In case you haven't heard, there are going to be important elections in a couple of months, elections that could make a huge difference in the future of our nation, including recognition of our right to bear arms. The Democratic Party currently controls the White House and has a majority in the U.S. Senate, while Republicans control the House. The majority party controls the floor agenda and names chairmen of the committees through which every bill must pass, thus effectively controlling the legislative process.
Control of the Senate is even more important, though, due to its duty to "advise and consent to" the presidential nomination of judges to lifetime terms. Obama will appoint over 100 judges and probably at least one more Supreme Court justice in the next two years. Democrats have drastically lowered the bar for confirmations by eliminating the filibuster against nominees, so the only chance to effectively block anti-rights extremists from the federal bench is for Republicans to control the Senate.
Dissatisfaction with the president and Congress is high. Experts say the Republican majority in the House is secure. We're stuck with this president for another two years, but there is a very good chance of a Republican takeover in the Senate. Republicans must hold onto all of their current seats and flip at least six more seats currently held by Democrats, if they want to become the majority party.
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With incumbent senators historically re-elected at rates of 80 percent to 98 percent, flipping six seats is a pretty tall order. But circumstances give Republicans a slight edge this year. Of the 36 seats up for election this cycle, 21 are currently held by Democrats, while only 15 are held by Republicans. On top of that, five Democrats and two Republicans have announced that they are not going to run for re-election. Four of those open seats are considered easy wins for Republicans, a fifth is leaning Republican, and the other two are considered toss-ups. Add in several incumbents who are clearly much more liberal than the states they represent, and converting six seats looks not only possible, but likely.
While analysts are giving Republicans better than 50/50 odds, much can happen between now and Election Day, and both sides will be pulling out all the stops to win. The key will be which side can motivate the most active volunteers on the ground to educate their friends and neighbors and get people to the polls.
The 12 closest races – the ones where you can have the greatest impact – are as follows. They are listed roughly in order of likelihood of Republican victory.
- Kentucky: I put this one at the top of the list because I think it's on the radar more from wishful thinking than anything else. Even though many conservatives are frustrated with Mitch McConnell – and are expressing that frustration to pollsters – when it comes down to election day, it's very unlikely that the Democrats will dethrone the Senate Republican leader.
- Kansas: Another state that is the Republicans to lose. Incumbent Pat Roberts is facing a strong challenge from Democrat Chad Taylor, but unless Roberts makes some major blunders, he should win handily.
- West Virginia: The first open seat on the list, thanks to the retirement of the most unlikely person to ever represent the "Wild and Wonderful" people of the Mountain State, Jay Rockefeller. Republican Shelly Capito is polling solidly ahead of Democratic rival Natalie Tenant to be the state's first female senator.
- Georgia: An open seat with Republican David Perdue facing Democrat Michelle Nunn – two famous names, but both are white, and without something to drive voter turnout among blacks, Democrats could come up short.
- Iowa: Another open seat with the retirement of Democrat Tom Harkin. Democrats thought they had the seat in the bag, but charisma and smart campaigning are on the side of Republican Joni Ernst over Democrat Bruce Braley. This one could be very close.
- Alaska: Democrat Mark Begich is clinging to a slight lead over Republican challenger Dan Sullivan, but that race has only just begun thanks to a late primary.
- Arkansas: Incumbent Mark Pryor is struggling to retain his seat against Republican Tom Cotton. Pryor has proven that when the chips are down, he'll follow his party down the gun control path, but he has actively tried to hide that fact from the folks back home. He may pay for it.
- North Carolina: Democrat Kay Hagan has played the same game as Arkansas's Pryor. Republican Thom Tillis has a real shot at unseating Hagan this year.
- Colorado: Polls give incumbent Democrat Mark Udall a slight edge over Republican Cory Gardner, but there's plenty of room for error, and plenty of time for Gardner to make up the narrow gap.
- Michigan: Recent polls have Democrat Gary Peters inching up his lead on Republican Terri Land, but if union members decide to put their guns and their country over their union bosses' desires, Land could pull off a surprise.
- New Hampshire: "Live free or die" seems to have lost its meaning with the likely nomination of former Massachusetts senator and pseudo-Republican Scott Brown to challenge incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. If Brown captures the nomination, the big question will be whether disgruntled conservatives will hold their noses in hopes of capturing a Senate majority. [Note: An earlier version of this column gave the impression Brown had already won the Republican nomination. New Hampshire's primary will occur Sept. 9.]
- Louisiana: I place Louisiana last on the list because it will likely be the last race decided. The November election in Louisiana is actually an open primary. Unless someone pulls over 50 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off election in December. If the December election turns out to be the determining factor in the balance of power in the Senate, expect it to be the most expensive Senate race in history.
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All of these races could come down to just a few votes. That means your participation could really make a difference. Whether it's sending money, talking to friends, making phone calls, or just forwarding this column, these are races where you can have a real impact.
Media wishing to interview Jeff Knox, please contact [email protected].