• Politics

    The fight for congressional majorities

    WASHINGTON — The 2024 battle for control of Congress is underway in the states, accompanying the accelerating race for the presidency.

    Republicans are preparing to funnel money and staff into a select few Senate races in an effort to flip that chamber back to their control, while Democrats are looking toward the districts President Joe Biden won as their pathway back to the majority in the House.

    The contests are expected to be especially close, with the state and national parties spending millions of dollars, all against the backdrop of the presidential campaigns.

    It’s possible that the House and Senate will continue to be split between the parties, but political observers see the prospect of a big switch. If current trends continue through the year, the Senate could well swing from Democratic to Republican control, and the House could flip from the GOP to Democrats.

    The margins are tight. House Democrats only need a gain of five seats to regain power and Senate Republicans only need two, come November.

    The 2024 Senate map is favorable for Republicans, who are defending 11 seats compared to 23 for Democrats. The GOP has a decent chance of picking up its two needed seats in states that have voted more conservatively in recent years, such as Ohio and Montana. The two Democratic incumbents there — Sherrod Brown and Jon Tester — will also be campaigning in states that former President Donald Trump easily won in 2016 and 2020.

    In the House, GOP leaders have launched an impeachment inquiry into Biden that could risk reelection chances for the 18 Republicans who represent swing districts carried by Biden.

    Republicans are also going up against new redistricting maps in the South. Democrats are favored to pick up three seats there — Alabama, Florida and Louisiana — and potentially gain anywhere from two to six GOP-held seats in New York.

    House Republicans have struggled all year to govern with their slim majority, and to unify behind a Republican speaker of the House. It took Kevin McCarthy 15 rounds of votes to win the gavel last January. Then, 10 months later, eight Republicans and Democrats voted to remove him from the position. 

    That move was not only followed by three weeks of infighting, but any legislative work — including advancing government funding by a quickly approaching deadline — was halted. House Republicans finally tapped Rep. Mike Johnson from Louisiana as their speaker.

    House GOP fate seen tied to presidential race

    Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales notes in his latest ratings that “Republicans still have a narrow advantage to maintain their majority, but the presidential race hovers over the entire fight for the House.”

    “If the race for the White House is competitive, then the fight for the House should be a close, district-by-district battle,” Gonzales said. “But if the presidential race turns into a lopsided affair, then the presidential winner will likely bring the House majority with them.”

    With a recent expulsion of GOP freshman George Santos, who was plagued by scandal, and McCarthy’s early retirement, the balance of power for House Republicans is now 220-213. That means Johnson can only afford to lose three GOP members on party-line votes.

    The first year of the 118th Congress also didn’t involve much governing to tout on the campaign trail.

    So far, only 34 bills and resolutions have become law out of 724 votes this year. In 2022, for comparison, 549 votes were held and 248 bills and resolutions became law, according to the Clerk of the House.

    The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter rates 25 House races as “toss ups,” with 15 of those seats held by Republicans and 10 by Democrats.

    Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the UVA Center for Politics projected in late December that in the House, “court rulings in key redistricting cases, coupled with the political fallout from the Republicans’ internal chaos, gives Democrats a fighting chance to recapture the lower chamber.”

    The report, from Thomas F. Schaller, noted that “one has to go back to the late 1800s to find an instance of divided government taking the form of a Republican Senate and a Democratic president and House.”

    “Since 1968, all five of the other six possible permutations of divided government have occurred except Republicans controlling just the Senate,” he wrote.

    Another challenge for House Republicans is that Johnson for the first time is tasked with raising millions of dollars for the party. Last year, McCarthy raised about $24 million for the GOP’s political action committee, according to Open Secrets.

    Redrawn districts

    The majority could be made with a handful of races. Several federal court orders require the redrawing of congressional districts that will boost Democrats’ chances of flipping seats.

    However, that’s not the case for North Carolina. The delegation is split between seven Republicans and seven Democrats, but the GOP-controlled state legislature adopted a map that greatly favors Republicans.

    Under the new North Carolina map, it’s expected that Republicans are favored for 10 seats and Democrats three. One seat held by a Democrat is rated as a “toss up,” according to The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.

    Several Democrats — Reps. Jeff Jackson, Wiley Nickel and Kathy Manning — have announced they would not seek reelection, arguing that they were gerrymandered out of their seats.

    However, a coalition of voting rights groups and several Black voters filed a lawsuit against that new map. The suit, following another earlier, argues that the new map violates federal law under the Voting Rights Act by racially gerrymandering seats in the state legislature and congressional districts.

