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What It Means if the GOP Wins the Senate

by Glen Luke Flanagan, published

Nate Silver made waves on Sunday when he predicted a GOP win in the mid-term Senate elections.

After Silver's success predicting the 2012 elections, many are keeping a close eye on what he says this year. However, the media response could be counting chicks before the eggs have hatched.

"It’s too soon to say if the Republicans will take the Senate in 2014," said Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington. "The Republicans probably would have had a Senate majority by now if they had not nominated some right-wing tea party extremists who scared moderate voters."

If the prediction does turn out to be correct, though, it could spell doom for the Obama administration.

"If the Republicans win the Senate, the Obama presidency will basically be over," Farnsworth said. "Between investigations and stalling tactics, a GOP-led Congress will just tread water until the 2016 election."

It could also increase tea party power, according to Chad Murphy, assistant professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington.

"If Republicans have majorities in both the House and Senate, the tea party will have a much larger voice even if the new Republicans are moderates," he said. "If the tea party fully embraces this and allows candidates to run as moderates in swing states, the Republican chances of taking over the Senate increase tenfold."

It's worth noting even if the GOP does win the Senate, that doesn't mean Americans approve of the party's policies; it's just part of how the political machine runs.

"Republicans will gain seats despite their extraordinarily low approval ratings," said David A. Jones, associate professor of political science at James Madison University.

"That is mostly because the president’s party nearly always loses seats in midterm elections, especially when the president’s approval ratings are low and economic growth is sluggish. Also, it’s very important to note that nearly all of the Senate seats that are up for grabs are in red states -- i.e., states that Mitt Romney won in 2012.  Even with higher public support, the president’s party would have a tough time winning these states in a midterm election."

For context, a Gallup poll in October 2013 showed that only 28 percent of Americans view the GOP favorably, contrasted by 43 percent viewing Democrats favorably.

This case hasn't been tried yet in the court of public opinion, however, and Democrats still have a fighting chance.

"(Republicans) could also nominate some highly flawed nominees this cycle, and that may keep the Dems in control of the upper chamber once again," Farnsworth explained.

While the future is uncertain, history may provide a more optimistic note than might be expected.

"It is difficult to imagine a GOP-controlled House and Senate cooperating with the president on any major piece of legislation," Jones said. "But who knows -- President Clinton and a GOP-controlled Congress agreed to welfare reform in 1996 despite significant misgivings on both sides, especially among liberal Democrats."

Photo Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images

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