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Education

Which Races Will Decide Whose Party Controls the Senate?

By Lauren Camera — October 13, 2014 5 min read

The Nov. 4 mid-term election is just 22 days away, and politicos are awaiting the latest polls for U.S. Senate races with bated breath, hoping to forecast whether or not the chamber will flip from Democratic control to Republican.

Republicans need to maintain their current numbers and win six seats that Democrats currently hold in order to call the Senate their own.

This morning, we bring you a run-down of the closest Senate contests—those that will decide which party claims majority—and anything education connections they may have.


  • Georgia: The latest poll from SurveyUSA has David Perdue, a Republican, up one point against Democrat Michelle Nunn for a seat left vacant by retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Nunn, president of the largest volunteer service organization in the country and daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, and Perdue, a successful businessman and a cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, have butted heads repeatedly over the Common Core State Standards, which Georgia adopted in 2010. Nunn, whose early summer lead vanished after her political strategy was leaked to the media, supports the standards, while Perdue considers them a federal overreach.

  • Iowa: The latest poll from Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics has Republican Joni Ernst up one point against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley for a seat made open by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat. Harkin, who chairs the Senate education committee and has been one of the biggest champions of education during his four-plus decades in Congress, is hoping to make a reauthorization of the higher education act his swan song before waving goodbye to Capitol Hill. Braley, who has been a major player in Democratic efforts to keep student-loan interest rates low, visited four schools across Iowa over the summer as part of a campaign strategy to reach out to younger voters and highlight one of his biggest campaign platforms—increasing access and affordability in higher education. Braley was down six points in a September poll, but his odds are improving as Democratic political action committees continue to dump money into the race with the strategy of getting those who would not normally vote to fill out absentee ballots, according to the Des Moines Register. Ernst, meanwhile, doesn’t include any information on her education positions on her campaign website.

  • Kansas: The latest poll from CNN/OCR has incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts up one point against Independent challenger Greg Orman. Orman became the only challenger after Chad Taylor, the Democratic candidate, pulled out of the race in early September, hoping Orman would garner a majority of the votes by appealing to both sides of the aisle. Roberts, who sits on the Senate education committee, introduced a bill last year that would prevent the federal government from incentivizing states to adopt the common core, and has sought to scrap the Race to the Top competitive grant program. Orman, meanwhile, would like to make college more affordable and hold post-secondary institutions more accountable for student outcomes.

  • North Carolina: The latest polls from USA Today/Suffolk and Rasmussen Reports both have Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan up two points against Republican challenger Thom Tillis, the state House speaker. Education issues have starred in this race, the most expensive in the country, according to last quarter’s financial filings submitted to the Federal Election Commission. Hagan and Democratic allies continue to hammer Tillis on his prominent role in ushering through successive state budgets that cut education funding, resulting in larger class size and scarce classroom resources. Meanwhile, Tillis has been touting the latest state budget, which also included a new salary schedule for teachers that would result in some being paid more.

  • Colorado: The latest Fox News poll has Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican challenger up six points against Democratic incumbent Mark Udall, even though a poll from a week earlier by CBS News and the New York Times showed Udall up three points. The National Education Association recently dumped $200,000 into an TV ad that dings Rep. Gardner for his vote in favor of the federal fiscal 2015 House budget, which would have cut access to the Pell grant, a college tuition assistance program for low- and middle-income students. The 30-second spot, designed to target Hispanic and other Spanish-speaking voters, is part of a larger effort led by a coalition of political action committees, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Senate Majority PAC, and People for the American Way, which collectively plan to spend more than $1 million in the Colorado Senate race through the Nov. 4 election day. Udall, meanwhile, is a co-author of a bill that would call for states to set goals for raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap.

  • Alaska: The latest poll from CNN/ORC has Republican challenger Daniel Sullivan six points up on incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. On Saturday, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten traveled to Alaska to stump for Begich, who has been falling farther and farther behind in the polls since Sullivan for overtook him in August. The National Education Association has also been honing in on the Alaskan Senate race to help Begich rebound. In September, the teachers’ union launched a TV ad buy featuring a middle school music teacher arguing that Sullivan cheated teachers out of their earned benefits. Begich isn’t overly focused on education, but this Congress he introduced the Investing in Innovation for Education Act, which seeks to continue the Obama administration’s “i3" grant program, and is a member of the Senate STEM Education Caucus. Begich is also getting some election help from the political action committee Democrats for Education Reform, which doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with the AFT. Sullivan doesn’t say much about education on his campagin website, beyond a pledge to help grow the pipeline of Native Alaskan teachers.

Keep your eyes on these close races, too:

Louisiana

Arkansas

South Dakota

Kentucky

New Hampshire

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