Congressional Roulette: Senate and House Races Too Close to Call

Congressional races tend to get second-billing during presidential election years; however the contests for the House and Senate on November 8 will be pivotal in shaping the political, economic and moral future of the United States.

With a host of significant issues on the line including the nation’s healthcare infrastructure, the debt ceiling, the vital appointment of the ninth Supreme Court justice, as well as a myriad of escalating international security situations; the makeup of Congress’ next session will play a large role in determining U.S. policy both at home and abroad.

This year, the Republicans have everything to lose with a 54 member majority in the Senate, and 247 seats in the House, but whether the Democrats have enough momentum to make the necessary gains is up for debate.

Here’s a breakdown of where each race stands heading into Election Day.

The House

The House becomes a critical battleground if one party assumes dual control of the Oval Office and the Senate.

The Democrats need to win 30 seats to gain control of the House of Representatives. However, national polls have showed a narrowing two-way race in recent weeks, making that a lofty goal.

The lesser-known House candidates have been the hardest hit by scandals riddling the top of the ticket; including Clinton’s latest email scandal which was resolved Sunday after FBI Director James Comey cleared the Democratic nominee of criminal charges.

Still, the most recent investigation will likely have residual effects on the Congressional races, Robert Erikson, political science professor at Columbia University told

“Comey's surprise still one more reset on the race. Probably Clinton and Democrats down ballot would be better off if Comey made neither announcement,” he said.

These hits to the Clinton campaign could be more problematic than all of Trump’s indignities because the Democratic candidate is much more closely aligned with the party’s leadership, John Aldrich, the Pfizer-Pratt University Professor of Political Science, told

Gaining 30 seats would also require winning nearly every Republican-held district where there is even a slight glimmer of hope for the Democratic challenger. Yet, some popular Republican incumbents sitting in blue districts are unlikely to be deposed, such as Rep. Peter King from New York’s 2nd District.

Odds are Republicans will maintain a lean majority heading into 2017, according to David Mayhew, Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

“The Republicans are likely to keep the House although lose maybe ten to twenty seats net,” he told “The GOP's chief peril is possible low party turnout, but the Democrats may be facing that peril too now.”

Echoing a corresponding outlook, Morris Fiorina, Wendt Family Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, told the likelihood of Democrats gaining control in the House is “a long shot and it’s getting longer every day that the polls tighten.”

The Senate

This is the race everyone should be watching.

“The Senate will be unusually important because of the current opening on the Supreme Court and the possibility of an unusually large number of openings [moving forward]…It hasn’t been the case very often that the next appointment could change the court from liberal to conservative or vice versa,” Aldrich said.

There are 11 states up for grabs in the Senate. If Secretary Clinton wins the White House, the Democrats will only need to win four in this chamber to secure a majority (the Vice President serves as a tie-breaker). To secure a 51-vote majority, they would need five seats.

The outcome of this “high-stakes” race is shockingly unclear, according to Mayhew.

“All anybody can say is that some six seats are in play, and that the Democrats have a decent chance to move the party balance to 51-49 in their favor or to a tie.”

Aldrich predicts “50-50 is perhaps the best guess…I think’s it is more likely to be 51-49 Republican than 51-49 Democrat.”

While Florida, Arizona and Ohio are all leaning red, Wisconsin and Illinois are likely to go to the Democrats.

Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri are pure toss-ups.  This gives the Democrats plenty of room to win back a majority.

Aldrich, who hails from the battleground state of North Carolina, thinks the incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), may be ousted come Tuesday. Sen. Burr recently came under fire for a remark that gun owners may want to put a “bullseye” on Clinton, something Aldrich thinks could drive his opponent, Deborah Ross, over the finish line.

Comments like these have been prevalent at the top of the ticket throughout this abnormal election cycle, and the October surprises for both presidential candidates serve as a reminder that voters are choosing between two of the most disliked candidates in recent history.

According to Fiorina, the unpopularity of the candidates may cause a spike in split-ticket voting. This means voters may choose Trump or Clinton at the top of the ticket, and then vote for Congressional leaders of the opposite party.

“Because the presidential candidates are so disliked I don't expect either to have much in the way of coattails,” he said. “Moreover, Trump is not your garden variety conservative and some Republican congressional candidates have tried to differentiate themselves from him.”

On the other hand, Aldrich said young voters may stay home from the polls altogether, or there may be a trend of “rolling-up” in which citizens vote in the Congressional races but not the presidential one.

But no matter the outcome on Tuesday, Republicans have a tough road ahead.

Even if Trump wins the presidency, and the party maintains control of Congress, it wouldn’t exactly be unified government in the traditional sense, Aldrich pointed out.

“[Trump] and Paul Ryan aren’t exactly cheek by jowl in comfort level and what Ryan wants to achieve is not necessarily what Trump wants to achieve. So it would be one of the few times we would have real intraparty difficulties in governing.”

And if Trump loses the race? Well the party has some serious internal issues to resolve before the next election.

“There’s going to be a real rift in the Republican Party. And how they approach the future is going to be the single most important thing in American politics…for the coming two years,” warned Aldrich.