The Fight for the Senate: Who Will Win Control?

The main talk of the 2014 election has been which political party will control the Senate after the votes have been counted.  Democrats have been on defense throughout most of the country as President Obama’s approval rating has been low. So with just a little more than a week to go, where do I think the numbers will fall?

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Colored: Safe Seats; Gray: Toss-Ups

In this election cycle, Democrats have 38 seats that are safe or not up for reelection while Republicans have 42. So that is where my numbers start.

Democrats are projected to win the elections in Illinois (Durbin), Michigan, Minnesota (Franken), New Jersey (Booker), New Mexico (Udall), Oregon (Merkley), and Virginia (Warner).  Republicans are safe in the elections in Mississippi (Cochrane), South Dakota, and West Virginia.  This brings the total to 45-45 with 10 states that will determine the balance of the Senate.

In their latest forecast as of the time of writing this column, Nate Silver and those at fivethirtyeight.com give the Republicans a 62.1% chance of retaking the Senate.  The race is on for either side to grab 6 of the 10 toss-up seats.  It is going to be close, and it might just hinge on one thing we would not have predicted even 6-months ago.

It seems likely that Republicans will win seats currently held by Democrats in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, and Louisiana.  Though in Louisiana, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu will win on November 4, she will not cross the 50% threshold sending the top 2 into a run-off in December in which she will fall.  Republicans will also hold onto their seat in Kentucky.  This gives the GOP a total of 50 seats.

So what about the Democrats?  I believe they will hold onto their seats in New Hampshire and North Carolina.  I’ve watched over the polls of Colorado, and they have given me a headache just as they did during the 2012 election.  I will go out on a limb that Colorado will stay in the Democratic column but just barely.  There is still a state that was a surprise for this grouping.  Even a month ago, I had not included it here but my gut tells me to do so now.  Georgia.  Again, I believe this will be extremely close, but that the Democrat will come out on top.  Total for the Democrats… 49.

This leaves one seat remaining.  Republicans need it for control; Democrats need it for a tie with Vice-President Biden (Democrat) being the tie-breaker.  I hinted at this earlier, and it is Kansas.  As the election year started, Republicans saw Sen. Pat Roberts as a safe seat.  He had a tea-party challenge in the primary which he defeated.  He was being challenged by the Democrats and an Independent candidate Greg Orman.  Then the Democrat, basically seeing the writing on the wall, dropped out leaving only Orman to challenge Sen. Roberts.  The race has tightened up, but I’m predicting that Orman will pull off the upset and join Independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) in the Senate.  So it will come down to where he caucuses: with the Republicans to give them majority, or with the Democrats to give them a tie (and thus majority off the tie-breaker).

My 2014 Prediction

My 2014 Prediction

This is how close it is going to be.  The Senate will be 50-50 or 51-49 Republican.  The Senate may need to learn how to compromise and function a little bit better with the chamber so evenly divided.  Despite all the polls and predictions, it will all still be determined by who shows up to vote.  So make sure to vote on November 4.

** This column is my sole opinion based off examining various polls.
** Special thanks to RealClearPolitics for allowing me to create my own map.

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Do Independent Voters Really Matter?

It’s 2014 and that means that it’s a midterm election year.  So that means that the two main parties will head to their respective corners and leave out nearly a third of Americans.

Throughout the primary process… especially the early primaries… candidates tend to move more toward their base so that they can win.  This is helped by the fact that the two main parties don’t want independent voters to have a say in who their candidates are.  This is usually left up to the states to decide for themselves, though.  It’s not until after the primaries are over that a candidate tries to center their message and attract the independent voter because most elections can’t be won without them.

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There are basically two types of independent voters.  The first type is the moderate voter that switches back and forth between the two parties.  The other type are the independent voters that can vote Democrat or Republican, but they also are willing to vote for third party and independent candidates.  They are not held down to the two-party belief that our political system has tried to force upon the voters. The latter group is where I’m placing my focus.  More and more Americans are starting to realize that there are other options out there and are fighting to get them equally included.

As the two main political parties become more polarized and more bent on just serving those voters that vote for them.  Those that exist in the middle find themselves left out.  Third party candidates (and independent candidates) are often left off out debates and are sometimes sued by the major parties in an effort to keep them off the ballot.

The mentality is the same for both Democrats and Republicans.  A vote for a third party candidate or an independent candidate is a wasted vote.  It’s a vote that could have gone to them.  And all one needs to do is to express their intent to vote for such a candidate to hear how much they have that thought in our mentality.

The two main parties still control the election process and are actually working together to keep it that way.  They want to make sure that the voters don’t really have a choice and that the political pendulum only swings two ways.

