Seven races that could flip the Senate: Trump's impending defeat may lead to a down-ballot massacre

These critical contests will decide the Senate: Who are the candidates — and how do they feel about Donald Trump?

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 19, 2016 5:30PM (EDT)

Pat Toomey; Katie McGinty   (AP/Jared Wickerham/Matt Rourke)
Pat Toomey; Katie McGinty (AP/Jared Wickerham/Matt Rourke)

There are three weeks to go in this election season, and we have officially entered the black hole of despair from which there seems to be no escape. Yes, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton holds a widening lead in the polls over her Republican rival, Donald Trump.

But the mere fact that so many Americans — including the majority of men — would rather vote for a rancid pile of pussy-grabbing garbage than an accomplished and progressive woman is enough to provoke fantasies about NASA offering affordable space flights off this planet forever.

But there is one way to alleviate the pain, especially for liberal political junkies: Maps! Specifically, the map on FiveThirtyEight showing that seven U.S. Senate seats currently held by Republicans — in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois and North Carolina — may flip over to the Democrats. Trump has never done anything good in his sorry life, but he might, just by accident, do this country a favor in helping tip the Senate majority to the Democrats.

These races may not feature any candidates who call Mexicans "rapists" or who feel the need to publicly rate the fuckability of every woman they encounter, but they are interesting in their own right. So here's Salon's quick-and-dirty primer on these down-ballot races and how they are playing out amid the chaos caused by the presidential election.

New Hampshire

[caption id="attachment_14602790" align="alignleft" width="300"]Kelly Ayotte Sen. Kelly Ayotte[/caption]

The Republican contestant: Kelly "Who Me?" Ayotte

The candidate's pitch, summarized: This incumbent wants voters to think of her as a sane, moderate Republican, which will be easier to do if one doesn't look at her far-right voting record.

Her relationship with her party's presidential nominee: Like a woman trying to deal with a leering, drunk uncle. She's veered between calling him a "role model" and declaring that she intends to write in Mike Pence.

The Democratic contestant: Maggie "No Nonsense" Hassan

[caption id="attachment_14015178" align="alignright" width="241"]Maggie Hassan Gov. Maggie Hassan[/caption]

The candidate's pitch, summarized: The governor of New Hampshire portrays herself as the exemplar of the hardworking, bullshit-free New England ethic. She's not flashy, but this is New Hampshire, folks.

Her relationship with her party's presidential nominee: In an August interview with CNN, Hassan dodged a question about Clinton's trustworthiness three times, focusing instead on Clinton's experience and policies. She later clarified, saying she believes Clinton is trustworthy.

Polling: FiveThirtyEight gives Hassan a 60 percent chance of winning.

Notable moment from the campaign: In a bid to distract from her lengthy history of voting against affordable contraception policy, Ayotte's campaign held condom giveaways on college campuses.


[caption id="attachment_14473292" align="alignleft" width="300"]Todd Young Todd Young[/caption]

The Republican candidate: Todd "Ooh-Rah!" Young, looking to replace Republican incumbent Dan Coats.

The candidate's pitch, summarized: He's a Marine, you guys — a Marine who has four whole children. You will become more virile just by voting for him.

His relationship with his party's presidential nominee: As a supposed "family values" guy, Young has made sure to publicly disapprove of all this "highly offensive and inappropriate" chatter about casual sexual assault. But he's still supporting Trump.

The Democratic contestant: Evan "If We Have To" Bayh

[caption id="attachment_14586422" align="alignright" width="300"]Evan Bayh Evan Bayh[/caption]

The candidate's pitch, summarized: Sure, voting for Bayh, a relatively conservative waffler who served two terms in the Senate before retiring in 2010 (in the face of likely defeat), is about as appealing as going on a blind date set up by your mother. But you want to get your mom off your back and get a Senate majority that will actually fill judicial seats. So sometimes you just have to get it over with.

His relationship with his party's presidential nominee: Bayh is relatively quiet about his support for Clinton, but the Clinton campaign has given Indiana Democrats about half a million bucks to help boost Bayh and other Democrats in the state.

