The American Political State

July 7, 2015 — As we pass the 4th of July break and the celebration period of our country’s history, it’s always an appropriate time to review the current status of American politics. As we look forward to another important election in 2016, including the voters selecting a new president, we find both uncertainty and definition.

It’s anyone’s guess right now as to who wins the presidency. Additionally, US Senate control is up for grabs with majority Republicans defending 24 of the 34 in-cycle states.

Conversely, the House Republican majority is stable, particularly with the recent US Supreme Court decision approving congressional redistricting commissions. The rejection of the Arizona Republicans’ legal argument means that congressional boundaries in the Grand Canyon State, California, New Jersey and Washington – all multi-congressional district states that employ redistricting commissions – will remain intact throughout the remainder of the decade. Lines could change because of court decisions in Virginia, and other southern states could conceivably follow suit, but majority status is unlikely to be affected in the short-term.

The current presidential contest may be the most uncertain in history. Never before have we seen one party field what will likely be 18 reasonably qualified candidates to run for the nation’s highest office. The large group with no clear front-runner could lead to the first truly open, or brokered, convention since Warren G. Harding was nominated on the 11th ballot in such a conclave back in 1920, and Thomas E. Dewey was forced to three roll calls when he captured the GOP nomination in 1948. Harding, of course, would go onto to win the presidency later that year, while Dewey lost to President Harry Truman in what was regarded as one of the bigger upsets in political history to that point.

The Democratic side, once thought to yield an easy road for Hillary Clinton, is becoming more competitive. Self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is making headway against Clinton according to polling in several states, but he is still far behind.

The Sanders blip, however, may be encouraging Vice President Joe Biden to enter the Democratic nomination race. His recent public comments, and aides suggesting that he will announce his candidacy at the end of July, could make the Democratic primaries and caucuses much more interesting. The Biden presence is unlikely to create a scenario where Clinton loses the nomination, but stranger things have happened in recent political times. We only have to remember 2008, when Clinton herself was a presumed Democratic nominee but went on to lose the nomination to then-Sen. Barack Obama.

The general election contains clouded predictions at this point, too. Though the Democrats claim they have a “blue wall” on the Electoral College map, it remains to be seen whether the coalition that twice elected Obama will carry over to Clinton, or the eventual Democratic nominee. The Democrats’ poor performance in the last two mid-term elections suggests that the new party standard bearer will have a tough time re-assembling their predecessor’s successful turnout model.

But, the Republicans’ have their work cut out for them if they are to re-claim the White House after what will be eight years. With seven of the eight battleground states going against them in the last two presidential elections, the GOP nominee will have to return Florida and Ohio to their column and keep North Carolina, as merely a beginning. He or she will also have to convert all but one one of the following group: Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire. It is more than likely winning a Great Lakes State such as Wisconsin or Michigan will also be necessary to reach the magic 270 Electoral Vote plateau that clinches the presidential election.

The Democrats need four Republican Senate seats to come their way in order to re-capture the majority they lost in the 2014 election. GOP incumbents appear weak in Illinois (Mark Kirk) and Wisconsin (Ron Johnson), and will have competitive battles in Arizona (John McCain) and Ohio (Rob Portman). What should be at the top of their conversion list, Pennsylvania, has gone poorly so far for the Democrats and Sen. Pat Toomey (R) appears to be strengthening his grip on his highly marginal seat. Counting the possibility of the GOP winning Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s Nevada seat could well mean a continued Republican majority.

The rest of this year will feature a time of political table setting, with the main events to come rapidly after the first of the year. 2016 will likely feature many surprise results, and be one for the political record books.

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