FBI throws curveball into race for Senate

FBI throws curveball into race for Senate
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The battle for the Senate is running down to the wire.

While Democrats hold a narrow edge heading into the final week of the election campaign, races in battleground states remain too close to call. 


Democrats need to pick up five seats — or four if they retain the White House — to win back control of the upper chamber.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report predicts that they’ll pick up as many as seven seats — though that was before the FBI announced Friday that it was looking into newly recovered emails from former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner’s account that were related to an earlier investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHow Democrats can defy the odds in 2022 Close the avenues of foreign meddling Pelosi planned on retiring until Trump won election: report MORE.

The late curveball made huge headlines, and could change momentum in down-ballot races.

Democrats for months have seen GOP-held seats in Wisconsin and Illinois as likely pickups, but the race for Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonBiden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies Trump's early endorsements reveal GOP rift The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings MORE’s (R-Wis.) seat may be tightening. A Democratic super PAC has gone on the air with new advertisements in the state, which could suggest some concern about the outcome.

In Illinois, the latest news helped Democrats. At a Thursday debate, Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission  Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (R-Ill.) made a cutting comment about Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s Asian heritage. Kirk apologized for the comments a day later.

Here’s a breakdown of the seven other fights that could determine who controls the Senate:

Florida: Rubio vs. Murphy

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioNikki Haley says if Trump runs for president in 2024 then she won't Trump's early endorsements reveal GOP rift The Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges MORE (R) has long been considered the front-runner for his critical seat, leading nearly every poll against Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy since jumping back into the race in late June.

This prompted national Democrats to essentially write off the race and move resources to new pickup opportunities in Missouri and North Carolina, which also have cheaper media markets.

The shifting of dollars angered top Democrats who believe the race is a chance to extinguish Rubio’s future White House ambitions. They point to recent polls that have Murphy closing the gap, arguing there’s a glimmer of hope in the Sunshine State.

In light of the polls, the main Democratic Senate super PAC is funneling seven figures into a Florida super PAC to boost Murphy.

Still, Rubio will be the favorite.

He leads by more than 3 points in the RealClearPolitics polling average. And at the top of the ticket, Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: McConnell 'helpless' to stop Biden from packing court Romney on NRSC awarding Trump: Not 'my preference' McConnell sidesteps Trump calling him 'dumb son of a b----' MORE is cutting into Clinton’s already slim lead.

Indiana: Bayh vs. Young

Former Sen. Evan Bayh’s entry into the race was the counterpunch to Rubio’s candidacy. The Democrat, a household name in Indiana, was initially viewed as the overwhelming favorite.

He maintains his edge, but the race has tightened in recent weeks as critics continue to challenge his residency in Indiana, as well as his lobbying ties following his 2010 Senate retirement.

Bayh’s double-digit lead was cut in half, and RealClearPolitics has him leading Rep. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungTo encourage innovation, Congress should pass two bills protecting important R&D tax provision Senate Republicans voice opposition to Biden on Iran Biden infrastructure proposal prioritizes funds for emerging technologies MORE (R) by less than 4 points.

Indiana is still a main target for Democrats, but the nature of the traditionally red state complicates Bayh’s path. Trump’s comfortable lead in the Hoosier State means Democrats will need to rely on Republican voters who are willing to split their tickets in down-ballot races.

Missouri: Blunt vs. Kander

Democrats believe Jason Kander is their best recruit of the cycle. The 35-year-old secretary of State has turned what was considered a long-shot race into a dead heat.

Kander has spent months using an anti-Washington message to hammer Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP opens door to earmarks Thune: 'There are Republicans who would vote' for smaller infrastructure package Republicans can't handle the truth about taxes MORE (R) — a member of GOP leadership — who has spent years in Congress and whose family has deep lobbying ties.

He’s not the first Democrat to try the tactic, but his message is finding roots in a year driven by voter frustration and a presidential election shaped by outsiders.

Blunt and Republicans have tried to reverse the script by linking Kander to Clinton and to Washington, D.C., donors. They argue Blunt is bolstered by the fact that Missouri is expected to swing decisively for Trump at the top of the ticket.

