Control of the U.S. Senate is profoundly important to the LGBT community

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111th U.S. Senate photo
111th U.S. Senate photo

The election is already under way 

Control of the U.S. Senate is almost as important to LGBT people this year as control of the White House. Under Republican control, the Senate has ignored bills to make schools safer for LGBT students and to stop discrimination against LGBT youth seeking child welfare services, and many other protections are in jeopardy.

the Senate has “rubberstamped” confirmations for nominees who have records of hostility to LGBT people

The Equality Act, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and federally funded programs, has passed the U.S. House of Representatives but has languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee, without hearing or vote. And, under Republican control, the Senate has “rubberstamped” confirmations, at every level of the federal court system, for nominees who have records of hostility to LGBT people.

“In nomination after nomination, [President Trump’s] picks for federal courts are hostile to civil rights in general and specifically hostile to LGBTQ rights,” says Lambda Legal. Twenty-four have already been confirmed for appointment to the federal appeals courts and, by month’s end, the Senate will most likely confirm Trump’s third pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. Marriage equality could be threatened by the new makeup of the court.

It warrants particular notice that the Senate, under Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, openly flouted the majority’s own rules governing nominations to deprive Democratic President Obama of his choice of a nominee during the 2016 election year, but insisting that Republican President Trump have one during the 2020 election season, in short order after the death in September of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Not every LGBT person or group has given up on the Republican Party. Charles T. Moran, managing director of the national Log Cabin Republicans group, signed onto a letter supporting the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice, even as every other national LGBT group opposed her confirmation. Log Cabin Republicans has not endorsed any U.S. Senate candidates this year, but its chapter in Illinois has endorsed the Republican challenger to incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. Nationally, Log Cabin also considers U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) a strong ally, even while the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Maine have turned against her.

But on an even more practical level, having Democrats control the Senate and the House would create a line of defense against any number of schemes President Trump might employ to declare himself the winner of the presidential race. It would also provide Congress with a realistic means of holding Trump accountable for any crimes he might commit, or has committed, against the nation. It would also improve the chances that any upcoming U.S. Supreme Court vacancy could be filled by nominees who have a commitment to equal rights for LGBT people.

If Trump retains the White House, Democrats would need 51 seats in order to take control of the Senate

So, what are the numbers and which are the states that could decide who controls the U.S. Senate next session?

There are 35 U.S. Senate seats up for election Nov. 3, but only 10 of them are contestable enough to warrant attention and funding by supporters of either party. Nine of those 10 are currently held by Republicans seeking re-election; one (Gary Peters in Michigan) is a Democrat.

If Trump retains the White House, Democrats would need 51 seats in order to take control of the Senate. They currently have 47, but polling indicates they will lose one of those seats (held by Alabama Sen. Doug Jones). Michigan’s Democratic Sen. Peters is also in a tough race for re-election. The latest poll shows Republican challenger John James with a 1.4 percent lead and only 2.5 percent of voters undecided. But an average of polls, calculated by RealClearPolitics, gives Peters a 4.9 percent edge.

Assuming Jones and Peters lose, the Democrats would be down to 45 seats and need to flip six Republican seats to take the Senate.

FiveThirtyEight.com, the website founded by gay statistics guru Nate Silver, calculated last week that Democrats have a 73 percent chance of winning the Senate. Here are the races where U.S. Senate seats have the best chance to change from Republican to Democrat:

  • Arizona – Democrat Mark Kelly, husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is running to replace first-term Republican Martha McSally. The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Kelly, saying he has been a “steadfast ally.” McSally’s score on LGBT issues has rated a zero from HRC. An average of recent polls, calculated by RealClearPolitics.com, shows Kelly with a 8.3 percent lead, as of Oct. 16.
  • Colorado – Democrat John Hickenlooper, a former governor, is leading incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. The only recent poll there, conducted in early October, showed Hickenlooper up by nine points. Gardner also merits a zero on HRC’s Congressional scorecard; Hickenlooper has won HRC’s endorsement. One Colorado calls Hickenlooper a “pro-equality champion.” It is worth mentioning that Colorado’s popular sitting governor, Jared Polis, is gay, so LGBT-friendly candidates may carry significant weight.
  • Georgia – Democrat Jon Ossoff, a media owner and journalist, almost won a U.S. House seat from Georgia two years ago. He had HRC’s endorsement then and now and he and special-election Senate candidate Raphael Warnock (see below) have both earned gay presidential contender Pete Buttigieg’s endorsement. Ossoff is hoping to unseat Republican incumbent David Perdue, who has a zero score from HRC. RealClearPolitics’ average of polls shows Perdue ahead by only one point as of Oct. 12. Perdue’s recent mocking of vice presidential candidate and fellow Senator Kamala Harris’ name at a public rally may become a factor as the race enters its home stretch.
  • Georgia – Democrat Raphael Warnock, is personal pastor of openly lesbian Georgia State Rep. Park Cannon, who has endorsed him, as has HRC. Warnock, while having “evolved” on issues such as marriage for same-sex couples, has welcomed LGBT people and promised leaders to passionately argue against anyone trying to use religion to discriminate. The Republican incumbent, Kelly Loeffler, was appointed to the seat in 2019 and has not been in the Senate long enough to obtain a score from HRC, but she recently introduced legislation to limit Title IX protection in educational sports to sex discrimination “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” RealClearPolitics calculation show Warnock leads by 7.7 points as of Oct. 12 over Sen. Loeffler and a host of other candidates. That race, which is essentially a primary to fill the remaining term left by Johnny Isakson, is likely headed to a runoff; if no candidate achieves 50 percent, it will take place Jan. 5.
  • Montana – Democrat Steve Bullock, former governor of the state, has seen a recent surge in support, from nine points down on Oct. 7 to a tie on Oct. 10. As governor, Bullock signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT state employees and supported the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike state bans on marriage for same-sex couples. HRC has endorsed Bullock, and scored the Republican incumbent, Steve Daines, a zero.
  • North Carolina – Democrat Cal Cunningham appeared to be running away with the election in his bid to unseat incumbent Republican Thom Tillis. Then news broke that he had been engaging in sexting with a woman other than his wife, and his polls slipped. But FiveThirtyEight.com reported last week that Cunningham appears to have survived. A recent New York Times polling shows him with a one-point lead but RealClearPolitics’ average of polls shows him with a 4.3 point lead. HRC and Buttigieg have both endorsed Cunningham.
  • Iowa – Democrat Theresa Greenfield, a real estate executive, has been consistently polling three to five points ahead of incumbent Republican Joni Ernst in recent weeks, but the “undecided” votes are running about 10 percent. She’s got the support of HRC and Buttigieg, and Ernst’s HRC score is a zero. Two early October polls showed Greenfield up by four points, but a margin of error of 3.5.
  • Maine – Democrat Sara Gideon, Speaker of the Maine House, might once have been considered a long-shot to unseat long-time Maine incumbent Republican Susan Collins. Collins was seen by many in the LGBT community as among the very few allies on the Republican side. But then she voted for Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, whom HRC characterized as a “dangerous, unqualified nominee.” Collins’ impassioned floor speech and vote for Kavanaugh and repeated willingness to stay in lockstep with Mitch McConnell has rendered Collins’ re-election “simply untenable,” said HRC president Alphonso David. On the other side of the aisle, Log Cabin Republicans is announcing its endorsement of Collins this week. And RealClearPolitics’ averaging of polls shows Gideon up by 4.2 points in early October.

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