FACT:  Nearly 40% of people do not vote. This is because they feel left out and ignored.

But as the parties move farther and farther apart, the moderate and independents in the middle are getting left out and the country is losing because there aren’t any real debates or solutions.  It’s just the same stuff over and over again.  If the independents were to rally around one third party or independent candidate, they could make a real play at winning an election.

When it comes to a presidential election, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has imposed a 15% minimum in polls for a third party or independent candidate to be allowed into the debates.  This number was made higher after the 1992 presidential election in which Ross Perot had significant support and was included in the debates.  So now when complaints come in that other candidates aren’t included, the CPD just points to the rules.  What they aren’t telling the voters is that they don’t even include the other candidates in the polls.

Independent voters are constantly discussed when an election year comes around.  Even the media seems to talk about them nonstop.  The rest of the time, the parties and even the media could care less.  A question was posed this past Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos about who should be the guest of honor at the State of the Union address.  Political contributor Matthew Dowd said it best, “First Lady should have empty chair in her box at SOTU to represent millions of americans forgotten in dc.”

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So do independent voters really matter?  Of course they do in the general election.  They are the most prized votes to get.  But there is a saying. “If I’m not good enough to vote for your candidates in the primary, then I guess they don’t need my vote in the general election.”

Independent voters should listen to that saying.  They have more voter power these days than they realize.  If they were to unite and exercise their vote, they could shake up the election process.  If independents are the deciding vote in elections then maybe it’s time they make a different decision.  We really do have more than two options.

The Primary Problem

The primary season is more than half over, and with former-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney all but assured the nomination of the Republican Party (especially now that former-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has suspended his campaign), all I eyes have now turned to the general election though that doesn’t officially start until September after both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions have been held.  But I wanted to look back at a few things that have been on my mind about this primary season… and it does pertain to the primary calendar in general, too.

Usually the media, and the parties themselves, want the race over as soon as possible.  Before Santorum’s upset in Iowa and Gingrich’s win in Georgia, it looked like Mitt Romney would steamroll over everyone in the first month, and it would have, theoretically, been over then.  But that’s not the way it worked out.  In fact, it went longer than anyone anticipated.  But the problem isn’t how many months, and how many contests had to play out before it was all but certain.  The problem is the method of how our primaries/caucuses are done.  There are generally three types of primaries/caucuses.  There are closed primaries/caucuses in which only people that have declared themselves members of that particular party are allowed to vote.  Keep in mind that each state can set its own rules on when people can declare such things.  There are semi-closed primaries/caucuses which is the same as a closed primary/caucus except that independents and those that are undeclared are allowed to participate, as well.  Then there is the open primary in which anyone from any party (and independents) can vote for a candidate in any party.

The problem with an open primary/caucus is that, when there is an incumbent running, members of that party can try to influence who the person will be running against by voting in the opposition’s election.  Democrats/liberals have done this in certain open elections in 2012 since they have an incumbent.  In 2008, there were some Republicans/conservatives who were doing it to the Democrats since the Republican Party wrapped up their nomination quickly and the Democrats drug theirs out through June.

A closed primary/caucus leaves something very important out of the nomination process… the independent (or non-partisan) voter whom that party needs in order to win the general election.  Any kind of moderate candidate is usually pushed out in contests like these.  If the candidate isn’t already tilted to the party extreme already, then they have to pander to the party voters that make up that extreme in order to win those primaries/caucuses.  The bad thing is that they might alienate the moderates and independents (and maybe even some moderates on the other side who might be thinking of switching votes) by doing such a thing.  And a candidate can have a real tough time trying to recenter himself/herself from such a drastic move.  Without the independent voter, a candidate cannot win the general election, so why leave them out of the process entirely?  It is imperative that those voters have a say in who the candidates are especially if they are going to be called upon to vote for that candidate in the general election.  Semi-closed primaries/caucuses solve that problem by allowing independents and non-partisan (undeclared) voters participate.

The next biggest problem with our primaries/caucuses is the calendar itself.  It’s usually spread from January – June… though the parties did try to start later this year, but Florida moved up it’s election so other states had to move up theirs.  Since 1972, Iowa has held the first caucus of the election year and New Hampshire has held the first primary since 1920 (state law requires it to be the first primary).  Other states soon follow, and the media begin to talk about momentum coming out of each state.  In this ordeal, the list of candidates for both parties usually starts to dwindle once the first set of votes start being counted.  Thus, in elections that are held later usually don’t have much of a choice in who the nominee is going to be.  They are usually stuck with who’s left.  So all the states try to congregate near the beginning  so that they can have an equal say in who each nominee is going to be.  This can be quite chaotic and a mess… and quite expensive for candidates that don’t have as much national notoriety or huge money chests as other candidates (who are usually termed front-runners even before votes are cast).

