October 25, 2016

Election Cheat Sheet – What to Watch

The 2016 election has been the focal point of the country for the past year. As Americans prepare to head to the polls on Tuesday, November 8, we wanted to provide a quick primer on how the election could impact the balance of power and leadership positions in both chambers of Congress. In addition, we hone in on some key contests that should serve as early indicators as to how the nation will vote that could help get you to bed sooner on Election Day.

The White House

At this point, if you live in Ohio, North Carolina, Florida or Nevada, you do not need a reminder about which states have been identified as “swing states” in this election. The outcome of these four contests, in particular, will go a long way in deciding who will control the White House.

But results in other states could provide early insight into whether or not the election will follow the projections laid out in the most recent polls. For instance, the races in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire were viewed as “toss-ups” before the video of Trump’s comments went public. That revelation has put both states back in the Clinton column, based largely on declining poll numbers among woman voters. An early surprise in either state would suggest that those revelations have not impacted Trump to a significant degree and would set the stage for a very uncertain evening.

It will also be worth watching which states candidates are able to win that are non-traditional for their party. For example, Secretary Clinton has been surprisingly competitive in Georgia, Utah and Arizona. Trump, meanwhile, has out-performed expectations throughout his campaign and claims he will do well in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa.

U.S. Senate

In the Senate, Republicans are clinging to a four seat majority while defending 24 seats to the Democrats’ 10. A Democratic pickup of five seats, or four seats and control of the White House, will flip control of the chamber. The key races that will determine control include:

  • Pennsylvania
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • Florida
  • Indiana
  • Missouri
  • Nevada

Of these races, five are in the Eastern time zone, giving us a jump on where the election is headed. Of those five, North Carolina and Florida are also swing states in the presidential election, so their outcomes will be especially telling.

A majority change is particularly impactful at the committee level, where new leadership would be installed. The committees most likely to be affected by the elections include:

Appropriations Committee: Ranking minority member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is retiring and is expected to make Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) the top Democrat on the committee. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) would remain as chairman in a Republican majority, with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) assuming the top spot in a Democrat majority.

Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs: Sen. Shelby is term-limited, meaning Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) will be the top Republican regardless of outcome. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will be the top Democrat.

Environment & Public Works: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is term-limited and so in a Republican majority, Sen. John Barasso (R-WY) would become chairman with Sen. Shelley Capito (R-WV) being the top Republican in a Democratic majority. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) is expected to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) as the ranking minority member or chair.

Health, Education, Labor & Pensions: Current ranking Democrat Murray is expected to ascend to the top spot on the Appropriations Committee, opening the door for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is expected to retain the top Republican spot.

Homeland Security & Government Affairs: Current Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) is behind in most polling. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) would take the gavel as chairman in a Republican majority, with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) assuming the top Republican spot in a Democrat majority. Sen. Tom Carper is currently the top Democrat but is expected to take the Environment & Public Works Committee spot. If he does, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) would replace him.

Intelligence: Current Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) is in danger of losing his seat. A loss by Burr would put Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) in the top committee spot. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is expected to retain her role as the top Democrat.

House of Representatives

The race for the House of Representatives is expected to be less dramatic. Democrats would need to pick up 30 seats in order to regain control. While gains are expected, Democrats are not likely to flip the majority. However, there is expected to be significant movement in committee leadership in the House as well. Some key areas to watch include:

Appropriations: Current Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY) is term-limited, paving the way for Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ). Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) is expected to remain the top Democrat.

Education & Workforce: Rep. John Kline (R-MN) is retiring and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is expected to become the next top Republican. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) is expected to retain his spot as top Democrat.

Energy & Commerce: Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) is term-limited, setting up a highly contested race between Reps. Greg Walden (R-WA) and John Shimkus (R-IL). Shimkus has seniority; however, Walden leads the National Republican Congressional Committee, and a good performance on Election Day could sway this contest. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) is expected to remain the top Democrat.

Transportation & Infrastructure: Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) is locked in a tight reelection race and his loss could set up a race between Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Sam Graves (R-MO). Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is expected to remain the top Democrat.

Veterans Affairs: Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) is retiring, likely opening up a race between Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Mike Coffman (R-CO). Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) is currently the top Democrat but may be challenged by Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN).

Meet the Authors

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