in the balance ahead of the runoff elections, it could have a "halting effect" on the start of the lame-duck session, Chris Krueger, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities, told Business Insider.

Further complicating the picture for Democrats: turning out their base in post-election runoffs. It's already challenging for Democrats to get supporters to vote during midterms, even more so for runoffs, which core Democratic constituencies like young people, single women and minorities tend to sit out. So analysts believe that any actions by Obama that further nationalizes the contest could create a serious headwind.

Republicans, who need to pick up six seats to claim a 51-to-49 Senate majority, are widely favored this year to win three races where Democratic senators are retiring: Montana, West Virginia, and South Dakota. Their best hopes to pick up three more seats are in the red states of Alaska, Arkansas, and North Carolina, and they are gaining ground in the blue states of Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire. If Republicans hold Kansas and win two of those races, plus the three where they are heavily favored, then all eyes would turn to Louisiana and Georgia.

Experts are divided over how Obama and his party's congressional leaders would respond to this post-election scenario.

"I'll bet Obama moves forward quickly on immigration and appointments," Larry Sabato, political science professor at the University of Virginia, told Newsmax. "His White House team knows that, regardless of what he does or doesn't do, it will be difficult for Democrats to hold Louisiana or take Georgia. The bird in the hand might well be worth more than two senators in the bush."

But other experts said the runoff-lame duck scenario could have a chilling effect on a politically cautious White House.

"The runoffs [probably] paralyze the administration," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg told Newsmax. "I think it all depends on what the president wants and whether he is willing to negotiate."

All sides do agree that, if the outcome would determine Senate control, the runoffs will draw millions of dollars from outside groups into Louisiana and Georgia.

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Both parties are closely watching the battle for Senate control, which will largely shape Barack Obama's agenda for the final two years of his presidency.
senate, runoffs, georgia, louisiana
Monday, 03 November 2014 07:04 AM
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