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Don’t look now, but Democrats may have turned around their sinking Senate hopes. Maybe.
After months of forecasts that Joe Biden would face a hostile Congress next year, it has become clear that the Senate story is changing. Candidates matter. Some klunkers, however, are hurting the overall Republican cause.
Let’s run the tape. Nine of the 10 Senate elections that Cook Political Report considers to be serious have the Democratic candidates outperforming their GOP rivals in the amount of money raised. Florida will be electing Tuesday’s nominee, while New Hampshire will follow suit on September. 13.) It is also serious that there is a fundraising deficit: A net advantage of $181.1 millions for Democrats in those races including Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, who outperformed Blake Masters (his Republican opponent) by more $47 million.
Surveys,Although it has had its limitations over the past six years, this race looks much better for Republicans than most other races. Using FiveThirtyEight’s polling tracker and, where available, its state averages, these races are very much in play. Out of 10, Republicans have a lead or are even ahead in two of them: North Carolina, and Florida. In Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio (Florida) is so much ahead of Rep. Val Demings than many Democrats think they will never win that seat. Democrats’ advantage ranges from the narrow one point in Ohio to a gaping 10 points in Pennsylvania.
This all makes for an upheaval in conventional wisdom in Washington from way back to last month, when Democrats’ current majority in the House was widely viewed as toast and their control of the Senate was seen as equally as fragile. That outlook’s first half is still largely intact. Before the House elections, the GOP had already been favored by the board. Gerrymandering in just four states—Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas—was enough to very likely undo Democrats’ control in the lower chamber.
In the Senate—which is evenly split, allowing Vice President Kamala Harris to give Democrats control by serving as a tie-breaker—Democrats are defending 14 seats. The assumption most of this year has been that gives Republicans the clear edge, considering the party’s better performance as recently as June when polls gauged voter intensity on which party should control Congress. Although the midterms have at times seemed like an episode of reality TV than a serious discussion about the future direction of the country, Democrats correctly worried that they would waste their chance in the same manner as Barack Obama in his first two years.
It was a hot summer, with a Supreme Court case upending federal abortion rights for half a century, riveting work from the Jan. 6 Committee, and an unexpected surge of legislative victories by President Joe Biden, his allies, The polls were moving. Checked out activists checked in again. The checkbooks of armchair liberals were opened. Now, the silent work of the Democratic consultancy class seems less like wasteful dollars.
The Senate is, in other words, more open to speculation. Adding to the GOP’s troubles are some first-time candidates having a rough stretch, like J.D. Vance, Herschel, Walker, and Mehmet Oz are all from Ohio. All three were able to win their primaries, thanks to a highly sought-after endorsement by Donald Trump.
For Democrats, however, there is not one first-time candidate in the Senate lineup. Factor in falling gas prices, soaring jobs numbers, and a supply chain that is less garbled, and Republicans may find that even persistent sky-high inflation won’t be enough to spike Democrats’ advantage.
That said, a lot can still happen before Election Day on Nov. 8—or even when the first early-vote window opens in some states as early as next month. Mistakes can happen. An external event or a mistake by the Biden government can make things difficult. And don’t discount the power of a late infusion of outside cash, especially from mercurial billionaires with pet candidates this cycle.
It’s become stylish among institutional conservatives to lay the blame for the changing landscape on the National Republican Senatorial Committee and its chairman, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, for not doing more to try and block candidates like Vance, Walker, Oz, and they were unable to win their primaries. The NRSC’s strategists rightly point out that Trump would be better positioned than the other party to choose candidates if he tried to pick them.
Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell has been frustrated by the shifting field. He is now just one seat away from taking back control of the Senate. Last week, he said the Senate would be close, no matter who claimed the majority: “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different—they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”
In response, Trump attacked McConnell’s wife, Trump’s own Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao—which tells observers everything about why Scott didn’t engage in primaries.
Still, McConnell is the GOP’s smartest strategist and is looking at the same top-line data as everyone, and Democrats are sitting in at least a fighting position. McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund is his super PAC, which has already raised $114 million this cycle. He has hustled to get more money into it. He’s sending $28 million to help Vance in Republican-leaning Ohio, and dumping $37 million in Georgia and $34 million in Pennsylvania. McConnell is trying to mount a rescue operation, one that he’s previously orchestrated to save races that were seen as gimmies at the start of the cycles.
But it’s now approaching the end of August, and the time for tinkering is over. Democrats at risk now tops voters’ minds, according to new NBC News polling, meaning Republicans hoping for a Trump halo might be left mortal. Most Americans think the ex-President should continue to face investigations, and the GOP brand isn’t what it was two years ago.
Every campaign cycle eventually involves some level of cruel-eyed triage. This is no exception. All but New Hampshire have the GOP’s nominees. Democrats are heading into the fall far stronger than expected, building campaign machines in places where Democrats haven’t really had operations for years.
However, their margin for error is close to zero. When you’re talking about an evenly split chamber, the same, of course, is true for Republicans.
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