Campaign Roundup: Election 2024 Will Decide Who Controls Congress
The race for the White House always takes top billing during an election year. But presidential elections also decide who will control the House and Senate—a result that can determine whether Congress will be able to act or become mired in gridlock. Much like the 2024 presidential race, Democrats and Republicans both have reasons to be optimistic as well as concerned about how House and Senate races will turn out next November.
First, the Senate, which Democrats now control by a 51 to 49 margin. Republicans could hardly hope for a more friendly electoral map in 2024. As things stand now, thirty-four Senate seats are up for grabs. This includes a special election in Nebraska to fill the remainder of the term held by Ben Sasse, who resigned to become president of the University of Florida. Twenty-three of those thirty-four seats are held by Democrats or Independents who caucus with the Democrats. If the Republicans hold the eleven seats they are defending, they only need to pick up one seat if the Republican nominee wins the presidency. In that scenario, the vice president would give the Republicans control of the Senate—as Kamala Harris did for the Democrats in 2021 and 2022. If a Democrat wins the presidency, then Republicans need a net gain of two seats to take control of the Senate.
Republicans look to be a shoe-in to pick up a seat or two. All eleven Republican seats up for election are in red states. Only two of those races, Rick Scott’s in Florida and Ted Cruz’s in Texas, are potentially competitive. Conversely, as many as eleven seats held by Democrats or Independents look to be in play. Joe Manchin’s decision not to stand for re-election makes it likely that Democrats will lose at least one seat. So Biden would need to win and Democrats would need to hold onto every other seat to keep their majority. Re-electing Biden may be the easier hill to climb. Kyrsten Sinema’s independent candidacy in Arizona could split votes with likely Democratic challenger, Ruben Gallego, handing the outcome to the Republican candidate. Meanwhile, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana are running in red states that went heavily for Trump in 2020 and in which every other state-wide elected office is held by a Republican.
The Water’s Edge
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Democrats have higher hopes for the House, which Republicans now control by a margin of 222 seats to 213 seats. (That margin could fall to eight seats next week, if, as expected, the House votes to expel George Santos.) Unlike the Senate, every House seat is up for re-election next year. So neither party benefits from a favorable electoral map. Democrats avoided the much-predicted Red Tsunami in 2022. They hope that the Republicans’ well-documented problems running the House, combined with the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, will enable them to pick up seats they lost two years ago. Democrats have done particularly well in special House elections in 2022, a trend they hope to sustain.
One factor working against that hope is that more incumbent Democrats are currently opting against running for reelection. That matters because open seats are harder to retain. As of this week, twenty-one of the thirty-two House members who have said they are retiring or running for a different office are Democrats. That number will change. It’s worth watching to see by how much.
Joe Biden continues to get bad polling news. An NBC News poll out this week has his approval rating hitting an all-time low of 40 percent. The approval rating on foreign policy was even lower—33 percent. Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war seems to be driving the dip in his numbers. Just 34 percent approve of his handling of the conflict. Biden is faring especially poorly among young voters. Seven-in-ten of those between eighteen and thirty-four disapprove of how Biden has handled the war. Credit this as one piece of evidence for the argument that 2024 could be the rare election that turns on foreign policy. It’s worth remembering, though, that it can be perilous to extrapolate from the result of an issue question to how people will vote, or whether they will vote.
While Biden got bad news this week, the Republican front-runner, former President Donald Trump, got good news. A Colorado judge ruled against a bid to keep him off Colorado’s ballot next November for fomenting the January 6 insurrection. The judge agreed that Trump had acted as an insurrectionist but ruled that “scant direct evidence” exists that section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which bars insurrectionists from holding elected office, applies to the presidency. The Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed a similar lawsuit earlier this month.
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced on Monday that it will hold three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate next fall. The first presidential debate is set for September 16 at Texas State University in San Marcos. The second presidential debate will be held at Virginia State University in Petersburg on October 1, with the third debate being held at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City eight days later. The vice-presidential debate is set for September 25 at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Trump has said that he wants to debate Biden, who has yet to say whether he feels similarly.
The Candidates in Their Own Words
Chris Christie took issue with Sen. Bernie Sanders for saying that the United States should condition future military assistance to Israel. Christie said: “Someone like Senator Sanders, they have a hard time running Congress. Maybe they should not be spending their time trying to run another government.” The former New Jersey governor added: “This is wartime, and it is difficult. And I have confidence in the Israeli defense forces to be able to do the job the right way. I’m convinced from what I saw, that they’re doing everything they can to try to minimize the deaths of Palestinian civilians.”
What the Pundits Are Saying
David Freedlander of New York Magazine laid out his reasoning for why he thinks that Nikki Haley will soon be the last Republican standing against Trump and why “because of her gender, or her raw political skills, Haley is also a harder target for the former president.”
Olivia Nuzzi of New York Magazine went hiking with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., for her article, “The Mind-Bending Politics of RFK Jr.’s Spoiler Campaign.” Her conclusion? “Joe Biden says Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s a conservative. Donald Trump says he’s a liberal. They’re both right — and he could turn the 2024 presidential race upside down.”
Politico explored how the challenge Dean Phillips is making to Biden in New Hampshire could inadvertently blunt the efforts by Christie and Nikki Haley to catch Trump.
Ron Brownstein assessed how Biden might recover from his dismal poll numbers and win a second term. That strategy would “focus as much on what Trump would do with power if he’s reelected as on what Biden has done in office.”
The Campaign Schedule
The fourth Republican debate is twelve days away (December 6, 2023).
The Iowa caucuses, the first nominating event on the election calendar, are fifty-two days away (January 15, 2024).
The South Carolina primary, the first Democratic primary, is seventy-one days away (February 3, 2024).
The Nevada primary, the first Republican primary, is seventy-four days away (February 6, 2024).
Election Day is 347 days away.
Aliya Kaisar assisted in the preparation of this post.