Polling: FiveThirtyEight has given Bayh a 69 percent chance of winning.

Notable moment from the campaign: Even though the Indiana Debate Commission wants two debates, only one is scheduled, which Young blames on Bayh. Hey, what can I say? It's a boring race.


[caption id="attachment_13933224" align="alignleft" width="300"]Pat Toomey Pat Toomey[/caption]

The Republican candidate: Pat "Invertebrate" Toomey

The candidate's pitch, summarized: This incumbent senator will drown you in the words "economic" and "fiscal" and "jobs," and hope you don't notice his anti-immigration, anti-choice, anti-gay and anti-environmental extremism.

His relationship with his party's presidential nominee: "I had hoped by now I would have been convinced to be an enthusiastic supporter," Toomey told reporters last Wednesday. "I remain unpersuaded." Perhaps he will make up his mind on Nov. 9, if they care to ask him then.

The Democratic contestant: Katie "I Bleed Green" McGinty

[caption id="attachment_14608731" align="alignright" width="300"]Katie McGinty Katie McGinty[/caption]

The candidate's pitch, summarized: McGinty is big on being Irish — she frequently speaks of growing up as the ninth of 10 kids — and has a lengthy history as an environmentalist who got her start working with Al Gore.

Her relationship with her party's presidential nominee: McGinty chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Bill Clinton and has been a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, stumping with Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic presidential nominee in Pennsylvania.

Polling: FiveThirtyEight has given McGinty a 63 percent chance of winning.

Notable moment from the campaign: Toomey is so unwilling to offer a real opinion on Trump that even Jimmy Kimmel made fun of him for it, with a fake ad featuring Toomey arguing with himself over whether he supports Trump.


[caption id="attachment_14457017" align="alignleft" width="300"]Ron Johnson Ron Johnson[/caption]

The Republican candidate: Ron "Uncle Pennybags" Johnson

The candidate's pitch, summarized: You voted for Scott Walker, people, so your standards can't be that high.

His relationship with his party's presidential nominee: Much like a Death Eater in "Harry Potter," Sen. Johnson has pledged fealty to the Lord Voldemort but has refused to say his name.

The Democratic contestant: Russ "Born in Northface" Feingold

[caption id="attachment_10067835" align="alignright" width="300"]Russ Feingold Russ Feingold[/caption]

The candidate's pitch, summarized: Feingold lost the seat he had held since 1993 to Johnson during the 2010 Tea Party surge. He knows the voters of Wisconsin are beginning to regret throwing him out in a momentary act of weakness, but he's a forgiving type. He's more than willing to return to D.C. and forget that this ever happened.

His relationship with his party's presidential nominee: Feingold offered an enthusiastic endorsement of Clinton in June, but notably waited until after it was dead certain that Sen. Bernie Sanders had no chance of winning the nomination.

Polling: FiveThirtyEight has predicted a shutout, giving Feingold a 94 percent chance of winning.

Notable moment from the campaign: Johnson, in a fit of nostalgia for his Tea Party win of 2010, ran an ad implying that Feingold is the incumbent and that Johnson is the challenger. In reality, of course, it's the other way around.


[caption id="attachment_13540346" align="alignleft" width="300"]Mark Kirk       Mark Kirk[/caption]

The Republican candidate: Mark "The Last Remaining Country Club Republican" Kirk

The candidate's pitch, summarized: Remember when Republicans could be just for cutting rich people's taxes and weren't expected to also be Bible-thumping snake handlers? Kirk, who is pro-choice and pro-gay, is a throwback to that era.

His relationship with his party's presidential nominee: Kirk bailed on Trump in June, after Trump denied that a federal judge was capable of doing his job due to his Mexican heritage.

[caption id="attachment_14492422" align="alignright" width="300"]Tammy Duckworth Tammy Duckworth[/caption]

The Democratic contestant: Tammy "Tenacity" Duckworth

The candidate's pitch, summarized: Duckworth, who had both legs amputated after being wounded while serving as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in Iraq, is not about to let Republicans lay claim to the virtues of patriotism or sacrifice. Just try her.

