Dems see Trump, Cruz putting more Senate seats in play

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Democrats think they can expand the battlefield for the Senate majority if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz is the GOP presidential nominee.

If an unpopular Trump or Cruz loses in a rout, Democrats see Senate seats in Arizona, Missouri, Iowa and North Carolina coming into play in addition to a half-dozen seats that have long been targets.

{mosads}“Democrats have an opportunity this cycle to extend the map,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua told The Hill.

“That’s due to the recruitment of really strong candidates who can and will launch competitive races,” she added.

Republicans have acknowledged their party faces a challenging map in 2016 but voiced confidence that they’ll hold on to their majority.

“There will be a Republican majority in the Senate in January,” National Republican Senatorial Campaign spokesman Greg Blair said.

Democrats have been bullish about their chances of winning back the Senate ever since the cycle began, given that Republicans are defending 24 seats, many of them in states won by President Obama.

The party needs to gain five seats to win the majority, or four if it retains the White House — which would allow a Democratic vice president to break ties in the Senate.

Democrats are practically measuring the curtains for offices held by Sens. Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.), the most vulnerable Senate Republicans this cycle. Both are big underdogs in 2016.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Rob Portman (Ohio) are better positioned but face strong challengers in states won by Obama in 2008 and 2012. Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and the open Florida Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Marco Rubio are also in Democratic sites.

Those six seats have long been the top targets for Democrats, but the party is now getting increasingly hopeful of taking additional GOP seats because of Trump and Cruz.

Trump’s unfavorable rating hit 67 percent in a Washington Post/ABC News poll in March, a worse rate than any candidate in the survey’s 32-year history. Cruz’s unfavorable rating was 51 percent.

“They have moved the right so far to the right that a lot of new seats are going to be competitive,” Democratic strategist Holly Shulman, a former Democratic National Committee spokeswoman, said of Trump and Cruz. 

Democrats recruited a strong challenger in Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander to take on Sen. Roy Blunt. A recent poll showed Blunt with a 7-point lead, but Kander has raised $3.2 million and has $2.1 million in the bank. Democrats think it’s possible for him to close the gap if 2016 is a good year for the party.

In Arizona, Democrats believe Sen. John McCain could be vulnerable. The 2008 GOP presidential nominee, who is often a target of grassroots conservatives, faces an August primary against state Sen. Kelli Ward and businessman Alex Meluskey.

If he wins the primary, he’d face Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in the fall. Polling shows the two in a dead heat, and strategists in both parties think
McCain — who is serving his fifth term — could be in trouble. A March Merrill Poll survey found McCain edging out Kirkpatrick by only 1 point.

“At this point, she stands as good of a chance if not better to win this seat for the Democrats as any person who has tried in the last two decades,” Arizona GOP consultant Chris Baker said.

Immigration is likely to be a prominent issue in the state, which has a large Hispanic population, and Democrats are hoping that a Trump ticket would lead to a surge in anti-McCain Hispanic votes. McCain, readying for the challenge, recently scored a critical endorsement from U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Javier Palomarez —  the first ever in the chamber’s history.

In North Carolina, Sen. Richard Burr faces former Democratic state Rep. Deborah Ross. Several high-profile Democratic candidates passed on challenging Burr, but Democrats believe that Trump and anti-incumbent fervor will be a drain on the GOP senator, who also must overcome negative job approval ratings.

Arizona, Missouri and North Carolina are seen as second-tier targets for Democrats, but they believe that third-tier targets such as Iowa could also come into play if things go right for their party.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is at the center of a storm over Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court. His leadership of a Senate GOP blockade against the nomination has made him a top Democratic target and led to criticism from Iowa newspapers.

Former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge jumped into the race last month. She’ll face state Sen. Rob Hogg and two former state legislators in the Democratic primary.

So far, GOP strategists don’t see trouble for Grassley, who has been reelected by wide margins and has historically outperformed the entire ballot even in presidential years.

But Grassley has highlighted the prospect of a tough race.

“You can’t have the … Washington establishment recruiting a campaign, an opponent for me, without an understanding that there’s going to be big resources behind that,” Grassley told The Des Moines Register on Saturday. “If I came in here and said it was a slam dunk, people would think, ‘Well, he doesn’t understand politics very well.’”

National Democrats also pointed to the seat vacated by Sen. Dan Coats in Indiana as a seat that could be in play. Republicans are in a heated primary battle between Reps. Todd Young and Marlin Stutzman, and the winner will likely face former Democratic Rep. Baron Hill, who served five terms in the House and could be a tough opponent in the fall.

Republicans point out that Democrats also have problems.

Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate, suffers from low approval ratings, which could create downwinds for her party.

“I think you need to look at both sides of the coin before you make an analysis on Roy Blunt or Chuck Grassley as truly vulnerable this cycle,” Blair said. “It’s way too premature to make those kinds of determinations.”

Tags Ann Kirkpatrick Chuck Grassley Dan Coats Donald Trump Hillary Clinton John McCain Kelly Ayotte Marco Rubio Mark Kirk Richard Burr Rob Portman Ron Johnson Roy Blunt Ted Cruz Todd Young

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