Top of the Ticket Woes for 2016 Republican-Controlled US Senate Seats?

Florida, Wisconsin, and North Carolina are three of 18 states never to split their ticket by voting for a Democratic presidential nominee and a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in the same cycle

senateseal20As the 2016 presidential election heads deeper into the primary season, Donald Trump’s increasingly firm foothold as the party’s frontrunner continues to strike fear not only in the GOP establishment for its prospects of winning the White House, but also his impact on down-ballot races.

For months, prominent party officials and officeholders have lamented about the possibility of a Trump or Ted Cruz headed ticket in November, with particular concerns about the ability of Republicans to retain control of the U.S. Senate, where the party will defend a number of vulnerable open and incumbent-fronted seats.

The most commonly cited GOP seats in or near the danger zone of flipping in 2016 are those in Florida (open), Illinois (Mark Kirk), New Hampshire (Kelly Ayotte), Ohio (Rob Portman), Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey), and Wisconsin (Ron Johnson) with Arizona (John McCain), Indiana (open), Missouri (Roy Blunt), and North Carolina (Richard Burr) potentially also in the mix.

It is certainly possible for the GOP to hold some of these seats even if Trump or Cruz (or Marco Rubio) loses the state at the top of the ticket this November.

But in some states it would be a first.

A Smart Politics analysis finds that 18 states have never voted for a Democratic presidential nominee and a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in the same cycle including five potential battlegrounds in 2016: Arizona, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

These 18 states represent each region of the country from the Northeast (Connecticut), to the Midwest (Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin), to the South (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia), and the West (Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Utah, Wyoming).

By contrast only one state has never split its ticket in the opposite way: backing the GOP nominee for president and a Democrat for U.S. Senate (Kansas).

Eleven of these 18 aforementioned states will hold contests for both offices this November with five a virtual lock to vote Republican in both: Alaska, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Utah.

Connecticut’s seat, meanwhile, is currently held by Democrat Richard Blumenthal and the one-term U.S. Senator is a strong favorite to win reelection this cycle.

That leaves five states in which a victory by the eventual Democratic presidential nominee in the state is at least conceivable this fall (especially with Trump or Cruz on the ballot) and would require the Republican U.S. Senate nominee to make history to keep the seat in the GOP column: Arizona, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

Since the introduction of direct elections more than a century ago, these five states have cast their ballots for a Democratic presidential nominee 35 times in cycles with U.S. Senate races.

Republicans lost each of these nearly three-dozen U.S. Senate contests (34 to Democrats and one to a Progressive):

  • Arizona (0 for 5): 1912, 1916, 1932, 1940, 1944
  • Florida (0 for 10): 1916, 1920, 1932, 1936 x2 (s), 1940, 1944, 1964, 1976, 2012
  • Indiana (0 for 2): 1932, 1964
  • North Carolina (0 for 9): 1920, 1924, 1932, 1936, 1944, 1948, 1956, 1960, 2008
  • Wisconsin (0 for 9): 1932, 1940, 1964, 1976, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2004, 2012

As for the other potentially vulnerable Republican-held U.S. Senate seats in 2016, Illinois and Ohio have split their tickets in this fashion only once each – and in the same cycle more than 75 years ago.

Illinois has backed a GOP U.S. Senate nominee in one of the 10 cycles in which the Democratic presidential nominee carried the state – in 1940, when attorney C. Wayland Brooks narrowly defeated appointed incumbent James Slattery in a special election by half of one percent as Franklin Roosevelt beat Wendell Willkie in the state by 2.4 points.

Illinois Democrats won the other nine U.S. Senate races in 1932, 1936, 1944, 1948, 1960, 1992, 1996, 2004, and 2008.

Ohio split its ticket in one of the seven cycles in which it cast its Electoral College votes for the Democratic nominee – also in 1940: Roosevelt carried the Buckeye State by 4.4 points as Republican Cleveland Mayor Harold Burton beat former Congressman John McSweeney by 4.7 points.

Democrats were victorious in the U.S. Senate race in the remaining six cycles: 1916, 1932, 1964, 1976, 1992, and 2012.

Three other key states where Republicans will need to spend money to defend U.S. Senate seats have had some success in backing GOP nominees for the nation’s upper legislative chamber while voting for a Democratic presidential candidate at the top of the ticket:

  • Missouri has done so in 3 of 9 cycles: 1944 (Forrest Donnell), 1976 (John Danforth), and 1992 (Kit Bond)
  • New Hampshire has voted thusly in 5 of 6 cycles: 1936 (Styles Bridges), 1944 (Charles Tobey), 1992 (Judd Gregg), 1996 (Bob Smith), and 2004 (Judd Gregg)
  • Pennsylvania has done so in 6 of 9 cycles: 1964 (Hugh Scott), 1968 (Richard Schweiker), 1976 (John Heinz), 1992 (Arlen Specter), 2000 (Rick Santorum), and 2004 (Arlen Specter)

All told, these 10 states with competitive (Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) or potentially competitive (Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina) U.S. Senate races with Republican-held seats in 2016 have voted for a GOP U.S. Senate nominee in 16 of the 60 cycles in which it backed a Democratic presidential candidate (26.7 percent).

Overall, it has been much more common for states to split their federal ticket voting for a Republican presidential candidate and a Democratic U.S. Senate nominee (153 times) than a Democratic presidential candidate and a GOP U.S. Senate nominee (78 times).

The state that has most commonly split its ticket for a Republican presidential nominee and Democratic U.S. Senator is Montana.

The Treasure State has done so 10 times over the last century including eight of the last 11 cycles in which both federal offices have been on the ballot: 1952 (Mike Mansfield), 1960 (Lee Metcalf), 1972 (Lee Metcalf), 1976 (John Melcher), 1984 (Max Baucus), 1996 (Max Baucus), 2008 (Max Baucus), and 2012 (Jon Tester).

Montana voters also split their ticket in this fashion in 1924 (Thomas Walsh) and 1928 (Burton Wheeler).

North Dakota and Nevada have backed Republican presidential nominees and Democratic U.S. Senate nominees seven and six times respectively while Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia have done so five times each.

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3 Comments on "Top of the Ticket Woes for 2016 Republican-Controlled US Senate Seats?"

  1. 1. “Arizona (0 for 5): 1912…”: Did the “inaugural” senators of The Grand Canyon State (Marcus Aurelius Smith for the 2-year term; Henry Fountain Ashurst for the 4-year term) not require a CONFIRMING election by the state legislature thereof?
    2. Methinks it is highly unlikely that McCain – if he even makes it out of the (“closed”) primary contest – would conduct a unified general election campaign within his state, should the nominee be other than Governor Kasich. Indeed, in his initial Senate bid, he cancelled a planned unity campaign for the statewide ticket, upon the unexpected defeat of Burton Barr to one Evan Mecham for the gubernatorial nomination – perhaps a harbinger of the dynamics of intramural Republican politics, 30 years on?

    • Eric Ostermeier | February 22, 2016 at 7:07 am | Reply

      Those pre-1913 voter preference elections for US Senate (e.g. AZ, MN, OR etc.) can always use an asterisk. The main point of this report remains intact – whether the voters in the state split their ticket in the pres/US Senate contests (regardless of how binding the latter vote technically was).

  2. True enough! The secondary point of “this report” seems to be: (In the wake of the first three contests, and the subsequent stunning end of a certain “joyless” campaign) The nominee of the party (formerly) of Lincoln and TR most likely will be DJ Trump, T Cruz, and M Rubio – in that descending order (of odds).

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