The 2016 presidential race is dominating the public debate, but control of the United States Senate is also up for grabs.
There are a number of tight races going on throughout the country that are ranked as toss ups. For months, some Republican officials have expressed concern that the fissures in the GOP over Donald Trump’s candidacy might hurt down ticket candidates.
More recently, Trump’s sexual misconduct allegations escalated those concerns, but some polling has shown more Republican voters coming home to Trump, as Hillary Clinton shifts from battling Trump to taking on FBI Director James Comey over his letter to Congress about her emails. Indeed, some Republicans in contested seats are starting to criticize their opponents for supporting Hillary and are bringing her emails back into their races, showing there could be a Comey Effect on the battle for the Senate.
RealClearPolitics currently has six Senate races listed as tossups. Two more lean Democratic, one leans Republican, and seven are listed as likely Republican and one as likely Democratic. 270 to win says Democrats need 4 to 5 seats to take control.
There are 9 Senate races worth watching. They will decide control of the Senate because without those seats, the Senate would be split 47-47. Majority takes control. Of those 9 seats, in 4, the Democrat is currently leading in polling averages. However, some other races are in the margin for error. Interestingly, in 5 of the 9 contested races, the Democratic candidates are women, and they have tried to hang the “Trump issue” around the necks of their opponents, all but one of whom are men and who have tried to distance themselves from the Republican nominee to varying degrees.
The current margin in the Senate is 54 Republicans and 45 Democrats with one Independent.
Here’s what you need to know about those 9 races:
Democrat Evan Bayh is running against Republican Todd Young in the Indiana Senate race. Bayh is leading by an average of 3.7 percentage points in RealClearPolitics polling averages. Bayh is a former governor who previously held the seat.
However, the most recent poll only had Bayh up by 2 percentage points, in the margin for error.
Young is a Congressman who is a former Marine who worked for the Heritage Foundation. Bayh has been criticized for missing committee meetings on the Armed Forces when he was a senator before. The race has tightened largely because Republicans have tried to paint Bayh as someone who forgot his Indiana roots after leaving the Senate, instead focusing his energy on profiting from his prominence.
Republicans have claimed Bayh mostly lives in a mansion in Washington D.C., whereas he claims he lives in an Indiana condo. However, when asked for the condo’s address, he got it wrong.
Republican incumbent Pat Toomey is in a tight race in Pennsylvania against Democrat Katie McGinty. Toomey has been trying to rally farmers to his side, and Senator Elizabeth Warren has campaigned for McGinty. Pennsylvania is a swing state where Clinton has a strong lead in the polls compared to some other battleground states.
Toomey has criticized Trump but hasn’t said if he will vote for him, and he’s regarded as working with Democrats on issues such as gun background checks, according to PennLive. Democrats have criticized Toomey over practices at a bank he used to run. McGinty is the former head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and worked for Al Gore and former President Bill Clinton on environmental issues.
Republican Joe Heck and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto are squaring off for an open Nevada Senate seat.
Heck previously disavowed Trump in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country and one likely to be determined by Latino voters in the state, said NPR.
Republican Richard Burr is fighting to keep his seat in a tight race against Democrat Deborah Ross. Burr is up 2.2 percentage points in RealClearPolitics polling averages and was up 4 in the latest poll.
The Washington Post says Ross has benefited from strong early Democratic turnout and support from high-profile Democrats, whereas Burr has dealt with the Trump controversies in addition to the governor’s controversial “decision to sign a state bill blocking local anti-discrimination laws.”
Kelly Ayotta, the Republican incumbent, is in a close race against Democrat Maggie Hassan. Ayotta is ahead in the RealClearPolitics polling average by 2.7%, and Ayotte was up by 6 in the latest poll.
According to National Review, Ayotte was already swimming against the tide; she is one of only two Republican senators out of 12 in New England. Ayotte, the former state Attorney General, is running against Hassan, the New Hampshire governor.
National Review says New Hampshire in polling has shown to be the battleground state where the most people plan to vote for Clinton for president but Republican for Senate. Ayotte has had difficulty dealing with the Trump issue, appearing to call him a role model in a debate before backing off it, and saying she would support but not endorse him, said Bloomberg, adding that Michelle Obama has campaigned in the state for Hassan.
Republican incumbent Roy Blunt is facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Jason Kander.
Blunt is up 1% in the RealClearPolitics polling average, and by 1% in the latest poll.
Kander, who is only 35, and is the secretary of state, is appealing to younger voters and urban ones, while Blunt, 66, the incumbent, appeals to rural and older voters, said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Kander has closed the gap in Missouri and is outperforming Clinton in the state.
Kander was a former military intelligence office in Afghanistan, who has tried to paint the long-time incumbent as a Washington insider in a year where voters seem to be seeking outsiders.
Failed presidential candidate Marco Rubio is fighting to hold onto his Senate seat, but the latest polls have looked hopeful for him. He’s up an average 5.6% against Democrat Patrick Murphy, but the latest poll had Rubio up by 2.
Democrats had recently started to write off the Florida race, but Barack Obama did return to the state recently to campaign for Murphy, criticizing Rubio for his Senate attendance record. Politico says Murphy has underperformed with black and Latino voters. Murphy is a Congressman with a Republican father who is a former Republican with a conservative record in Congress who has been accused of embellishing his resume.
Wisconsin is an unusual state. It has a Republican governor, Republican Attorney General, Republican controlled state Senate and Assembly, and conservative leaning Supreme Court. However, the state has gone blue in recent presidential elections, largely because the larger voter turnout benefits Democrats.
That’s what’s imperiling incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who’s battling a grudge match bid from Democrat Russ Feingold, whom Johnson narrowly defeated to take the seat in the first place. Johnson is a businessman. Johnson is also saddled with the fact that Clinton is doing well in Wisconsin whereas Governor Scott Walker’s approval ratings have been sub 50, and Feingold, who teaches at Stanford as well as being the former incumbent, still enjoys name recognition in the state.
Feingold is up 6.8% in recent RealClearPolitics polling averages, and the most recent poll has Feingold up by 5. The race started tightening somewhat in mid-October, however.
Republican Mark Kirk is being challenged by Democrat Tammy Duckworth. She leads by 7 percentage points and was up by 14 in the most recent poll.
Duckworth lost her legs and part of her arm in the Iraq war; she was born in Thailand but her father is a military veteran who traces his family’s legacy of service back to the American Revolution, according to CNN. CNN said that Kirk has disavowed Trump and ended up apologizing after bringing up Duckworth’s Thai heritage when she brought up her family’s Revolutionary War service during a debate.
Kirk is a former intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve who recovered from a stroke and who previously served in the U.S. House, according to his official biography.
Both candidates use wheelchairs.