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With the new governors in Frankfurt, Ky., and Baton Rouge, La., settling into their mansions and the off-year elections of 2015 officially in the books, it’s time to begin looking forward to the 2016 campaign. In the coming months, the bulk of national political attention will pivot from state-centric battles to the race to determine who will succeed Obama as the 45th president of the United States.

However, what may be lost in the din of a presidential contest are the fierce campaigns emerging for control of the Senate and House of Representatives, both of which carry comparable degrees of intrigue and importance.

After the historic 2014 midterms in which the GOP returned to the majority in the Senate and bolstered its governing caucus in the House to heights unseen in nearly a century, Democrats, led by a lame duck president and effectively cast into the political wilderness as a minority party, may be more eager to retake Congress than to retain the White House under a second Clinton administration. It is easy to understand why that may be the case when considering recent history. One needs look no further than the last six years of the Obama administration to gain an appreciation for the challenges of governing sans legislative aegis in Congress. Without a doubt, much is at stake.

The 30-seat deficit presently facing Democrats in the House of Representatives is a steep hill to climb in one election cycle, and especially so given the structural advantages of redistricting, which Republicans currently enjoy. In fact, Democrats have not gained more than 30 seats while controlling the White House since 1964, when Lyndon Johnson occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And yet, while the specter of modern history may lead most to assume that Democrats cannot net the requisite number of seats to return Nancy Pelosi to the speakership, it’s certainly not out of the question.

Democrats habitually, and perhaps credibly, posit that their prospects for success are substantively bolstered during presidential election years. Subscribing to the logic that outsized turnout among women, minorities and young voters relative to mid-term elections, all of whom tend to vote Democratic, will buoy their electoral prospects, Democrats often hang their hopes for controlling Congress on accruing sweeping margins of victory during presidential year elections. Troublingly for the GOP, historical trends lend credence to the Democratic strategy, as the 1980 Reagan landslide stands alone as the contemporary example of a presidential election failing to produce net gains for Democrats in the House.

Accordingly, it is with the electoral wind at their backs that Democrats will almost certainly adopt a strategy of attacking vulnerable GOP-held seats. Specifically, congressional districts carried by Barack Obama in 2012, but won by Republicans in 2014, figure to be top targets, but Democrats also will seek to put a number of net Romney districts into play as they strive to wrestle back control of the House.

For the time being, the numbers in the strictest sense favor the GOP, but the electoral algebra gets much fuzzier when attempting to account for the reach and influence of whoever is at the top of each party’s respective presidential ticket. Likewise,
forthcoming redistricting in states like Florida, which figures to shake out in Democratic favor, could put a thumb on the scale as Election Day nears.

While the math in the House ostensibly favors the prospects of a Republican majority into 2016 and beyond, albeit likely less robust, the forecast for continued control of the Senate is much more dubious. Despite Republican gains of nine seats in the 2014 midterms, which resulted in a 54-seat majority, Mitch McConnell’s tenure as majority leader could prove to be short-lived.

In the Senate, the demographics of a presidential election year likely will favor Democrats, but that ultimately may prove to be a tertiary concern for Republicans. McConnell and the GOP will have their backs against the wall as they defend a disproportionate number of seats: 24 to only 10 for their counterparts on the left. Compounding matters is the fact that seven of the seats the party is hoping to protect happen to be in states that President Obama carried in 2012—Florida, Iowa, Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—of which only Sen. Grassley’s Iowa seat appears to be safely in the Republican column.

The candidates for many of these races are, in many instances, yet to be determined, and attempting to accurately project the minutia of these fledgling contests would be a fool’s errand. For the time being, what’s certain is Republicans have their work cut out for them as they strive to maintain the hold on the Upper Chamber.

Much like in the presidential race, themes yet to fully emerge could radically redefine the political landscape for both the House and Senate in the coming months. Immigration, income inequality, national security or any number of presently opaque factors may become priority issues—to the boon or detriment of either party’s political prospects. Subsequently, at this juncture, one can simply make informed guesses as to how the 2016 elections may shake out. Yet for all the question marks that remain, one incontrovertible truth remains: ABC’s role in the political process will be as crucial as ever.

As in 2014, when ABC PAC backed nearly 300 candidates to the tune of a 90 percent success rate, and the Free Enterprise Alliance supported state, local and national issue advocacy campaigns focused on free enterprise issues, the voice of the merit shop will be heard loud and clear leading up to the second Tuesday in November. With all that is at stake in 2016 and beyond, it is clear ABC members must continue their nationwide effort to protect their businesses and their employees’ jobs, and inform the public of critical issues facing the construction industry. 

Trip Stanford is manager of political affairs and ABC PAC for Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email stanford@abc.org.


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