Polls show the race is basically tied, with Blunt leading on average by a percentage point, according to RealClearPolitics.

Nevada: Heck vs. Cortez Masto

Trump is looming large over Nevada in the final stretch of the election campaign.

Republican Rep. Joe Heck’s decision to drop support for his party’s presidential nominee earned him conservative backlash.

But with polls in his own race tightening, he’s waffled.

Heck said during a fundraiser he would like to be able to support Trump, before telling a local reporter that he won’t say how he’ll vote before the election.

Nevada is the best pickup opportunity for Republicans, who publicly relish being able to flip the seat held by Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWhite House races clock to beat GOP attacks Harry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' The Memo: Biden seeks a secret weapon — GOP voters MORE, a top GOP antagonist.

Heck is leading by an average 1.4 points over former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, according to RealClearPolitics.  

But Democrats have pledged for months that the race was closer than polls showed and are banking on mobilizing the state’s sizable Hispanic population. Reid — in his final political fight as he heads toward retirement — is also putting his machine to work for Masto.

New Hampshire: Ayotte vs. Hassan

The Granite State race is evidence that Republicans can hang on, despite Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteOvernight Defense: NATO expanding troops in Iraq Overnight Defense: New START extended for five years | Austin orders 'stand down' to tackle extremism | Panel recommends Biden delay Afghanistan withdrawal Study group recommends Biden delay Afghanistan withdrawal MORE’s (R) wavering support of Trump and Clinton’s solid, consistent lead in the state.

Ayotte stumbled at one of the debates by calling Trump a “role model” before quickly walking it back to say she “misspoke.” After the revelation of the 2005 tape showing Trump bragging about groping and kissing women without consent, she cut ties with her party’s nominee.

But her disavowal of Trump hasn’t appeared to rattle her base, which she will need in the pure toss-up seat, as Ayotte clings to a razor-thin lead.

Ayotte and the Democratic candidate, Gov. Maggie Hassan, have both proved to be strong campaigners with long histories in elected office, so the Senate race will likely hinge on what happens in the presidential race. If Clinton wins by a large enough margin, it’ll make it difficult for Ayotte to outperform her party’s nominee.

North Carolina: Burr vs. Ross

Republicans are growing worried about Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrFormer North Carolina governor set to launch Senate bid North Carolina mayor Rett Newton launches Senate bid Democratic hopeful Jeff Jackson raises .3M for North Carolina Senate bid MORE, whose congressional tenure spans 22 years. He looks to be increasingly vulnerable in an unexpected marquee Senate race.

Democrats have redirected funds from other down-ballot races to help boost former state Sen. Deborah Ross, who has proved to be a solid campaigner and fundraiser.

The race has grown increasingly negative and personal, underscoring the importance of the seat. Democrats are painting Burr as a creature of Washington who has skipped a majority of Armed Services Committee hearings, while Republicans criticize Ross’s time as state director of the American Civil Liberties Union and her past concerns over a state sex offender registry.

Burr has regained a bit of an edge and is ahead by about 3 points. But a new poll released Friday shows the race in a dead heat. His steadfast support for Trump could be hurting him in a state where Clinton holds a slim but steady lead.

Pennsylvania: Toomey vs. McGinty

GOP Sen. Pat Toomey’s biggest hurdle is not his Democratic challenger but the nominee of his own party.

The straight-laced incumbent is being dogged by questions about whether he will support Trump — despite disagreeing with him — as the campaign heads into the home stretch.

But experts say the political limbo, while awkward, is his best option: breaking with Trump could cost him the conservative base, but embracing the volatile standard-bearer could risk moderate voters in a state that swings blue in presidential years.

Toomey maintains a narrow lead over Democrat Katie McGinty and has pitched himself as a check on a Clinton White House. He’s also tried to make an issue out of McGinty’s ethics as Clinton’s email server continues to haunt Democrats.

The fate of the race is inextricably linked to the White House fight. Trump needs to stick within 5 to 6 points of Clinton in Pennsylvania to give Toomey a fighting chance.