There have been several plans to revamp the primary/caucus calendar throughout recent years, but each of them have a flaw of one sort or another.  One of the biggest is money and travel.  (You can read those here.)  Our calendar should be competitive and allow for those without national notoriety to actually have a chance in getting the nomination.  As the process goes on, sometimes we find out that we like Candidate B (who wasn’t widely known when the elections started) more than Candidate A (who we’ve known as the front-runner even before voting began anywhere).  But usually by the time this is figured out, Candidate A has already run away with things, and the matchup for the general election is already known before even half of the states have voted.  Sounds like a problem to me.

So are the problems fixable?  Of course they are… though most, if not all, still have flaws.  The thing is to make the flaws spread out equally among all the candidates.  First thing that should be done is that all states should go to a form of a closed primary/caucus so that not only can party members select their candidate, but independents (and undeclared/non-partisan) voters can participate by voting for the candidate they want, too.  The second prong of this equation is the most complicated.  As I stated earlier, there have been many revision plans for the current primary/caucus calendar.  All of which have been defeated someway.  (You can read up on them here.)  My personal favorite is the Balanced Primary System, which is down near the bottom.  It’s cost effective and can work for the lesser-known candidates and more widely-known candidates.  Another option to put with this plan could be to have voting in states only once or twice a month… that way momentum gained in one set of elections might not carry to the next set.  And no primary/caucus should be winner take all in terms of delegates.  Delegates should be awarded on a representative scale as to the percentage of vote.  The one exception being if a candidate receives at least 51% of the vote in a given state (while there are more than two candidates running).  And each group of states must represent different parts of the country (Northeast, South, Midwest, and West) and have a wider-range of the voting populace from more liberal states to more conservative states to the more independent states.  Again, the objective is to make it fair and competitive within each party and for voters of all sorts to have a say in the candidate they wish to see vote for.

As a quick little note here at the end, Americans Elect is doing things a bit differently.  They are an organization working to get a third party candidate on the ballot in all 50-states.  There is no party affiliation with them.  They are working to nominate from the Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and the various third-parties in the country.  As it gets closer to their June convention (which will be held online), their list grows longer instead of shorter as it works to give its delegates a complete voice in who they wish to see run.  There is no state-by-state primary or caucus.  All the voting is done on the day of it’s online convention.  It’s an idea that is definitely modern and might actually work for them… but I doubt it would work for the major political parties though I’m not saying it couldn’t.  Any thoughts on such a move that would allow voters across the country to determine their party candidates on one day… the day of that party’s national convention instead of the current state-by-state system?

SIDENOTE:
There is also something called the Nonpartisan Blanket Primary in which all the candidates appear on the same ballot and the two highest voted candidates proceed to a runoff regardless of party affiliation.  This is good for those voters that don’t just vote for one party or the other and spread out their votes. The state of Louisiana uses this method in some of its elections, though there is only a runoff if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.

Americans Elect

It is no secret that the electorate here in United States is not happy with our government.  It’s not so much how are government is set up that is the problem, it’s the two political parties that dominate the landscape.  It has devolved into a duocracy.  One has to be a Democrat or a Republican to seek office within Congress or to run for President.  Every once in awhile, an Independent candidate can sneak into a seat in the House of Representatives.  But the two major parties cater to one set demographic each… their core constituents.  This leaves moderates in the parties and those that are independents left on the outside.  It is only during a general election that candidates will change their tone and move toward the center to pick up that demographic which is crucial for victory.

Seeing upon how little our government has been working as of late, and on how “compromise” has become a dirty word, no one seems to be listening to the voice of the people and what we say.  (see previous blog)  Is this a new thing?  Not really.  But we have grown weary of the inaction by our government to step up and take control over the big issues of the day… regulations that make sense, fair taxes, term limits for Congress, cuts in government spending and bringing down the debt, and entitlement reforms… among many other things.  To each of us, each of these things means something different and the solutions are just as diverse as the population.  However which way you look at them, the elected officials usually dig their heals into their party platforms and refuse to budge on anything (except maybe a crumb here and there).  It gets nothing accomplished because no one wants to work together and get these issues taken care of.  They are afraid of appearing weak in front of their voting base, though in the end, they look week to a larger portion of Americans.

