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All Eyes on the U.S. Senate Prize in 2020 – “Sunday Political Brunch” - July 28, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – There is a temptation to write about Robert Mueller’s testimony this week but, a) everyone else is writing about it, and, b) he really didn’t offer anything new, and there was certainly no bombshell testimony. Instead, I’m keeping an eye on what I believe is a bigger story concerning the 2020 election, and that is who will control the U.S. Senate? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“By the Numbers” – Right now Republicans control the U.S. Senate 53 to 47. They made gains in the 2018 election when Democrats were defending 26 seats, while Republicans had to defend only nine. It was a big advantage for Republicans, because the fewer seats you must defend, the less vulnerable your majority. Fast forward to 2020 and Republicans have the exact opposite problem. They are defending 22 seats, while Democrats are defending just 12. A net gain of four seats (or even just three), will put the Democrats in charge. That would be huge politically. Think Barack Obama in 2008, when Democrats won the White House, House and Senate. That’s how they got the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” passed in 2010.

“Divided Government” – Certainly another scenario is that President Trump wins reelection, his party keeps the Senate, but Democrats hold the House (our landscape now). Two possibilities occur here: gridlock where nothing gets done, or meaningful compromise on issues such as immigration reform. Another scenario is Trump wins reelection, Democrats hold the House and take control of the Senate (a real possibility). Under that scenario, you’d see more Executive Orders, more foreign travel and focus (where Congress has a weak voice), and probably no meaningful joint White House-Congressional domestic legislation.

“Safety in Numbers” – Incumbency, (based on name recognition), is really the strongest weapon in politics. Incumbents in both parties usually win about 96 percent of the time. With that in mind, various polls are ranking 16 of the 34 Senate races as “safe” for the incumbents, which includes 10 Republicans and six Democrats. Among the most vulnerable seats are where an incumbent retires and gives up a safe seat. In 2020 Republicans are vacating seats in Tennessee and Kansas, while an incumbent Democrat in New Mexico is giving up a safe seat.

“Unsafe at Any Speed” – I spoke about the strength of incumbency, but when is an incumbent the most vulnerable? The answer is after just one term. That’s especially true in the House of Representatives, but it can play that way in the Senate, too. Voters often “kick the tires” in the first term and if they don’t like the result, an incumbent can be toast! Again, this favors Democrats in 2020 because seven Republicans up for reelection are just finishing their first terms, whereas only three Democrats are first-termers. Now, once you win a second term you can probably be in Congress for life if you avoid scandal!

“What if I Get Promoted?” – Believe it or not, seven sitting Democratic U.S. Senators are running for president right now. That’s 14 percent of the party’s caucus. Why is this important? Well, it’s possible some of these senators could be elected president, vice president, or both. If that happens, the governor in most states has the power to replace the senator by appointment. If Sen. Kamala Harris (D) California wins, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) California will surely pick a fellow Democrat to replace Harris in the Senate. But what if Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) Massachusetts is elected president or vice president? Well, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) Massachusetts is free to pick a fellow Republican to replace Democrat Warren in the Senate. This complicates the balance of power even further.

“Fuzzy, but Fun Math!” – Okay, this is about to get fun! CNBC did a great article about the nine most vulnerable U.S. Senators in 2020. It’s worth a read: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/21/top-senate-races-in-2020-election-includ... I post this because three of the most vulnerable are Democrats, while six are Republican. Let’s just assume the opposing party wins each race, and all other races stay status quo in terms of party. Guess what, that would give us a 50-50 split in the U.S. Senate!

“Why All of this Matters?” – If we have a 50-50 tie in the U.S. Senate, the party that wins the White House also controls the Senate! That’s because according to the Constitution, the Vice President of the United States is also President of the U.S. Senate. The VP is the tie-breaker, and in that case the party in power appoints all committee chairs and controls the calendar and agenda. Folks, this is a very real possibility next year. Democrats can control the Senate with just a net gain of three seats, plus they must win the presidential race. A lot is at stake!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five surrounding states and most of the Washington, D.C. television market. He is a National Contributing Writer for the White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2019, Mark Curtis media, LLC

Photo courtesy: C-SPAN.org

A Summer Political Hodge-Podge – “Sunday Political Brunch” July 21, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – We’re in a heat wave across the central U.S. It’s brutal, but the crazy political developments just keep on, “keepin’ on” as Campaign 2020 heats up even more. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Send Her Back!” – The weirdest political mantra of the week came from another President Trump tweet. The president is locked in a war of words with four Congresswoman over various administration policies, but particularly on the issue of immigration reform. They are: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) New York, Ilhan Omar (D) Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib (D) Michigan and Ayanna Pressley (D) Massachusetts. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” The president’s problem is simply factual. All four of the women are U.S. citizens, and three were born here. Omar is from Somalia but immigrated to the U.S. as a political refugee seeking asylum.

