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Photo Finish: Close Presidential and Congressional Races Could Affirm the Status Quo

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
President Barack Obama delivered his closing argument to voters in the swing state of Virginia this week. No matter who wins the presidential election today, the partisanship of Washington, D.C. isn’t likely to change much.

The 112th Congress, which has only narrowly managed to keep the government open in the past two years, faces its biggest challenge yet during its post-
election session, as it confronts tax increases and automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect at year’s end.

While lawmakers and staffers have been war-gaming post-election strategy for weeks behind the scenes in hopes of setting the stage for a deal, all sides were heading into Election Day talking tough to the press.

A showdown may very well be delayed into the newly elected Congress, which can expect another fight over increasing the federal borrowing limit a few weeks after Members are sworn in.

While both sides could hope for victory in the presidential race and the battle for control of the Senate, the picture was much clearer in the House. That chamber is certain to stay under Republican control. Democrats were unable to generate the partisan wave that would probably have been necessary for the net gain of 25 seats needed to flip the chamber.

Although Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) has insisted since May 2011 that the House is “in play,” Republicans crafted significant structural and strategic advantages that kept that from ever really being the case.

In particular, the GOP benefited from the redistricting process that allowed Republican-controlled state legislatures to shore up many GOP-held districts. And the large number of vulnerable House Democrats — many of whom will lose today after being hammered by the GOP — meant that the real number of seats Democrats needed to win the Speaker’s gavel was significantly higher than 25.

The Senate landscape looks more favorable to Democrats, who have a better-than-even chance of maintaining their majority. The GOP, which looked poised to take over the Senate earlier in the cycle, has had a number of bad breaks over the past year. From the surprise retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), whose replacement is likely to caucus with Democrats, to the “legitimate rape” comment made by Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin, Republicans have watched once-safe GOP seats slip toward the Democratic column. And Democrats have pushed hard to make Senate races in red states, including North Dakota, appear competitive.

Even if they don’t win all of the races where they have been more competitive than expected, Democrats have managed to significantly scramble where Republicans spent their resources and have set up a very different map than anyone expected.

Even if control of neither chamber is reversed today, the complexion of Congress will change. Compromisers in both parties are headed for the exits, either by choice or electoral force.

Moderates such as Snowe and Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) are all retiring. Sen. Scott Brown (R), one of the Senators most willing to buck his party, is an underdog in Democratic Massachusetts.

Conservative Democrats, decimated in the 2010 midterm elections, will see their ranks further thinned today. Blue Dog Reps. Mike Ross (Ark.), Dan Boren (Okla.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.) are all retiring. Others, including Reps. Ben Chandler (Ky.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Leonard Boswell (Iowa) and Larry Kissell (N.C.), face tough re-election efforts today and all could be sent home by voters.

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Election Day Forecast

Election Day weather doesn’t look to be much of a factor in many House and Senate races this cycle, although the fallout from Hurricane Sandy will no doubt hurt turnout in the Northeast.





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