Two weeks from Election Day, GOP hopes of capturing congressional control continue to rise.
"We are going to win the Senate. I feel very good about that," National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Collins said last week.
Meanwhile, Democrats privately fret that the battle for Congress might be slipping away, as President Obama drags his party down.
Their hopes of hanging on rest in their sophisticated ground game. Democrats have spent more than $60 million on field efforts, and strategists in both parties say that could net them a point or two on Election Day.
“There are lots of close races across the country, but Democrats are running better campaigns with better candidates, and we're confident that at the end of the day, we're going to hold the majority,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky.
Favorable playing field pays off
Republicans started off the cycle with a welcoming map — Democrats are defending seven seats in states 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney won. And for them, the hits kept coming: President Obama’s approval rating is hovering around 40 percent, and the administration’s handling of recent crises continues to take their toll.
Still, Obama keeps bear-hugging them: His comments Monday that red-state Democrats “are all folks who vote with me” give Republicans additional fodder to tie them to the president, following his recent statement that his agenda “is on the ballot this year.”
Republicans are all but guaranteed to pick up a pair of open red-state seats in Montana and West Virginia, and are feeling increasingly confident about taking out Sens. Mark BegichMark BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (D-Alaska), Mark PryorMark PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.) and Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Five unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist MORE (D-La.), all of whom have trailed their Republican opponents in recent public polling.
The DSCC bought airtime for a runoff in Louisiana on Monday, a sign they’re expecting the battle between Landrieu and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to extend into December after an all-party primary. Cassidy has led in head-to-head polling, though runoffs are unpredictable.
Democrats privately admit that Begich and Pryor are in tough spots, but their polling shows better numbers than public surveys. Alaska is notoriously difficult to poll, adding an additional level of uncertainty into the race.
Purple State Pickups
Republicans also feel increasingly confident they can pull off upsets in the swing states of Colorado and Iowa, though Democrats argue their ground game will make the difference.
Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallGorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' Election autopsy: Latinos favored Clinton more than exit polls showed Live coverage: Tillerson's hearing for State MORE (D-Colo.) has trailed Rep. Cory GardnerCory GardnerLawmakers call for pilot program to test for energy sector vulnerabilities Overnight Cybersecurity: New questions for House Intel chair over WH visit | Cyber war debate heats up | Firm finds security flaws in 'panic buttons' Trump’s budget jeopardizes America’s public lands heritage MORE (R-Colo.) in recent public surveys. Democrats, however, point out that polls have underestimated their support by wide margins the past two cycles, and their internal polling shows Udall with a slim advantage.
Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) holds slight lead over Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce BraleyTen years later, House Dems reunite and look forward Trump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer Criminal sentencing bill tests McConnell-Grassley relationship MORE (D-Iowa) in most recent polls too, though both sides acknowledge it’s still a toss-up.
Meanwhile, two unexpected headaches for the GOP don't look as severe anymore.
Long considered a given GOP pickup, both sides have suddenly begun spending in South Dakota. Former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) hit unexpected turbulence against former Sen. Larry Pressler (I) and Democrat Rick Weiland, though Rounds still has a lead in the polls.
Republicans say Sen. Pat RobertsPat RobertsDems mock House GOP over lack of women in healthcare meeting Perdue vows to be chief salesman for US agriculture abroad GOP senator apologizes for mammogram joke MORE (R-Kan.) has weathered a rough few months and now has the momentum against independent candidate and businessman Greg Orman, though the two remain tied.
Hopes of Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) knocking off Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellLobbying world Overnight Healthcare: McConnell throws cold water on reviving ObamaCare repeal | House GOP insists they aren't giving up | Price faces new task of overseeing health law McConnell: ObamaCare 'status quo' will stay in place moving forward MORE (R-Ky.) now look dashed, too, most strategists privately admit.
New hope for Dems?
There are some bright spots for Democrats, though.
Former charity executive Michelle Nunn (D) has pulled even with businessman David Perdue after effectively seizing on the Republican’s outsourcing past.
Democrats feel increasingly optimistic that Nunn might be able to declare outright victory in November. If neither candidate reaches 50 percent and the race heads to a January runoff, Republicans would be favored, but they don’t want to face that scenario.
“We still believe we'll win in Georgia, but Michelle Nunn has proven to be a formidable candidate, no question about it,” one national GOP strategist told The Hill.
Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganLinking repatriation to job creation Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock MORE (D-N.C.) has also held a small but consistent lead in most recent public polling, though she’s been on the defensive this week over questions about missed committee hearings and a flip-flop on an Ebola travel ban. Thanks to increased GOP spending on the airwaves, Republicans believe the race is finally tightening.
GOP eyes 245 in House
On the House side, strategists in both parties expect the GOP to gain seats. The map has shifted toward Republicans in recent days, and gains of between 6 and 12 seats looks possible.
GOP outside groups have stepped up their spending on new targets. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — frustrated labor and green groups have focused on the Senate — were forced to pull resources from a number of offensive opportunities, including two formerly top targets, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and retiring Rep. Frank WolfFrank WolfBottom Line 10 most expensive House races Benghazi Report and Hillary: What it means for Philadelphia MORE’s (R-Va.) district, in order to protect their incumbents.
“Democrats are having to abandon several offensive races to shore up Democrat incumbents, while we are on offense across the country in Obama districts,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.
Republicans are near-locks to pick up open seats in Utah, North Carolina and upstate New York, while Democrats will likely win retiring Rep. Gary Miller’s (R-Calif.) seat.
The GOP is also targeting roughly a dozen Democratic incumbents, feeling the most bullish against Reps. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickWomen make little gains in new Congress McCain wins sixth Senate term In Arizona, history and voter registration data gives GOP edge MORE (D-Ariz.) and William Enyart (D-Ill.). Both sides say Reps. Ami BeraAmi BeraIndependent investigation into Russian interference needed House Democrats identify vulnerable incumbents for 2018 cycle Dems bringing young undocumented immigrants to Trump's speech MORE (D-Calif.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) are in toss-up races, while Democrats think Reps. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), Julia BrownleyJulia BrownleyLawmakers press Mattis on Marines nude photo scandal A guide to the committees: House House caucus to focus on business in Latin America MORE (D-Calif.), Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), Tim BishopTim BishopDems separated by 29 votes in NY House primary Flint residents hire first K Street firm House moves to vote on .1T package; backup plan in place MORE (D-N.Y.), 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) and Nick RahallNick RahallWest Virginia is no longer Clinton country Solution needed: Rail congestion is stifling economic growth Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.) are slightly more likely than not to hold on to their seats.
“As Republican third-party groups pour millions into House races, Democrats’ early spending is keeping key races competitive and the DCCC is doubling down in the most competitive races in the country for the final stretch. We are going toe-to-toe with Republican third-party groups to protect our incumbents in a tough, unpredictable environment,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Emily Bittner.
Democrats have opportunities of their own and feel good about knocking off a trio of Republicans with self-inflicted wounds running — Reps. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.). Democrats are also bullish about winning open seats held by retiring Reps. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) and Tim GriffinTim GriffinFlynn discloses lobbying that may have helped Turkey Tea Party class reassesses record Huckabee's daughter to run '16 campaign MORE (R-Ark.).