With one month until Election Day, Republicans' chances for retaking the Senate and picking up seats in the House are improving.
The GOP has been buoyed by positive public polling, while red-state Democrats are still struggling to find distance from President Obama. There are bright spots and even some unexpected new targets on the map for both parties, but the overall national environment seems to have ticked a bit toward Republicans.
Democrats must hold their own for a decent election night, and they’re putting their faith in their vaunted ground game for the final stretch.
Both sides say control of the upper chamber is still very much at play, and Republicans certainly aren’t taking a victory lap just yet.
“The Senate is up for grabs and the outcome is far from certain,” said Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the pro-GOP American Crossroads. “There's a lot of encouraging signs in many states and a good progression for us in many states. But at the same time many of these races are still up for grabs.”
The GOP is all but certain to win open seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. Their candidates have alsopulled into dead heats or slight leads against red-state Sens. Mark BegichMark BegichThe future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map Trump campaign left out of Alaska voter guide MORE (D-Alaska), Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuFive unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race MORE (D-La.) and Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE (D-Ark.), leaving the party feeling bullish that former Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioner Dan Sullivan (R) and Reps. Tom CottonTom CottonArk., Texas senators put cheese dip vs. queso to the test Overnight Defense: Debate over Mattis heats up | White House releases military force rules Senate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules MORE (R-Ark.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) will be joining the upper chamber next year.
They’ve taken a small lead in an open-seat Iowa battle between Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce BraleyTrump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer Criminal sentencing bill tests McConnell-Grassley relationship Trump's VP list shrinks MORE (D-Iowa) and Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) that Democrats likely can’t afford to lose. Republicans are also neck-and-neck in Colorado, where Rep. Cory GardnerCory GardnerSenate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules Gardner's chief of staff tapped for Senate GOP campaign director McConnell reelected Senate majority leader MORE (R-Colo.) has closed in on Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallGardner's chief of staff tapped for Senate GOP campaign director The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate Colorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open MORE (D-Colo.). New Hampshire has also tightened, though Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenDems push for panel to probe Russian interference in election Hoyer pushes White House for briefing on Russian election interference This Week in Cybersecurity: Dems press for information on Russian hacks MORE (D-N.H.) still has the edge over former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).
But it’s not all good news for the GOP.
Republicans have a major and unexpected headache in deep red Kansas, where Sen. Pat RobertsPat RobertsSenate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules GOP debates going big on tax reform Memo to the LGBT community: Donald Trump is not your enemy MORE (R-Kan.) is trailing independent Greg Orman in the polls.
Republicans are hopeful that Roberts can right the ship now that he has a professional team around him. New national strategists are working to discredit the independent newcomer, and Orman has steadfastedly refused to say who he’ll caucus with if he does win. But Republicans privately admit that Roberts’s residency issues and lackluster campaign have put him in a bind.
Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganGOP senator floats retiring over gridlock 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate MORE (D-N.C.) is hanging tough with a small lead against North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), helped by a huge spending advantage in the red state and the unpopularity of the state legislature Tillis has led.
Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) is also a near-lock to win his race against former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) in a race Republicans long hoped they could win.
And while Begich, Pryor and Landrieu are all in tough fights, strategists in both parties say all of those races could still go either way.
“Our red-state Democrats are running incredibly strong, as are our other candidates across the map, and we're well-positioned to hold the majority because we have better candidates running better campaigns. Republicans are saddled with a slew of bad candidates that are defending even worse records,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky.
Democrats have had few offensive opportunities this election cycle. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDems see ’18 upside in ObamaCare repeal Senate fight over miners' heathcare boils over Congress to clear path for Mattis MORE (R-Ky.) has clung to a small but sturdy lead in his race against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), according to most polling.
There have been few reliable polls of Georgia, but strategists in both parties think businessman David Perdue (R) still has a lead over former charity executive Michelle Nunn (D), though Democrats believe his history of outsourcing jobs gives them enough fodder to defeat him.
On the House side, Democrats are largely in retrenchment mode as they look to protect some incumbents they’d hoped would be in good shape and at this point are trying to hold any GOP gains to a minimum.
Democrats have largely given up on taking out early targets like Reps. David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), along with capturing open seats in suburban Detroit and Philadelphia.
Instead, Democratic outside groups are putting in resources to protect Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), who few on either side expected would face much of a race, and an open seat in Maine they thought they had locked in after Republicans nominated a hard-right candidate. Freshman Reps. Julia BrownleyJulia BrownleyHouse caucus to focus on business in Latin America House votes to restrict IRS hires and funding EMILY's List names incumbent Dems it will fundraise for MORE (D-Calif.), Ami BeraAmi BeraA record number of Indian Americans have been elected to Congress Calif. Dem wins reelection in overtime 115th Congress will be most racially diverse in history MORE (D-Calif.) and Pete GallegoPete P. GallegoVulnerable Texas GOP lawmaker survives rematch 5 races for tech to watch Vulnerable House freshmen passed most bills in decades, analysis finds MORE (D-Texas) are also in tougher fights than Democrats thought they’d be in early on.
“Democrats are coming to grips with the reality that they'll be playing more defense than offense,” said David Wasserman, House editor for the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
“This just isn't a year full of opportunity for Democrats… Republicans aren't reaching deep into Democratic territory but they're going to win back some seats Democrats won in 2012.”
Democrats do have some big pickup chances, however, against a trio of incumbents with self-inflicted wounds: Reps. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.). They’re also hopeful about open seats in Iowa, Arkansas and Northern Virginia.
Neither side has a clear advantage in terms of the national mood, and without a wave forming, there are fewer competitive races than ever before. But Republicans are benefitting from a midterm electorate that tends to lean their way more than in presidential years as Democrats are defending some freshmen they thought would be able to win without much national support. Both sides privately agree that Republicans will likely pick up a half-dozen seats on Election Day, and possibly more.