Once Unthinkable, Senate Looks Like a Tossup in 2018

At this time last year, the Democratic path to Senate control seemed impossible: Hold all of the Democratic seats, flip Arizona and Nevada, then hope for a miracle.

The Democrats got the political version of a miracle on Tuesday. Doug Jones’s victory in Alabama means Democrats have accomplished the most difficult item on their checklist in pursuit of the Senate. A Democratic path is now obvious, and the race for control is basically a tossup, perhaps with a Republican advantage.

It is hard to overstate how surprising this would have seemed a year ago. Democrats needed three states to flip control of the Senate, but they entered the cycle defending 25 seats (two of them independents) to the G.O.P.’s eight. Of those Democratic seats, a staggering 10 of them were in states that chose Donald J. Trump for president, including five that he carried by at least 18 percentage points.

Only one Republican, Dean Heller, represented a state (Nevada) won by Hillary Clinton. Jeff Flake’s seat in Arizona was also plausibly competitive after Mr. Trump’s tepid 3.5-point win in the state, but it was hard to find the third Democratic seat. Perhaps the next best Democratic opportunity was against Ted Cruz in Texas — a long shot at best.

But the Republican position has steadily deteriorated throughout the year. Most obviously, Mr. Trump’s weak approval ratings have decidedly shifted the national political environment. The party’s two most vulnerable seats — those held by Mr. Heller and Mr. Flake — became much more vulnerable. Mr. Flake said he wouldn’t run for re-election, while Mr. Heller came out of the health care debate badly damaged and facing a primary challenge.

 

 

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