Back in May 2010, a new poll showed that 31% of Americans favored a third political party.  This may in part explain the rise of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party during that year’s election cycle.  However, favor for the Tea Party has fallen since then.  My guess to that is because they are seen as the primary obstacle for getting anything done because they refuse to work with anyone.  They are basically the children within Congress.  You either have to play by their rules or they aren’t playing.  My overall point, though, is that Americans are growing more and more eager to support a third-party candidate… someone to shake up the system.

Third-party candidates usually don’t fare well on the national scene.  Ross Perot got 19% of the popular vote in 1992 as an Independent, and Theodore Roosevelt came in 2nd place (in front of current President William Howard Taft) in 1912 as Progressive.  Other candidates have just become spoilers to the main two candidates, and that is seen as one of the biggest drawbacks to supporting a third-party candidate.  If a candidate doesn’t come from the Democratic or Republican parties, they are seen us unelectable, so rather than support the candidate that they really want, a voter will go vote for the candidate of the major party that they want so the other guy doesn’t win.  And to me, that is no way to be voting at all.  With the call for a third-party the highest its been in years and maybe decades, the time is now for voters to actually vote for a different party other than a Democrat or Republican.  The other hard part is that Democrats and Republicans are usually guaranteed spots on every state ballot (and DC) automatically.  A third-party candidate has to file in each state and go through each state’s rules for filing.  This is something that gears the process toward the two main parties.

Even the primary process for determining who the nominee will be to run for President for each party disenfranchises people.  Some are closed to only those that are within the party.  And the process is aimed at front runners, narrowing the field, and choosing from those that only wish to seek the office.  Independents are left out… and it should be us that determines who we want to run our country.  Back in the founding days of our nation, men like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, etc., didn’t actively run for President.  In fact, most said they didn’t want to be; however, if the people chose them, they would do as they were asked in service of their country.  To run for President as we do now was seen an un-gentleman-like and the first sign that someone shouldn’t be President.  (They usually had surrogates do the campaigning for them so they could keep their hands clean.)

There is something new for next year though.  It’s called Americans Elect (website), and it’s determined to give the people more of a say in an actual third-party candidate.  They are listening to the people over the importance of issues and where we stand on them.  And they are already hard at work to get their candidate on the ballot in every state and DC.  There are only certain states that will allow a candidate to file to get on a ballot this early, but Americans Elect are already on  in 11 states and almost done in California.  The rest are ready to filed next year once they are able to.  This would clear the way for a third-party candidate to get on the ballot in each state and remove a major obstacle.  The other hitch is this… whoever runs for President and Vice President on this ticket, must come from different sides of the aisle (Democrat and Republican or vice versa, Democrat and Independent or vice versa, Republican and Independent or vice versa.)  It’s an interesting concept… and one that is trying to listen to the populace and rise above political ideology.  Third party candidates are considered as well (i.e. Green Party, Libertarian Party, etc.).  For the moderates, independents, and those wanting a real third political party, this might just be the option.  The nominating process is done by all the people online… and even the nominating convention is done online rather than wasting tons of money at a four-day event.  Even the two major political parties that make up our duocracy are taking notice of this new movement and are already addressing it.

Regardless of which candidate any of us choose to support, I think it’s important to remember that we should have more choices than just the two party system.  No, I don’t think we should have a ballot that has so many names that it becomes a pamphlet, but still more than two.  And it is not right not to vote for a third-party candidate just because you don’t want a different candidate to win of a major party.  It’s time we wake up and start voting for candidates that we actually want to vote for and give them a chance at victory instead of just throwing our vote away to a major political party/ideology that has shut out most of the voices in this country.  As I have watched the Republican primary unfold, I have seen and heard nothing that has given me any confidence that any of them are up to the task that would be set upon them should they win.  And as for the Democratic primary, there isn’t even a choice since no one is challenging the current President… which again leaves even parts of its own party without a voice.  This is not the way we should be electing our leaders here in the 21st century, and it is time to shake up the system.  I will be watching the Americans Elect process next year as it unfolds… as I will be doing with the other parties as well.  This could be a major opportunity to jump start a real third-party onto the national scene and bring about candidates that we want rather than ones that are just out their seeking it on their own and begging us for a vote that means nothing to them in the end.

LINK:
Americans Elect 

ARTICLE:
http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/16/group-clears-path-for-a-third-party-ticket/

SITE NOTE:
Have you checked out the new 2012 Election pages here on In Declaration…?  We have the overview page which will list the candidates and other information, and we have two sets of Primary/Caucus pages that list each primary/caucus by date.  So check them out today if you haven’t already.  All pages will be kept up to date as the 2012 election unfolds.

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