Rising speculation that Democrats will take back control of the US Senate is particularly significant in the Pacific Northwest as both Washington and Oregon’s senior senators would be poised for prime promotions.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is in line to regain the gavel of Senate Finance and Washington Senator Patty Murray could chair Senate Appropriations or gain a leadership position.
It wasn’t that long ago that political pundits doubted whether Democrats could grab back control of the Senate. However, Donald Trump’s recent follies and corresponding plummet in national and swing state polls have made that a more realistic scenario. And Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton are pressing hard to make it happen.
While general consensus concedes the House will remain Republican, the Senate would flip if Democrats capture a net of four seats. Senate Republicans hold a 54 – 46 (two independents caucus with the Democrats) advantage over Democrats. A Vice President Tim Kaine would break a 50-50 tie. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, Democrats now have a 73 percent chance of taking control of the chamber – up 15 percent from last week.
Democratic candidates for Senate are likely to pick up seats in Illinois and Wisconsin, and close races in the following six states will likely decide what becomes the majority party in the Senate: Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. As of today, Democrats lead in all 6 races and have a better chance of winning in each than they did a week ago.
The Democrat’s fortune looks so good that the Cook Political Report announced today it expects Democrats to pick up between 5-7 seats in the Senate.
Since early voting is already underway in 27 states, Republicans don’t have much time to mount a comeback. Assuming current trends prevail and Democrats occupy 50 or more Senate seats (and Clinton is elected president), Wyden and Murray will be standing in high clover.
Wyden is the Ranking Democratic Member of the high-profile Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax policy, trade deals, Medicare and Medicaid and bonded debt of the United States. Wyden held the Senate Finance gavel briefly in 2014 before Republicans won control of the Senate.
While Senator Wyden’s next gig is somewhat easy to predict, the senior senator from Washington, Patty Murray, appears to have more options to consider.
The upcoming retirement of Democratic Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, leaves an open door for a new top Democrat on one of the most sought after panels. While no senator has officially thrown a hat in the ring, a Democratic majority and the chairmanship would be the cherry on the ice cream sundae.
Murray, a dealmaker respected on both sides of the aisle, is the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the fourth highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate. However, with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) reportedly interested in the gavel as well, some have speculated Murray could instead challenge Durbin for the No. 2 position in leadership. Albeit unlikely, if Murray were to challenge Durbin, the appropriations chairmanship could then serve as a consolation prize for the loser.
The third and final option for Murray would be to serve as chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. A post she may prefer over any other, especially under a Clinton presidency likely to undertake major health care and education initiatives through the committee. She could be a great partner for Clinton on refining the Affordable Care Act.
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Washington Senator Maria Cantwell also can be expected to move the political hierarchy with Democratic control of the Senate.
If Democrats recaptured the House, too, Oregon and Washington’s congressional delegations would be in strong positions, including Congressman Peter DeFazio being positioned to champion a major transportation and infrastructure initiative.
It is too early to predict how the election will turn out, but it is never too early to speculate on what could happen the day after the election.
Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.