Democrats are looking to take more than just the White House this year. The map in 2016 is favorable to their hopes of taking back the Senate as well. Of the 34 seats up for grabs in 2016, 24 of them are currently held by Republicans. If Clinton were to win the White House, Democrats only need to flip 4 of those 24 seats to take control (If she loses, Democrats would need to flip five seats).
Despite the favorable map, a story published Thursday at Politico suggests Democrat are worried they could miss their best chance to retake the Senate (more on that below) because they are likely to be outspent:
Republicans are outspending Democrats in key races so far. There’s little indication that Democrats will close the gap as Election Day approaches, and signs the chasm will grow thanks to the longer roster of deep-pocketed outside groups on the right. That’s triggered growing anxiety within the minority party about relinquishing an opening to net the four or five seats they need to recapture the Senate.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has steadily outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee, but the NRSC has slightly more cash on hand. And in an interview, DSCC Chairman Jon Tester of Montana raised a red flag that “these damn super PACs” might be an even bigger factor this year than in recent election cycles.
“We’re poised to compete, but the issue is that we need campaign finance reform badly and there’s going to be a lot of money spent this cycle,” Tester said. “Resources, especially in a presidential year, are finite.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) put it more succinctly: “We’re always outspent. The question is, how much?”
As important as the spending in each race will be, a bigger factor may be the coattails of the presidential candidates. Already we’ve seen Democratic challengers using Trump against their GOP opponents in attack ads. If Trump wins the nomination but struggles in the general election, as some recent polls suggest may be the case, that could make any GOP spending advantage irrelevant.
The good news for Republicans, in addition to the spending advantage, is that 2018 will be a very different year when it comes to the Senate map. A January story at Roll Call pointed this out:
If Democrats don’t retake the Senate majority this year, they face the prospect of a long winter in the minority, because the 2018 map puts them at a severe disadvantage that could leave them even further from the majority and any pick-up opportunities for the foreseeable future.
Just as this year’s Senate field offers ample opportunity for Democrats to pick up seats, the next election is stacked for the Republicans, and the one that follows has limited possibilities for Democratic gains.
2018 is virtually a mirror image of this year’s political map, with Democrats defending 25 seats and Republicans eight. “The map’s not good for Republicans this year, but it flips and won’t be good for Democrats next time around,” former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told Roll Call in a recent conversation about how the Senate majority tends to change fairly frequently.
So if Republicans can hold the line this year, they have a good chance to hold or expand their majority in the next 4-6 years. But the fate of the Senate for the next two years could all come down to how well the GOP nominee does against Hillary Clinton.