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What Is a Senate Race?

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  • Written By: Shelby Winchell
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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"Senate race" is a term that is used to describe the process of candidates for a senate seat campaigning for votes before an election. In the United States, a senator is an elected official who serves in either the U.S. Senate or a state senate. During a senate race, the candidates for a seat in the senate will use various methods in an effort to convince eligible voters to cast their vote for them. The candidates might use advertising, hold public meetings or give speeches, engage in debates with other candidates or even go door-to-door to meet potential voters. The finish line of a senate race is, of course, the election — and only the winner will become a senator.

Senators have represented states in the U.S. Congress since the 1700s. The U.S. Constitution specifies that each state has two U.S. senators and that each senator serves a six-year term. When the Senate votes on a bill, each senator has one vote. The rules for state senates might vary by state, but no matter whether they are U.S. senators or state senators, these officials typically are fewer in number and serve for a longer term than the elected officials who serve in the U.S. House of Representatives or state house of representatives. Those differences are why the position of senator typically is considered more prestigious than that of representative.

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A senate race typically begins with candidates from both major parties — Republican and Democrat — competing for the nominations of the parties. An incumbent senator often has no challenger from his or her own party and will automatically receive the party's nomination. This phase of a senate race might feature primary elections or other methods of determining the nominees for the general election. After both parties have chosen a nominee, the senate race continues with the nominees vying for votes against each other as well as against any independent candidates or candidates of other, smaller parties.

The race for a senate seat might last several months or more than a year. Certain senate races for seats in the U.S. Congress might draw national attention even though only voters from one state can vote for that seat and the elected senator will serve only the voters from that state. This is often true when a senate seat is seen as potentially being lost by one party and gained by the other, because the party that holds the most seats in the U.S. Senate has more political control than the other. National political figures might get involved in these senate races in an effort to influence the vote in favor of their party. The fact that even the smallest states have two senators and therefore as much power in the senate as the largest states means that these critical senate races sometimes occur in states that have smaller populations and that typically might not receive national attention for political matters.

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