Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Congressional Elections May Define Next Presidency

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Congressional Elections May Define Next Presidency

Article excerpt

Several presidential candidates have called the 2012 U.S. elections the most important ever. That seems a reach: more important than 1860 or 1932? Yet there is no doubt that the stakes are high this year, not just in the contest for the White House, but also in the most crucial congressional elections in memory.

The United States faces a potential fiscal train wreck at the end of the year, when the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush expire. This is compounded by the sunset of the extension of the debt-ceiling agreement, which mandates huge, automatic, and largely indiscriminate, spending cuts with a major focus on defense if a deficit-reduction deal isn't reached.

The outcome of the congressional elections will play a major role in the ability of a President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney to work through this morass. Hope for any deficit deal in a so-called lame duck session after the November contests probably would vanish if either party scores a convincing victory.

Congress is divided: Democrats have a 53-to-47 advantage in the Senate, Republicans have a 25-seat margin in the larger House of Representatives.

The battle for the House will reveal most about the mood of the electorate; the Senate contests feature higher-profile candidates.

In the Senate, about half of each party's seats that are up for election are in play. Those numbers give Republicans an advantage, since they have only 10 seats up, while Democrats have 23. (Senators serve six-year terms.)

The two leading U.S. election analysts, Charlie Cook and Stu Rothenberg, both suppose, as of today, control of the next Senate is about a 50-50 proposition.

With such little margin, all eyes are on the Republican primary in Indiana on Tuesday. If six-term Republican Senator Richard Lugar wins, he's almost a shoo-in for the general election. If he's defeated by a conservative challenger, Richard Mourdock, the Democrats believe their candidate, Rep. Joe Donnelly, has a real chance to win the Senate seat in November.

This would confirm movement that has tilted slightly more Democratic in recent months. The unexpected retirement of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine probably means former Governor Angus King, an independent who likely would caucus with the Democrats, will take that seat.

The presidential contest will affect some congressional races. In Virginia, two former governors, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen, are competing for an open Senate seat; polls consistently show this tight race closely tracking the presidential one.

Yet few doubt that Mr. Obama will clobber Mr. Romney in the Republican's home state of Massachusetts. At the same time, Republicans are cautiously optimistic that their incumbent senator there, Scott Brown, will edge the Democratic challenger, the consumer-advocate Elizabeth Warren. …

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