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Part II: Which Races Will Decide Whose Party Controls the Senate?

By Lauren Camera — October 21, 2014 4 min read
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Last week we gave you a run-down of some of the closest U.S. Senate races this mid-term election that will decide which party controls that chamber. Today, we bring you Part II of that list.

These five races are among the dozen that politicos will be watching as Republicans seek to maintain their current numbers, plus win six seats that Democrats currently hold in order to call the Senate their own.

Louisiana: The latest poll from the conservative Rasmussen Reports has Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu up just three points against Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy, in a three-way race that also features tea-party candidate Rob Maness. Should the race go to a run-off, as some political watchers expect it to, Landrieu could find herself in some trouble. The latest polling of that scenario from several pollsters shows Cassidy with a solid edge. Debate over the Common Core State Standards recently erupted in the race, pitting Landrieu against her two challengers. Landrieu defended the common core, emphasizing that the standards are a local and state effort, and not part of a federal initiative. Both Cassidy and Maness came down on the other side of the argument, popular among Republicans these days: Cassidy insisted that that the Obama administration forced states to adopt the common-core standards in exchange for waivers from the No Child Left Behind law and competitive grant dollars, while Maness explained that the standards are troublesome for students with special needs, like his son.

Arkansas: The latest poll from the conservative Rasmussen Reports has Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor down three points against Republican challenger Rep. Tom Cotton. It’s always been assumed that Pryor, a moderate Democrat in a red state, would face a tough re-election. Indeed, at this time last year, the National Education Association was already running ads criticizing Cotton, at that point Pryor’s potential GOP opponent, for trying to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act by shutting down the government. Though Pryor doesn’t play a major role in education issues, he did introduce the Sensible School Lunch Act, a bill that would have made changes to grain and protein requirements, similar to those in the new USDA rule. Cotton, meanwhile, is a big proponent of school choice, including home schooling, charters, and vouchers to be used at private and religious schools. He also favors merit pay for teachers and alternative teaching certification pathways.

South Dakota: The latest poll from the GOP Harper Polling, shows Republican Mike Rounds up four points against Independent candidate Larry Pressler and Democratic candidate Rick Weiland. The three are vying for a seat left open by retiring Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat. Rounds, a former governor of South Dakota, increased K-12 state spending while in office and opened 10 research centers at the state’s university system. His campaign web site says that, if elected, he plans to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and defund its budget. Pressler served in the U.S. House from 1975-1979 and in the U.S. Senate from 1979 through 1997. He has limited education experience, though he sat on the House education committee for four years. Weiland, meanwhile, doesn’t have any information about his education priorities on his campaign web site.

Kentucky: The latest poll from conservative Rasmussen Reports has Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, up eight points against Democrat challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state. Two weeks ago, however, a survey from the Courier Journal showed Grimes up two points. The race has largely been a battle of coal and energy issues. Other than corralling Republicans through various legislative issues as Minority Leader, McConnell doesn’t play a key role in education legislation. Grimes doesn’t have much experience on education issues either, though one of her major campaign platforms is making college more affordable by giving students the same loan rates at Wall Street banks, allowing student to refinance loans, and streamlining repayment options.

New Hampshire: The latest poll from Suffolk University and the Boston Herald has Democratic incumbent Sen. Jean Shaheen up three points against Republican challenger Scott Brown. Shaheen has been a big proponent of STEM issues, and introduced a bill that would establish a competitive grant for states to work with the private sector to establish extracurricular and non-traditional STEM education programs, such as robotics competitions or engineering software challenges. During her time in the Senate, she also voted to fully fund the Pell grant program, which provides tuition assistance for low- and middle-income college students. Brown, meanwhile, is focusing his education platform on higher education. In a position paper, he touts efforts to slow the rate of tuition increases at colleges and universities through the use of technology and by re-examining tax policies on college endowments. He also pledges to overhaul the entire student loan system.