    But the new map that favors Republicans in North Carolina could be offset by the New York map.

    A recent ruling from New York’s highest court has Democrats eyeing two to six current GOP swing districts that Biden won, making the state a battleground for the 2024 elections. The current New York delegation is made up of 15 Democrats and 11 Republicans.

    A new congressional seat in Alabama is rated as “likely Democrat,” according to The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.

    Additionally, Louisiana was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to draw a second majority-Black district before the 2024 elections that will likely favor Democrats. Republicans currently hold five of the six congressional seats in Louisiana.

    Will it be a GOP Senate?

    Republicans are on track to regain control of the Senate, though Democrats in red states hope to hold them off against the odds.

    The West Virginia Senate seat currently held by Joe Manchin III is highly expected to shift to GOP control after the centrist Democrat retires. 

    Republican Gov. Jim Justice and Rep. Alex Mooney are among the leading candidates in the Republican primary, scheduled for May 14.

    In Montana, the Republican primary on June 4 will determine who faces Tester in the general election. And Ohio voters will choose on March 19 which GOP Senate candidate moves onto the November ballot.

    Arizona is another pickup opportunity for Republicans.

    Sen. Kyrsten Sinema narrowly won as a Democrat six years ago, but she’s since switched her affiliation to independent. And she hasn’t yet said if she’ll run for reelection, leaving Democrats unclear about whether she could pull votes away from their official nominee. The primary is set for Aug. 6.

    The Arizona, Montana and Ohio Senate races are all rated as “toss ups” by The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.

    Another four races for seats currently held by Democrats are rated as “lean Democrat,” meaning those campaigns are considered “competitive,” though “one party has an advantage.”

    The 11 Senate seats that Republicans will defend in November are rated as either likely or solid Republican, meaning they aren’t considered “competitive.”

    Democrats currently hold 48 seats in the Senate, though two other independents, Maine’s Angus King and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, are reliable blue votes, as is Sinema. That effectively gives Democrats a 51-seat majority.

    Republicans hold the other 49 seats, meaning they’ll need at least two pickups to regain control of the floor and committees.

    While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, would very much like to become majority leader once again, there’s always the possibility of another 50-50 split.

    That would leave Senate control up to the presidential election, since Democrats held the majority during the first two years of the Biden administration thanks to the power given to Vice President Kamala Harris under the Constitution to break tie votes.

    Money, money, money

    As is the case with nearly all modern elections, results will come down to turnout and fundraising.

    Following the money has become somewhat complicated, given all candidates have their personal campaign accounts, many have political action committees, or PACs, and the political parties have their own central fundraising committees.

    That alphabet soup includes the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee in the Senate. In the House, it’s the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee.

    Open Secrets, the nonpartisan nonprofit organization that closely tracks campaign spending, reports the amount of money spent to win election to the House and the Senate has risen considerably.

    Candidates winning a seat in the House spent on average about $840,000 in 2000, but that price tag has steadily increased ever since, reaching $1.4 million in 2010 and $2.8 million in 2022.

    Politicians hoping to become a U.S. senator have experienced a similar trend, though the cost of winning is significantly higher for the upper chamber.

    Senators spent about $7.3 million on average to win election in 2000, before that figure rose to $9.8 million in 2010 and $26.5 million during the 2022 elections.

    Campaign spending can go much higher than that average, especially when Republicans and Democrats hone in on a few races in attempts to flip a chamber to their party’s control.

    Senate candidates in Georgia spent $255 million during the 2022 cycle. In Pennsylvania, another competitive race, candidates spent $167 million. And in Florida, they spent $130 million, according to Open Secrets.

    The most expensive House election during 2022 was in California’s 47th District, where candidates spent nearly $32 million. Democrat Katie Porter, who is now running for Senate in the primary, won that race.

    The 14th Congressional District in Georgia came in second, with candidates spending nearly $30 million. Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene ultimately won that seat.

    The third-and-fourth-most expensive House races were in the California districts held by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and McCarthy.

    House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, had the fifth-most-expensive House race in the state’s 1st Congressional District. Candidates there spent more than $20 million.

    With control of the House, Senate and White House all in front of voters this November, it’s likely that campaign spending records will be set once again.

    This article in this post was originally published on Tennessee Lookout and parts of it are included here under a Creative Commons license CC BY-ND 4.0

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