The election that will determine control of the Senate is more than seven months away, but independent analysts are increasingly bullish on Republican prospects of gaining the six seats the party needs to win control of the chamber.
Such an outcome would alter the legislative calculus in Washington, assuming the House remains in Republican hands, as most expect. Control of both chambers would allow the party to showcase policy proposals before the 2016 presidential race — and try to undermine the opposition’s ideas.
It would also dramatically change the final two years of Barack Obama’s Democratic presidency, a turnabout that has plagued administrations throughout history.
“The Republicans are at least even money — and maybe a little better than that — at taking over the Senate,” said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
Democratic efforts to maintain control are burdened by relatively low approval ratings for Obama and the Affordable Care Act, as well as demographics favoring Republicans because midterm electorates tend to be older and whiter than in presidential years. Democrats are also defending more seats than Republicans.
The president’s party is also fighting history. The White House’s partisan allies have lost ground in the Senate in 12 of 17 midterm elections since the end of World War II.
“It’s too early to make a precise prediction, except to say that Democrats are nearly certain to lose Senate seats,” said Sam Wang, who since 2004 has used mathematical formulas and polling data to predict elections.
Obama would have a weaker position if Republicans held both the House and Senate, and it would also make it harder for him to get his appointees confirmed. He would also likely spend some of the last two years in office vetoing anti-Obamacare legislation.
“It would cripple the presidency,” Rothenberg said.
As recently as October, Democrats held a six-percentage-point advantage in which party voters prefer to control Congress. After the glitch-plagued rollout of the Affordable Care Act late last year, the two parties are now roughly even on that question.
A bigger threat to Democratic chances than the president’s poll ratings is the playing field. The party has greater exposure to potential losses because they’re defending 21 Senate seats, compared to 15 for Republicans.
“You could almost predict the day after the 2008 elections that the Democrats would be likely to lose some seats in the Senate six years later, just like the Republicans can be expected to lose some seats in 2016 because they won so many seats in 2010,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. “That exposure factor is big for the Democrats this year.”
The states Democrats are trying to keep include seven that Obama lost to GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, including six where he was defeated by at least 13 percentage points.