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The Fight For Congress And How To Watch Election Night Like A Political Professional

by Government Affairs Team | Oct 05, 2020
Written by: Bob Helland

On election day November 3, not only is the Presidency on the ballot.  Control of the Senate and the House of Representatives is also at stake.  That means 1/3 of the Senate and all 435 House members are on the ballot as well.  Control of Congress impacts the policy agenda for whomever takes the oath of office on Inauguration Day.  With so much at stake, here’s your guide to watching the congressional elections like a political pro. 

The fight for the Senate.  Currently, the Republicans control the Senate by a 53-47 margin.  That means for Democrats to regain control, they need to win at least three Senate seats, in a scenario where Joe Biden wins the Presidency and a Democratic Vice President controls the Senate.  If Biden does not win the presidency, or Democrats lose a seat or two, the number of seats necessary to regain control increases.  So the first question is what Senate seats are at stake.  Right now, Republicans are on the defense:   23 of their Senate seats are up for reelection this year, compared to just 12 for the Democrats.  But not all seats are equally competitive.  A list of the competitive races for Republicans includes Senators Cory Gardner (CO); Senator Martha McSally (AZ); Senator Thom Tillis (NC); Senator Susan Collins (ME); Senator Steve Daines (MT); and Senator Lindsay Graham (SC).  On the Democratic side, Alabama Senator Doug Jones tops many lists as one of the most endangered Senators politically with Michigan Senator Gary Peters also considered to be at risk of losing his seat.  This map shows the 2020 Senate races and compares them to how their party’s 2016 presidential candidate fared.

The fight for the House.  The House is split between 233 Democrats and 201 Republicans and 1 Libertarian.  Republicans would only have to win 17 seats to gain the 218 needed for a majority.   A closer look indicates that many of the competitive races lie in the suburbs, like Indiana’s 5th Congressional District, which is in the suburbs of Indianapolis; Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, which includes Harrisburg and its suburbs; and Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, which is part of the Greater Houston metropolitan area. With more than half the electorate living there, that is where the battle for the House will be fought. 

To tell which party is having a good night on election night, first look at who is voting and why.  A more motivated electorate usually indicates that people are looking for change, and that spells danger for incumbents.   Second, for the Senate, look at the Senators running for re-election in states won by the opposing party in 2016.  If a Democrat like Senator Jones, for example, wins his seat in Alabama (which is expected to support President Trump) this would indicate a good night for Democrats.  Congressional races usually follow whoever wins the presidential vote in that state.  Voters are less and less likely to “split the ticket”, as shown on the attached slide Finally, whichever presidential candidate is winning the suburbs, that is likely the party winning that particular House seat. 

Federal law requires all congressional campaigns to file their third quarter fundraising reports by October 15th.  By that date, or shortly after, we should know more about how much candidates were able to fundraise and how much cash they still have (“cash on hand”).  That should provide an idea as to how candidates are faring and which remain competitive. 

GCSAA has a webpage devoted to the 2020 elections. You can find out how to register, which states allow early voting, and more.  You can also find out who the candidates are running in the races where you live.