GOP edge grows in final stretch
© Getty Images

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

The GOP needs to win a net of six seats to retake control of the Senate, and Republicans seem better-positioned to do so now than they did through much of the summer.

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 Peter BegichAlaska political mess has legislators divided over meeting place Former GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lobbying world MORE (D-Alaska), Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world MORE (D-La.) and Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Medicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation MORE (D-Ark.), leaving the party feeling bullish that former Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioner Dan Sullivan (R) and Reps. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonTikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week Hillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon Bipartisan senators call on FERC to protect against Huawei threats 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 Lowell Braley2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster OPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward 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 Scott GardnerHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump GOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 MORE (R-Colo.) has closed in on Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallDemocrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE (D-Colo.). New Hampshire has also tightened, though Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Biden reveals four women he could pick as his running mate 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 RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsThe Hill's Morning Report - Intel panel readies to hand off impeachment baton The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' The Hill's Morning Report — House set for Phase 3 of impeachment push 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 Ruthven HaganGOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems shift strategy on impeachment vote 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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden: 'No party should have too much power' Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills 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 Andrews BrownleyPelosi heading to Madrid for UN climate change convention A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal Katherine Clark quietly eyes leadership ascent MORE (D-Calif.), Ami BeraAmerish (Ami) Babulal BeraKrystal Ball: New Biden ad is everything that's wrong with Democrats Overnight Defense: Trump cancels presser, cuts short NATO trip | Viral video catches leaders appearing to gossip about Trump | Dem witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses | Trump reportedly mulling more troops in Middle East Pelosi to Democrats: 'Are you ready?' MORE (D-Calif.) and Pete GallegoPete Pena GallegoGOP candidate scores upset win in Texas state Senate runoff Koch group launches digital ads in tight Texas House race Iraq War vet wins Texas Dem runoff 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.