Washington – Connecticut’s Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal are not on the ballot this year, but the outcome of the Nov. 3 elections will impact their political futures and their ability to press their agendas in the next Congress.
That’s because the election has the potential to flip the Senate, now controlled by Republicans, to Democratic dominance. If Democrats manage to wrest control of the chamber from the GOP, Blumenthal and Murphy will be catapulted from the minority into the majority. With that new status will come the ability to chair Senate panels and hold hearings on favored legislation, bills that have languished since Republicans took over the chamber in 2015.
So, instead of spending campaign cash on re-election, Connecticut’s senators are using their war chests to make contributions to vulnerable Democrats, like Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., and to Democrats challenging vulnerable Republican incumbents, including Sara Gideon, who is trying to unseat Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Blumenthal has spent more than $200,000 on political contributions from his campaign account and leadership PAC. Murphy has spent more than $100,000.
Murphy has also taken to Twitter, with his Senate pal Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, to urge followers to donate to the campaigns of Democrats running for U.S. Senate.
One tweet urged supporters to donate to the campaign of Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is running to unseat Republican Sen. David Perdue in Georgia.
“Ossoff can win. Period. Stop. And if we win Georgia, [Sen. Mitch] McConnell is no longer Majority Leader and Trump’s campaign signs come down off the White House lawn,” Murphy tweeted. “Can you give something to Jon today?”
Another Murphy tweet sought donations to Mark Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.. He is running against Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz.
“Mark Kelly is building an operation that will help Biden win Arizona too,” Murphy tweeted. “Make a donation tonight and you get a two-fer. ”
This is a tough year for the Senate GOP. Republicans hold 53 Senate seats and are defending 23 of the 35 seats up for election this year. To regain control of the Senate, Democrats would need a net gain of four seats if President Donald Trump is re-elected, but only three if he loses, because Kamala Harris, as vice president, would be able to cast a tie-breaking vote.
The only really vulnerable Democrat this year is Jones of Alabama. Meanwhile, there are several Senate Republicans running hard races to keep their seats, besides Perdue and McSally.
Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has a pro-Trump voting record in a state that’s drifted toward Democrats. Former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is trying to unseat Gardner.
And in Maine, Collins is facing her toughest re-election, with Democratic rival Gideon lashing into the Republican senator for her votes on the 2017 GOP tax-cut law, Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, and Trump’s acquittal in the Senate trial on the president’s impeachment.
There are also hot races in Iowa and Montana for seats now held by the GOP.
Political analyst Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the presidential race will have strong coattails this year. He said if former Vice President Joe Biden wins “by a least a few points,” the Senate is likely to split 50-50 between the two parties, with Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote.
“A bigger Biden win would usher in a bigger Democratic majority,” Sabato said.
He also said that if Trump repeats his 2016 feat, winning the electoral college even as he lost the popular vote, the U.S. Senate could remain Republican.
Ken Long, a professor of history and political science at the University of St. Joseph, said the possibility that voters could both oust Trump and flip the Senate – giving Democrats control of the White House and both chambers of Congress – would end a long era of divided government. That, Long said, would give Connecticut’s senators key roles to play in the next Congress.
“A united government creates the possibility of a reformist government,” Long said, as gridlock is replaced by compromise.
He said both Blumenthal and Murphy are more reformist than revolutionaries “and they might be the ones who negotiate a compromise.”
Long also said Democrats would have to work quickly to accomplish something, since control of the chamber could flip again in 2022 mid-term elections.
Dems would still face GOP filibusters
Aided in part by the seniority system in the chamber, a Democratic takeover of the Senate would propel both Blumenthal and Murphy into positions that would give them higher visibility and the ability to hold hearings and press for consideration of their bills on the Senate floor.
But even if the Democrats win the Senate, they are not projected to have the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. Compromises with the GOP and Republican support will be needed for Connecticut’s senators to win approval of legislation that would move their agendas forward.
That may not be difficult in some cases. With Senate Majority Leader McConnell out of the way and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in charge, Murphy is likely to finally be able to get an expansion of FBI background checks of gun purchasers through the Senate, a measure the senator has championed since the Newtown massacre in 2012.
Blumenthal has also introduced legislation that has bipartisan support, including a bill that would fight human trafficking.
If Democrats take the Senate, Blumenthal would chair a Senate Judiciary Committee panel. He is now the senior Democrat on the panel with overview of the federal courts. Blumenthal, however, said he is not concerning himself with that now. He is focused on passing a comprehensive stimulus package “and on winning in November.”
“The future of our health care system, our economy, and the very building blocks of our democracy are all on the ballot this election year,” he said. “Under Senator McConnell’s leadership, the Senate has ceased to function. He has transformed the world’s greatest deliberative body into a rubber stamp for fringe right-wing judges and Trump political nominees.”
He also said, “How my day might change as a member of the Senate majority doesn’t matter nearly as much as what might change for the American people with leaders who actually care about what they’re going through.”
Murphy, who released a semi-biographical book earlier this month called “The Violence Inside Us: A Brief History of an Ongoing American Tragedy,” has become a leading Democratic voice on foreign policy as well as gun control, and is likely to chair a panel on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee if the Democrats control the Senate.
Murphy would also likely chair a Senate Appropriations subcommittee. And both Blumenthal and Murphy have a shot of being tapped for a job in a Biden administration.
Gary Rose, the head of the political science department at Sacred Heart University, said Blumenthal would make a good U.S. attorney general, having served as Connecticut’s attorney general for 20 years.
“It would not surprise me if that’s in the cards,” Rose said. “He would fit well in a Biden administration because he checks all the right boxes.”
Those “boxes” include a strong legal background and Blumenthal’s liberal, but not radical, politics, Rose said.