Her relationship with her party's presidential nominee: Mutual lovefest, enough so that right-wingers and WikiLeaks nutters have been hinting at dark conspiracies.

Polling: FiveThirtyEight has given Duckworth a 90 percent chance of winning.

Notable moment from the campaign: For some reason, the Chicago Tribune thought it appropriate to endorse Duckworth over Kirk because Kirk had suffered a stroke in 2012. Maybe the paper thought it could get away with this because both candidates use a wheelchair, thereby offering some shield from accusations of ableism. But it was still in poor taste.

North Carolina

[caption id="attachment_13838902" align="alignleft" width="300"]Richard Burr Richard Burr[/caption]

The Republican candidate: Richard "The Waterboarder" Burr

The candidate's pitch, summarized: Factory-standard conservative white guy: Loves pictures of men in camouflage, hates reproductive rights and same-sex marriage, thinks waterboarding is funny but also takes it seriously enough to prevent a public airing of a 6,000-page report on the Bush administration's torture practices.

His relationship with his party's presidential nominee: Pathetic hanger-on. In July, Burr was bragging about how he and Trump were peas in a pod, saying, "He’s a very nontraditional candidate, and he’s run a very nontraditional campaign. Most in Washington would probably say that describes me to a T. And so I can associate with Donald Trump very well."

After the "grab 'em by the pussy" tape came out, Burr put out a limp statement of condemnation, took a couple days, and then basically forgave Trump by claiming Trump has apologized enough. Meanwhile, Trump continued to call the women who accused him of assault a bunch of ugly liars.

[caption id="attachment_14610752" align="alignright" width="220"]Deborah Ross Deborah Ross[/caption]

The Democratic contestant: Deborah "Straight From Central Casting" Ross

The candidate's pitch, summarized: Ross really does look and act like a freshman Democratic senator from a critically acclaimed prime-time drama. She has chic short blond hair, a sharp wardrobe and a pedigree as an American Civil Liberties Union attorney.

Her relationship with her party's presidential nominee: She's made routine statements distancing herself from the word "emails," but otherwise Ross supports Clinton and has spoken at at least one rally.

Polling: FiveThirtyEight has the two in a 50-50 tie.

Notable moment from the campaign: The Trump campaign announced that Burr was being brought on as a national security adviser a mere 20 minutes before a video came out of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. Whoops!


[caption id="attachment_12461541" align="alignleft" width="300"]Roy Blunt Roy Blunt[/caption]

The Republican candidate: Roy "The Only Pill a Girl Needs Is Aspirin" Blunt

The candidate's pitch, summarized: While most Republicans are anti-choice, Blunt has taken it to the next level, pushing for the Blunt amendment that would allow a woman's boss to deny her insurance coverage for contraception.

His relationship with his party's presidential nominee: While Blunt is a stalwart warrior against consensual sex — at least when women and gay people choose to have it — he seems A-OK with his man Trump bragging about forcing his stubby fingers onto the genitals of the unwilling. He hasn't withdrawn his support for Trump and instead whines, "there you go again" at reporters who ask about it.

[caption id="attachment_14614392" align="alignright" width="300"]Warren Kander Jason Kander with Elizabeth Warren[/caption]

The Democratic contestant: Jason "The Son-in-Law Your Mother Always Wanted" Kander

The candidate's pitch, summarized: He's equal parts an Obama-esque cosmopolitan and a down-home Missouri boy who joined the Army and served in Afghanistan after 9/11.

His relationship with his party's presidential nominee: Kander called Clinton "the most qualified person to ever run for president" besides George Washington and "our own Harry Truman." Republicans have been trying to make hay of this, running ads expressing horror that anyone could say this about Hillary Clinton despite having a veritable sea of white guys to pick from.

Polling: FiveThirtyEight has given Kander a 60 percent chance of winning.

Notable moment from the campaign: In response to Blunt's painting him as anti-gun, Kander released an ad showing him assembling a rifle while blindfolded, all while talking about the need for commonsense gun-safety policies. It doesn't feature a mic drop at the end, but it might as well.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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