The US mid-term elections that will define the shape of American politics for the next two years and beyond are around the corner.
The elections are called mid-terms because they occur in the middle of a presidential term.
The lack of a flagship presidential race means that these elections typically attract very low voter turnouts. But mid-term elections can have a long lasting impact on the US government – this time, Obama’s ability to govern in the final two years of his term in the White House could be shaped by what happens on 4th November.
What’s at stake?
In terms of numbers, 36 out of the 50 state governors, 33 or 34 full term seats in the Senate, all 435 members of the House of Representatives and various state and local offices are up for election.
The most important and closely watched race is for the control of the Senate, which currently is in the hands of the Democrats. As of now the Democrats hold a 5 seat majority, with 53 seats and 2 independents whilst Republicans hold 45 seats.
The House of Representatives is held by the Republicans and most analysts agree that they are unlikely to lose it.
These elections are important because the Senate seats that are up for grabs this year were last in play in 2008, which was a very important year for the Democrats with the election of President Obama. His presence in the political field that year clearly energised Democrats to vote in the mid-terms, and so they gained 8 Senate seats.
With the slump in economic growth and the continuing military problems in the Middle East, voters may take out their anger on the ruling Democrat party.
What happens if the Republicans win the Senate?
Mitch McConnell, who is currently the minority leader will take over the day-to-day-running of the state.
As Senate majority leader, he will set the chamber’s agenda, deciding which bills come to the floor and managing floor debate to advance the party’s agenda.
Governor elections are also important as governors can hold quite a lot of power and influence in state politics. For example, in the case of Obama’s 2010 healthcare overhaul, many Republican governors have refused to accept billions of dollars in federal aid to expand public health insurance, claiming that if the government withdraws funding, they will be left with the unwanted policy. However, Democrats argue that Republican governors are stalling a crucial policy to make a stubborn political point that would endanger the health of the American population.
Because of partisan conflict, in terms of the number of bills passed, the current Congress is the least productive in recent history.
That’s because while the Democrats nominally control the Senate, the chamber’s rules give the minority party significant power to block legislation, if not to advance their own agenda.
If the Republicans win the Senate, the party could theoretically start to pass its own ‘wish-list’ of legislation, although it is unlikely that these would be signed into law due to the veto that President Obama holds as the President.
However, a Republican-controlled Senate could have influence in many ways – it could refuse to confirm Obama’s appointments to judgeships, ambassadorships, cabinet positions and lower-level administration jobs.
That would make it very hard for Obama’s government to operate, and could limit Obama’s ability to shape the federal judiciary to his preference, ensuring that the final two years of his term are difficult, essentially rendering him powerless to influence policy and agenda in Congress.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Bjoertvedt