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Democrats control the Senate now — but face long odds of keeping power


No matter who wins the presidency this year, the makeup of Congress will determine much of what he can do. The Senate is especially powerful. Its majority can set the terms of legislation and also confirm or reject judges and cabinet members. If you worry about a president appointing officials who would wreck the rule of law, the Senate majority decides if he can. Democrats hold the Senate now and face long odds of keeping power. They're just defending more seats than Republicans and, in some cases, defending seats in states that voted for Donald Trump in the past.

Jessica Taylor is following all of this. She is with the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter - the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. Jessica, I love this that our friend, Amy Walter, now has her name on the building, so to speak. It's right - part of the title. Is that right?

JESSICA TAYLOR: Yes. It's a - we're celebrating our 40th anniversary this year.

INSKEEP: OK, that's great. Well, I'm glad to have you along, as you're a former colleague here, of course, of us here at NPR News.


INSKEEP: How do Senate Democrats view their chances?

TAYLOR: I think that they are cautiously optimistic at this point because they have to be. Now, in 2022, they faced not this terrible of a map, but they had some very difficult states that they were defending. And because of weak Republican nominees, they were able to win in states like Georgia and Arizona and Pennsylvania and really defy the odds and actually pick up a seat. So that's why they now have a 51-49 majority that is really crucial. But, really, they pitched a perfect game in 2022. It's hard to do that twice in a row when you're facing such a completely difficult map where they are almost entirely on defense.

INSKEEP: Yeah. I'm thinking about the way that a lot of Democrats, for years, have hated Joe Manchin of West Virginia, their fellow Democrat. Well, he's retiring. They'll soon be rid of Joe Manchin. What happens to that very important West Virginia seat now?

TAYLOR: That is a seat that we expect to go to Republicans. Once Manchin announced his retirement, we moved that seat to solid Republican. So that is a seat that we count in the Republican column. And even if they only lose West Virginia, but a Republican - Trump - wins the White House, Republicans would have the majority...


TAYLOR: ...Because it would be a 50-50 split, and the Republican vice president would break the tie. So really, even if they only lose West Virginia, the game is over. But there are so many more seats in play in very difficult states.

INSKEEP: Kyrsten Sinema, another Democratic senator - former Democrat, at this point, that Democrats really were frustrated by - is trying to keep her seat in Arizona. But I don't understand what's going on there - three-way race?

TAYLOR: We don't know yet, but we should know pretty soon. The beginning of April is the deadline, and she has to turn in a lot of signatures if she wants to run as an independent. She has not been - she's been - not been raising the type of money that you would need to do this, and we have not seen indication that she is gathering these signatures which take a long time. So we should have an answer in a month for sure, but I think it's possible this could just be a two-way race, really...


TAYLOR: ...Which is still competitive and in our toss-up column.

INSKEEP: Competitive, but Democrats would be in a better place than if there were two, like, current or former Democrats splitting up their side of the vote, I suppose.

TAYLOR: Well, it's interesting because Sinema's path is actually to take more Republican votes...


TAYLOR: ...Sort of those McCain Republicans. That's sort of the calculation that I have seen that they have released. So because you have Kari Lake that is more of a divisive candidate, they see that she could take some of those more moderate votes and would have to win a majority of independents. So I've actually seen where she could take more Republicans.

INSKEEP: Well, now, it's interesting you mention Kari Lake, who ran previously for governor and lost, because you were talking about Republicans running unelectable candidates or problematic candidates. I guess they're trying for more effective candidates this year. And I note that, in Maryland, where there's a Senate race, they've got Larry Hogan, the popular former Republican governor.

TAYLOR: Yes. And they've gotten good candidates in Montana, where they have now avoided a primary. We will know the outcome in Ohio in just a few weeks. That's another very pivotal state. They have a clear field in Pennsylvania, which is another top pickup opportunity. But Lake sort of does stand out because she's exactly the type of candidate they hoped to avoid. To me, this is a bit of a marriage of convenience because they - when she got in, they did not see a way that she would not win the Republican primary because she's so popular with the base. So I think they've sort of forged this alliance with her to try to keep her on the straight and narrow, focused on the future, not looking back toward her claims about fraudulent votes in the 2020 election, but it's still dicey.

INSKEEP: In a couple of seconds, is there any state that Republicans are defending a seat that they have to worry about seriously?

TAYLOR: Texas and Florida are really the only two, but I think those still remain really long odds in a presidential year for them.

INSKEEP: Jessica, thanks so much. It's a pleasure talking with you again.

TAYLOR: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Jessica Taylor of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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