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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.

But regardless of whether he retains control of the Senate, the bigger question for Reid is whether the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will be friend or foe. Losing the majority would sting less if President Barack Obama wins another term and can provide a backstop against GOP rule of both chambers.

If GOP nominee Mitt Romney becomes president, Reid could find himself isolated as the highest-ranking Democrat in Washington, D.C. His caucus would be the only thing that could throw up roadblocks to the GOP’s agenda.

That will be true whether Reid is leader of the majority or the minority because, at a minimum, Democrats will likely retain enough seats for a filibuster.

While being thrust into the minority under a President Romney is the worst-case scenario for Reid, it is a role he excelled at before. He was the attack dog against President George W. Bush as both Minority Leader and Majority Leader during Bush’s second term.

Reid on Friday signaled that he wouldn’t back down from such a return gig. “Mitt Romney’s fantasy that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass his ‘severely conservative’ agenda is laughable,” Reid said in a statement.

Being the loyal opposition might even be easier for Reid than if he and Obama retain power for the next four years. Having to govern in a still-gridlocked Congress is likely to be a far more difficult proposition.

— Emily Pierce

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Minority Leader

After today, Mitch McConnell hopes to be changing his title from Minority Leader to Majority Leader.

The job should have been the Kentucky Republican’s for the taking, given a Senate map this cycle that heavily favored his party. But missteps by GOP candidates might have put his goal out of reach.

Either way, McConnell’s outlook will be shaped primarily by who wins the presidency.

If voters today endorse the status quo, McConnell will be faced with whether to recalibrate his caucus’ strategy of blocking President Barack Obama’s agenda. He famously vowed to make Obama a one-term president, but with that issue off the table, sources in both parties have said compromise between the two might be more likely.

Of course, McConnell has been moving aggressively since 2010 to ensure that he does not draw a primary challenger in his own 2014 race for re-election. That political reality might affect how he approaches deals with Obama and Senate Democrats, regardless of whether he’s in the minority or the majority.

If Obama wins re-election but Republicans manage to snag the Senate majority, McConnell would be able to press ­— along with a GOP-controlled House — an aggressive Republican agenda, despite the likely dead end at the White House.

That would position the GOP for the 2014 campaign, which again favors Republicans, and also for what would be an open-seat race for president in 2016.

A Romney White House, however, would make McConnell’s job easier, because Republicans would look to the White House to set the agenda and tone. Things such as the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank financial sector law would likely be targeted, even if McConnell and Romney would have trouble succeeding in the face of near-certain Democratic filibusters.

— Humberto Sanchez

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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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