US midterm elections

Democrats still favoured but unlikely to win Senate control

Democratic Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke being interviewed by a young supporter after a campaign rally in Dallas, Texas, last Saturday. Democrats are hoping that Mr O'Rourke might be able to knock Republican Ted Cruz off his Senate seat.
Democratic Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke being interviewed by a young supporter after a campaign rally in Dallas, Texas, last Saturday. Democrats are hoping that Mr O'Rourke might be able to knock Republican Ted Cruz off his Senate seat.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • With key US elections just over two weeks away, polls suggest that the anticipated "blue wave" of Democratic voters might not be as powerful as it had seemed just a few months ago.

Democrats, while still favoured overall, have been unable to build a decisive edge over President Donald Trump's Republicans, meaning that Mr Trump might avoid the severe electoral slap-down the opposition party had hoped to inflict.

Republicans have controlled Washington politics since the 2016 presidential election. Besides the White House, they hold a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives and a narrow but important edge in the Senate (51 to 49).

This could change on Nov 6, when the 435 seats in the House and one-third of those in the Senate (35) will be in play, along with numerous state and local positions.

After a multitude of marches, demonstrations and angry protests that followed Mr Trump's surprise presidential victory, this will be the first chance for US voters angered by the real estate billionaire's policies and personal behaviour to express themselves at the ballot box.

But it will also be the first chance for those thrilled by the nation's strong economy and full employment, as well as Mr Trump's conservative court appointments, to show support for the President.

"The Democrats seem less and less likely to win the Senate," said Professor David Lublin at American University in Washington.

If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, the chances that Mr Trump might be impeached drop sharply because senators have the final word.

Mr Trump could also continue pushing through his conservative judicial nominees, especially if there is another opening in the powerful Supreme Court, the final legal arbiter on the country's biggest and most socially sensitive questions.

"Democrats have lots of opportunities in the House, but not really the Senate," said Mr Kyle Kondik, managing editor of a non-partisan political newsletter at the University of Virginia Centre for Politics.

 
 

"The House and the Senate always seemed likely to produce somewhat differing outcomes, which complicates a 'blue wave' narrative."

If Democrats do take control of the House, they will be in a position to launch vigorous inquiries into the Trump administration's policies and behaviour, and to block Republican-backed laws from being passed, including a vote on the federal Budget - essentially giving them the leverage to paralyse Washington.

With an avalanche of candidates at all levels, including a historic number of women, and millions of dollars flowing into their coffers, the Democrats have aroused their base. For months, this and expectations of a high voter turnout have led many to believe the party will at least retake the House.

Democrats need to pick up 23 seats if they are to regain the majority, which analysts say is quite likely. But some 30 House races are still deemed too close to allow confident predictions.

The luck of the electoral calendar means Democrats face a greater challenge in the Senate: They have to defend 26 of the 35 seats at stake, several of them in states that voted for Mr Trump in 2016.

This summer, Democrats let themselves dream that their charismatic young Senate candidate in Texas, Mr Beto O'Rourke, might be able to knock Republican Ted Cruz off his seat in that large, deeply conservative state.

But polls have tightened in recent weeks, especially after the bitter fight early this month over conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the US Supreme Court.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2018, with the headline 'Democrats still favoured but unlikely to win Senate control '. Print Edition | Subscribe