Democrats see path to Senate majority after Alabama win

Democrats see path to Senate majority after Alabama win
© Getty Images

Democrat Doug Jones’s historic win in Alabama cuts the GOP’s lead in the Senate to 51-49, and gives the Democrats a narrow path to winning back the majority in the 2018 midterm elections.

Democrats face a tough task retaking the Senate, as their party has to defend more than 20 seats while Republicans are only defending eight. But President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE’s low approval ratings and a backlash against Republicans from suburban voters, first seen in Virginia’s elections last month and now in Alabama, are good news for Democrats.

ADVERTISEMENT

The path to a Senate majority is straightforward.

Democrats will need to gain two seats, first by securing a win in Nevada, the only state Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWill the Horowitz report split the baby? Gabbard commemorates John Lennon's passing by singing 'Imagine' Bannon: Clinton waiting to enter 2020 race and 'save the Democratic Party from Michael Bloomberg' MORE won in 2016 with an incumbent Republican senator on the ballot next year. Arizona, where Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE is retiring, has also long been seen as a potential pickup, while Democrats have a strong candidate for Tennessee’s open seat.

The party is also more hopeful about taking out Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward Chuck Todd challenges Cruz after senator pushes theory that Ukraine meddled in election Sunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' MORE (R) in Texas. The Lone Star State, long thought of as a GOP stronghold, could be attainable if anti-Trump sentiment mounts.

“At the beginning of the year, for a variety of different reasons, I didn’t think reclaiming the majority was possible for Democrats,” said Jim Manley, former aide to former Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Doctors are dying by suicide every day and we are not talking about it Impeachment trial throws curveball into 2020 race MORE (D-Nev.).

“But in the last couple of months, I think it’s become more doable. What happened in Alabama is just the icing on the cake,” he said.

But while Alabama has Democrats optimistic about their chances of taking GOP seats, the party also has to protect its own incumbents. Trump won 10 states that are represented by Democrats up for reelection in 2018, carrying half of those states by double-digit margins.

Democrats acknowledge that hanging on to all 10 of those seats will be difficult, but they hope the ongoing feud between Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills Biden: '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 MORE (Ky.) and Breitbart News chief Stephen Bannon over primaries could hurt the GOP’s ability to unite behind the best Republican candidates.

Democrats also feel encouraged by the results in the Virginia and Alabama elections. Enthusiasm in those races was high, particularly among suburban, female, black and young voters.

“There will be many more Alabamas in 2018,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Wednesday.

“So you put that all together — the base being energized, millennials, overwhelmingly Democratic; suburbs, swinging back to the Democrats — and it means that things are looking good for us,” he said.

The most realistic opportunities for Democrats will come in Nevada and Arizona. But Democrats are now looking beyond the two most vulnerable GOP-held seats.

Democrats were already feeling energized in Tennessee, after recruiting former Gov. Phil Bredesen to run for the seat. Bredesen was the last Democrat to win statewide office there, though he hasn’t campaigned for office in 11 years.

The party might also re-examine their chances in Texas, where Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke is looking to unseat Cruz. A Democrat hasn’t won a Senate seat in Texas since 1988.

High-profile Democrats, including Texas Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroPelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Minority lawmakers call out Google for hiring former Trump DHS official MORE, have already ruled out Senate runs. But some Democrats are hoping that potential candidates who have decided against challenging Republican incumbents in red states will reconsider after the recent Democratic victories.

With so many Democrats up for reelection, though, party resources could be stretched too thin to boost candidates with more difficult bids against Republican incumbents.

For example, Democrats cheered Bredesen’s bid in part because he has a reputation for putting his personal wealth behind his bids. But for now, Bredesen has said he won’t self-fund, which could be a setback for the party.

Meanwhile, O’Rourke isn’t accepting money from political action committees — a move that might endear him to campaign finance reformers, but will cut off another potential source of cash. O’Rourke has proven to be a prolific fundraiser, but he’ll need an extra boost to compete against Cruz.

“I think the smart play is to think real hard about going beyond those 10 senators up for reelection and start figuring out how to put some money into some other races that could, in fact, be winnable now,” Manley said.

Still, it remains to be seen if Democratic success in Alabama can translate. Jones pulled off his upset in part because he ran against a uniquely flawed candidate who had built up a record of controversies even before he was accused of pursuing teenagers sexually — all factors that could have helped Jones’s showing with black voters and women.

“We nominated a very flawed candidate even before the revelations came out in Alabama,” said Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesman. “We shouldn’t forget that anger or dissatisfaction with a candidate is often the greatest [get-out-the-vote] device you have.”