Vote 2018 Results: The Senate

This is the final part of our four-part series about the results of the 2018 election in the US. Today we look specifically at those results as they affect the Senate.  

It is clear, as these words are written, that the Republicans will retain control of the Senate come next January. The margin of their majority is still very much up for grabs. Much depends on recounts and litigation out of Florida and Georgia. But the best that the Democratic Party could do, even if everything goes its way in such matters, is to stay even with the 49 seats it held before the midterm. This means that the Republicans (so long as they remain united) will still be in a position to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominees for the Supreme Court or, not to be forgotten, all the other levels of the federal judiciary.   

The Republican caucus has already decided that Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY) will remain as majority leader for the next session. He has held that post since January 2015. On the Democratic side, Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY) will stay in his role as the Minority Leader.

So much for the Big Picture. What follows is a discussion of three of the microcosmic pictures; three specific Senatorial elections that we at find especially intriguing.

Claire McCaskill Out in Missouri

This is a big change. McCaskill (D) has been a US Senator from Missouri for twelve years, after defeating her predecessor, Jim Talent, in 2006 and then defeating the hapless Todd Akin in 2012. She has wielded greater weight in the Senate than a ‘mere’ two terms might suggest, becoming the senior Democrat of the Homeland Security Committee.

McCaskill campaigned tirelessly for Secretary Clinton during the Presidential campaign of 2016, functioning as a key surrogate for the candidate herself.

This year, through, McCaskill lost to the Republican nominee, Josh Hawley, the state’s Attorney General. Hawley’s time as AG had been distinguished by two investigations of dominant tech companies. He opened a investigation of Google in November 2017 to look into how Google collects data from users, and whether the search engine results are biased. In September 2018 he appeared on the television show Fox & Friends to explain his concerns: “What kind of result is it returning on these searches? And are they biased against conservatives?”

Hawley also initiated an investigation into Facebook this spring. He has raised concerns over whether it is respecting the privacy of its users.

He may well carry these concerns with him now into the US Senate.

Ted Cruz Wins in Texas

Senator Rafael (“Ted”) Cruz (R), who was one of Donald Trump’s more formidable opponents in the Republican primary campaign in 2016, won a second term representing Texas in the US Senate this year, in an unexpectedly close race against Robert Francis (“Beto”) O’Rourke (D), the Congressman from the state’s 16th district (which includes El Paso).

Back when Cruz and Trump were political rivals, Trump invented for Cruz the nickname “Lyin’ Ted.” That campaign also featured memorable exchanges over Cruz’ father, Rafael, and his wife, Heidi. Trump retweeted an unflattering photo of Mrs. Cruz, and he suggested a link between Rafael Cruz and Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s assassin.

Despite all that, Cruz and Trump are now allies, and Trump badly needed to keep the Senate in Republican hands, so he could not afford an O’Rourke victory. Thus, Trump not only enthusiastically endorsed Cruz, he announced a new nickname, “beautiful Ted.”

At a debate on October 16, Senator Cruz accused Rep. O’Rourke of supporting a $10 a barrel tax on crude oil.  O’Rourke denied that he had done so, and invoked the phrase “Lyin’ Ted,” saying that Trump’s expression had stuck because it was true. Tom Benning, writing for the Dallas Morning News, in a “fact check” piece, has indicated that there is some ambiguity as to this accusation. The federal government has no per barrel tax on oil, and no such issue has ever come to a vote in Congress since O’Rourke has been there. The most that can be said is that O’Rourke once voted against a resolution that would have stated the sense of the House of Representatives as being against such a tax. In this double-negative way, O’Rourke may be said to have supported such a tax.

O’Rourke has said he voted against the resolution simply as a way of encouraging further discussion of that and other ideas as to how to finance maintenance of the country’s infrastructure.

Nonetheless, given the importance of the oil and gas industry in Texas, Cruz’ choice to focus on that issue was a tactically wise one.

Kyrsten Sinema’s Slow-Motion Win in Arizona

Senator Jeff Flake (R – AZ) has retired. This decision, announced last fall, left his Senate seat wide open. In the campaign to replace him, Kyrsten Sinema (D) ran what one journalist called “one of the most moderate-sounding and cautious Senate campaigns this year, keeping the media at arms-length and avoiding controversial issues.”

One of the ways she sounded moderate, and distanced herself from what she sees as the too-far-left-for-Arizona leadership of her party in Congress, was by making a straightforward promise that she would not vote for Chuck Schumer as Majority Leader.

Her opponent, Martha McSally (R) , a Congresswoman representing Arizona’s 2d district, started the campaign with something of a centrist reputation herself, but she has campaigned in a manner that suggested it was something she wanted to shed.

The Sinema/McSally contest did not reach any conclusion on election night. McSally held a slight lead according to the counts as of that night and the next morning, but the lead disappeared in the days that followed, and Sinema took the lead. On November 12, McSally conceded to Sinema.

Oddly, one of the first things that Sinema did after the election was finally decided was to … break an explicit campaign promise. She voted with the rest of the caucus of next session’s Democratic Senators to name Schumer for another term as majority leader.


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