WASHINGTON: Republicans enjoy a strong 59-seat majority in the 435-member House, and it will not be easy for Democrats to flip the 30 seats needed to retake control, most analysts say.
As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump duke it out for the White House, a heated political battle is also on for the U.S. Congress, with the Senate on the verge of shifting into Democratic hands.
Who runs the two chambers — and the legislation introduced there — is crucial, as bills can easily get stuck, particularly if the leadership does not belong to the same party as the president. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are currently under Republican control.
But with Democratic favourite Ms. Clinton leading nationally in nearly all presidential polls, and with key Senate races contested in battleground states where she is ahead, the odds are slightly better than 50-50 that Democrats will reclaim the Senate, several experts say.
For Democrats, it wont be easy
Republicans enjoy a strong 59-seat majority in the 435-member House, and most analysts say it would take a startling sea change election for Democrats to flip the 30 seats needed to retake control.
The most attention is falling therefore on the 100-member Senate, where Democrats would need to gain four seats for a majority in the event Ms. Clinton wins the White House, as ties in the Senate are broken by the vice president.
The million-dollar question is how much could an allegiance to Mr. Trump — or a Republican's repudiation of the controversial nominee — impact their chances at the ballot box?
Consensus: Republicans in trouble
"In isolated cases, it may allow some Republicans in close races to win re-election by distancing from Trump," George Washington University professor of applied politics Gary Nordlinger told AFP.
"But it's a real double-edged sword. Trump is wildly popular among his base, so you risk alienating that base when you try to distance yourself."
The consensus view is that Republicans are in trouble.
The FiveThirtyEight blog, featuring highly respected election forecaster Nate Silver, puts the chances of Democrats winning the Senate at 65 percent.
The Cook Political Report projects Democrats will pick up five to seven seats.
Tough year for Senate Reps
It is a tough year all around for Senate Republicans. Of the chamber's 34 seats contested in 2016, 24 are held by Republicans. Of the nine closest Senate races, only one, in Nevada, is held by a Democrat.
Illinois and Wisconsin seats are likely to flip Democrat. Other vulnerable Republicans are in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, with tougher but still viable battles in Florida and Indiana.
Even red-leaning Missouri is in play. Republican Senator Roy Blunt risks losing his seat to Jason Kander, a charismatic Democratic military veteran whose campaign video of himself assembling an AR-15 rifle while blindfolded has gone viral.
With Republicans suddenly in a mad scramble to preserve the Senate, a conservative superPAC, or political action committee, is pouring $25 million into a half-dozen Senate races.
Democrats, brace up
"We know that it will be a tough challenge to keep the Senate in this environment, but if Democrats want the majority they are going to have a hell of a fight on their hands," said Ian Prior, spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund.
Ms. Clinton welcomes that fight, and is happy to drape Mr. Trump around Republicans' necks like an albatross.
Her campaign and support groups are focusing heavily on battleground races like North Carolina, where Democrat Deborah Ross is challenging incumbent Senator Richard Burr.
"She will help break through the gridlock in Washington," Ms. Clinton said Thursday in North Carolina.
"And unlike her opponent, Deborah Ross has never been afraid to stand up to Donald Trump."
House is the firewall
The House is the Republican firewall.
Speaker Paul Ryan has had a tempestuous relationship with the nominee, and after Mr. Trump's lewd comments about women emerged this month, Mr. Ryan said he could no longer defend or campaign with the candidate.
Instead he is focusing on maintaining his House majority.
Still, most of the vulnerable House seats are held by Republicans, and Democrats are confident they can cut deeply into the GOP's majority, perhaps regaining as many as 10 or 20 seats.
The Center for Politics, the closely-followed University of Virginia election projector, forecasts a Democratic gain of 10-15 seats.
She is confident
A confident Ms. Clinton camp is also making forays into House races, seeking to pick off seats where Republican incumbents are in jeopardy.
One pro-Clinton group released a 30-second ad in Iowa, where Ms. Clinton herself campaigned Friday, tying freshman congressman Rod Blum to Mr. Trump.
It shows footage of Mr. Blum at a campaign rally saying "Send me back to Congress, and you send Donald Trump to the White House."
Gaining enough seats to reclaim the House would be a huge challenge, even Democrats admit.
In the Senate, it's a different story, but the tables will turn two years from now.
In 2018, Democrats will defend 25 seats, compared to just eight for the GOP, a startling advantage for Republicans.
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