Emotions have, understandably, been running high in one of the strangest and most frustrating U.S. political campaigns in many years. An upset remains possible, but on the eve of the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton seems to be holding and even expanding a narrow but convincing lead over Donald Trump. Polls tightened last week, but with Trump behind in Florida and only tied in North Carolina, it would take a dramatic surge to get him to 270 electoral votes.
Trump’s momentum during the past week may fall short of getting him to the White House, but it appears to have helped embattled Republican Senators. Vulnerable GOP incumbents in North Carolina and New Hampshire seem to have stabilized in the polls with small leads, and a pick-up in Nevada would make it hard for the Democrats to reach fifty senators even with expected wins in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. The race for control of the Senate could ultimately come down to the open seat in Indiana, where Evan Bayh’s campaign is having more trouble than many expected with GOP Congressman Todd Young. Trump’s mini-surge may be critical to that race; the RealClearPolitics poll average shows Young with a razor-thin lead.
With the House likely to stay Republican, Americans are probably looking at two more years of divided government. Clinton won’t have the mandate Obama had in 2008, when Democrats controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and used the opportunity to pass major domestic legislation, including the Affordable Care Act. Many Americans want divided government this time around—with neither Clinton nor Trump enjoying much public trust, hiring one gang of crooks to investigate the other probably looks like a reasonable strategy to many voters.
Both Republicans and Democrats are likely to look back on 2016 as a year of missed opportunities. Almost any GOP candidate would have outperformed Trump against Clinton; another Democratic candidate might have crushed Trump and led the Democrats to a congressional takeover as well.
On election night, we at TAI will be keeping our eyes open, first, for any sign that the Trump surge was stronger than the polls indicate. A better-than-expected Trump performance in North Carolina would suggest a closer race; New Hampshire is another bellwether state. Signs of a Trump wave there would suggest that we were in for a long night of nail-biting suspense.
Beyond that, we’ll be looking at the Senate races. GOP control of the Senate means one kind of fight over Supreme Court nominees; a narrow Democratic majority could signal a fight over the future of the filibuster as the pressure on Clinton to appoint liberal justices would grow. Current Senate rules effectively require a supermajority to confirm Supreme Court justices; “nuking” that rule could lead to an even more dramatic ideological makeover of the Court, and would also polarize and poison relations in the Senate.
To recap: Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire—if Clinton takes two of these East Coast states a Trump win seems almost impossible; if she sweeps them, the race is effectively over.
In the Senate, watch Indiana. A Bayh win there tilts the national playing field toward the Democrats; a Young win substantially increases the odds that the GOP could hold the 51 seats it needs for control. (Assuming a Clinton win nationally, the Democrats would only need 50 seats to control the Senate as the Vice President casts a tie-breaking vote.) Again, Florida, New Hampshire, and North Carolina could point the way. If the GOP sweeps these three Senate races, it has a solid chance to keep control. Losing two of the three would put the Senate almost out of reach; a Democratic sweep would be game, set, and match.