“The Fallout” – While President Trump had factual problems with this story, so too, did Democrats, many of whom called the tweet “racist.” Ocasio-Cortez is Latina, an ethnicity, not a race. Tlaib is a Palestinian-Muslim, an ethnicity and religion, but again, not a race. Omar and Pressley are both African-American, so maybe the president has some racial issues there. But most criticism leveled at Omar is because she’s a Muslim, a religion not a race. Folks, I’m not splitting hairs here, because facts and language matter. Critics of President Trump might be right on target calling the president’s remarks bigoted, prejudiced, or xenophobic. But they undercut their own arguments by mislabeling the product.

“Why All This Matters?” – We’ve had a week of name-calling in Washington, D.C., and then chants of, “Send her back” on the campaign trail. What, do we banish these women back to Minnesota, Michigan, New York and Massachusetts? At the same time four critical issues were neglected or failed on Capitol Hill. They were rescuing pensions for coal miners, raising the minimum wage, immigration reform, and increasing health care benefits for emergency workers injured on September 11, 2001. “We’ve heard facilities on the U.S. border called concentration camps. We’ve seen the far-left throw accusations of racism,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R) Kentucky – Majority Leader. Senator Joe Manchin (D) West Virginia, countered by telling me, “I mean this is ridiculous for us to get into name-calling, starting at the highest level and going all the way down. People elected to positions of leadership. This is not leadership.”

“He’s OUT!” – I don’t know him well, but I’ve met Rep. Eric Swalwell (D) California when he was on the Dublin City Council near where I lived and later represented the Congressional District where I used to live. At 38, he has quite a future ahead of him, so dropping out of the 2020 Democratic presidential field will be no strike against him. His most memorable line in the Democratic debate last month was when he said it was time for former Vice President Joe Biden to move on. "I was 6 years old when a presidential candidate came to the California Democratic convention (in 1987) and said it's time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans," said Swalwell. "That candidate was then-Sen. Joe Biden." Ouch!

“The Impact?” – Obviously the line did not help Swalwell. He’s out of the race, but Biden is still in. Still, it raises again what I call the generational fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. People are faced with choosing Biden, Sen Bernie Sanders (I) Vermont, or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) Massachusetts who are all 65-plus, or younger candidates such as Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) South Bend, Indiana (in his 30s) or Sen. Kamala Harris (D) California (in her 50s). Do voters want new blood or old faces? Stay tuned!

“He’s IN!” – I don’t know newly announced Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, but I know his brother Jim through many interviews with his West Coast organization, “Common Sense Media.” The Steyers are well-educated, wealthy business people who have been politically active for years. I know people say it’s not fair, but bigger wallets usually get a bigger political megaphone. Tom Steyer will appeal to the anti-politician wing of the electorate. He’s a smart guy, with lots of fresh ideas, who might gain some traction through ad buys, social media, etc. Keep an eye on him!

“You Can’t Make this Stuff Up!” – Former Rep. Mark Sanford (R) South Carolina, has hinted he may challenge President Trump for the Republican nomination. Sanford is the former South Carolina Governor who got caught having an affair with his Argentine mistress. He claimed he spent a lost weekend hiking the Appalachian Trail, when in fact he was on a torrid getaway in Buenos Aries. He finished his two-terms as governor and was later reelected to Congress despite all his personal baggage. He was then voted out of office by a pro-Trump Republican candidate in 2018. Politicians, like cats, may have nine lives!

“Here We Go Again!” – CNN has announced its debate line up in two weeks, featuring ten Democratic candidates on July 30 and another batch of ten on July 31. Does this sound familiar? It’s very much the same as the MSNBC debates at the end of June in Miami. The only change on stage is the departure of the above-mentioned Rep. Eric Swalwell (D) California. He’ll be replaced by Gov. Steve Bullock (D) Montana. Bullock, who supports new energy development, while still backing the fossil fuel industry – coal is still huge in his state – will be an interesting voice on the energy issue in this debate.

“What Say the Polls?” – There was a lot of fanfare after the MSNBC debate where initially Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders dropped, while Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren surged. Well, time has leveled things out a bit. The latest Real Clear Politics Composite Poll has the race: Biden still leads with 28.4 percent, followed by Bernie Sanders with 15 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 14.6 percent and Kamala Harris with 12.6 percent. The rest of the candidates remain way back in the pack. But some like Mayor Pete at 4.8 percent remain potentially viable.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five surrounding states and most of the Washington, D.C media market. He is a National Contributing Reporter for The White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images.

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