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GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers

As Trump kicks off reelection, his party worries he’s an anchor.

President TrumpDonald TrumpUS, South Korea reach agreement on cost-sharing for troops Graham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE formally kicked off his re-election campaign Tuesday in front of thousands of fans at a boisterous rally in the heart of battleground Florida, even as top strategists in his own party worry that his weak political standing threatens the rest of the Republican ticket.

Trump reacted angrily last week to leaked internal surveys conducted by his own campaign that showed him trailing in virtually every swing state on the map. He fired several pollsters, and his campaign manager insisted that Trump’s numbers had improved.

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But public polls conducted more recently mirror some of the troubling indicators that Trump’s own polling found. What’s more, in interviews, half a dozen prominent Republican pollsters working on campaigns around the country said their own results showed a president who starts his reelection bid from behind.

“His numbers are problematic,” said one top Republican pollster, who asked for anonymity to describe private survey data. “Folks are nervous, but no one is surprised.”

The Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have begun holding conference calls with Senate campaigns in some of those states, sharing polling and data analytics studies assessing their chances next November.

In the last month, several public polls have showed Trump trailing former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenLawmakers, activists remember civil rights icons to mark 'Bloody Sunday' Fauci predicts high schoolers will receive coronavirus vaccinations this fall Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE and other Democratic contenders by double digits in Michigan, and by wide margins in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Three consecutive polls have showed Trump trailing Biden in deep-red Texas, though he led other Democratic rivals. And a survey from Quinnipiac University Poll of Florida voters released Tuesday showed Trump trailing six of his Democratic rivals.

A survey released Tuesdayby Firehouse Strategies, a Republican firm run by veterans of Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill Hillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China MORE’s (R-Fla.) campaign team, and the data analytics firm Optimus found Trump trailing Biden in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the lynchpins of his 2016 victory.

The common threads through all of those surveys, analysts said, are Trump’s dismally low approval rating and the inelasticity in those numbers. Voters have formed hard opinions about Trump, whether favorably or unfavorably, and few seem willing or able to move off those feelings.

“Trump’s numbers are really sticky,” said Alex Conant, a partner at Firehouse Strategies. “It’s just going to be really hard for him to move his numbers up, and similarly it’s going to be hard for the Democrats to move his numbers down.”

Some Republican pollsters say they are less concerned about the current state of Trump’s numbers because he is being matched against a hypothetical Democrat who has yet to experience the rigors and scrutiny of a general election.

“If we learned anything from the 2016 election, it should be that polls this far out from election day are meaningless,” said Blair Ellis, the RNC’s press secretary. “The RNC’s world-class data program that helped Trump win in 2016 shows us that reported polling is wrong, once again, and Americans across the country are just as enthusiastic about him and his record-setting list of accomplishments as they were when they first sent him to the White House.”

Others said they are less confident in the stability of the political environment, given global tumult broadly and the challenges facing the polling industry more specifically.

“There are plenty of examples in recent political history where candidates have come from far behind to win,” the Republican pollster said. “Those candidates have been willing to make adjustments. Not sure this candidate is at all willing.”

Trump has become so inextricably linked with the Republican base that party strategists worry his low poll numbers could act as a drag on the rest of the ticket. Seven Republican senators are seeking reelection in states that are either swing states or where Trump has trailed in recent polls.

Those Republicans include the three most vulnerable seeking reelection this year, Sens. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra House Freedom Caucus chair weighs Arizona Senate bid New rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees MORE (Ariz.), Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (Colo.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate rejects Sanders minimum wage hike Murkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy MORE (Maine). But Trump also appears vulnerable in states represented by Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general GOP senators demand probe into Cuomo's handling of nursing home deaths CNN anchor confronts GOP chairman over senator's vote to convict Trump MORE (R-N.C.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSenate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session Republicans demand arms embargo on Iran after militia strikes in Iraq Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal MORE (R-Iowa) and John CornynJohn CornynSenate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Biden gets involved to help break Senate logjam Overnight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels MORE (R-Texas).

Texas has become a particular concern for Republicans worried about Trump’s fortunes. For years, Texas Democrats have waited for a surge that would finally make a deep-red state competitive — and they nearly scored that long-sought victory in 2018, when Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Cruz puts hold on Biden's CIA nominee It will be Vice (or) President Harris against Gov. DeSantis in 2024 — bet on it Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants MORE (R) survived a spirited challenge from former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D).

Cornyn is taking no chances in his own bid for a fourth term. He ended March with $7.4 million in the bank. He is likely to face M.J. Hegar, a business consultant and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who narrowly lost a challenge to Rep. John CarterJohn Rice CarterBottom line READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit MORE (R) in 2018.

The most recent survey, conducted by The Texas Tribune, found 50 percent of voters would definitely or probably vote to reelect Trump, while 50 percent would definitely or probably not vote to reelect him. In that survey, 52 percent approved of the job Trump is doing in office, while just 37 percent said the same of Cornyn.

“The president should win Texas, but it is no longer a fait accompli,” said Rob Jesmer, a top Cornyn adviser. “They are going to have to fight for it because I promise you this, the Democrats are already fighting for it.”

At least some of those Republicans up for election next year may be able to find enough crossover voters to survive even if Trump loses their states. In 2016, 17 Republican senators won their elections by wider margins than President Trump won their states.

But in battleground states, those Republicans who overperformed Trump did so by narrow margins. Rubio took 52 percent of the vote, 3 points higher than Trump’s 49 percent. Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrRick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions Bipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks Republicans, please save your party MORE (R-N.C.) won 51 percent of the vote, just over 1 percentage point more than Trump’s 49.8 percent. Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) bested Trump’s take by a single percentage point, and Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonMarjorie Taylor Greene's delay tactics frustrate GOP Democrats gear up for PR battle on COVID-19 relief Johnson says leaving office after 2022 'probably my preference now' MORE (R-Wis.) scored 3 points higher than Trump.

“Just because Trump loses a state doesn’t mean the Republican Senate candidate can’t win. Trump is going to lose some votes among Republicans who simply don’t like him, but they still may vote for the Senate candidates. Similarly, there may be some soft Democrats who would never vote for Trump but might vote for Joni Ernst,” Conant said.

Republicans can survive if Trump loses their states by narrow margins, but “outperforming Trump by 7 points is hard,” Conant said. “That just puts us on defense in a lot of states.”