It looks increasingly possible that control of Congress will be split for another two years.
With one week to go before Election Day, Republicans are primed to retain a majority in the House, even as their margin will almost surely be cut. Senate control remains too close to call, although momentum has been on the Democrats’ side at least since the national conventions two months ago.
All of these races must be viewed in the context of a presidential contest that’s been a pure tossup for the past month. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s sustained bump in the polls since his first debate with President Barack Obama on Oct. 3 breathed new life into Republicans’ Senate prospects and dashed any long-shot Democratic hopes of netting the 25 seats needed to retake the House this cycle.
While a solid number of GOP Members of Congress are probably not coming back, Republicans have been on offense in a number of races from New England to California. Democrats are poised to gain only a handful of seats — probably somewhere in the single-digit range.
The Senate landscape has been far more fluid, with states such as Pennsylvania emerging onto the competitive playing field in the past month. The opportunities are certainly there for Republicans to win, which is why few are counting them out just yet. But given the GOP’s own potential loss of seats and candidate missteps in eminently winnable states such as Missouri, Democrats are more optimistic than ever that a narrow majority is theirs for another two years.
In the House, the decennial redistricting process benefited Republicans, who were able to tweak a number of GOP-held seats to be less competitive. Along with having plenty of their own incumbents to defend, that’s part of the reason Democrats have always had a steep uphill slog to take back the Speaker’s gavel.
The overall political environment, the largest single contributing factor to the House landscape, has remained as starkly neutral as the presidential election is bitterly close. Unlike 2006, 2008 and 2010, no partisan wave ever formed. That has been to Republicans’ significant advantage, as Democrats have tried to position themselves to find a path to 218 seats.
Senate races are less influenced by national atmospherics than the House, but this cycle the majority will be won or lost in a cross-section of presidential battleground states and states where the incumbent must overperform the top of the ticket. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is hoping to hold off Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) in a state that Romney should win handily, while Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) may have to win around 20 percent of the Democratic vote against Elizabeth Warren (D) in a strong Obama state.
The final week of campaigning in these hard-fought elections kicked off with a bang, at least on the East Coast, as Hurricane Sandy made landfall Monday night. The damage caused by the great storm was expected to be of historic proportions, and its presence affected campaign plans up and down the coast.