GOP seeks to boost Senate hopes with convention
Republicans are looking to their national convention to boost their most vulnerable Senate incumbents and help preserve their increasingly tenuous majority in the chamber.
With President Trump’s poll numbers sagging in recent months and the political fortunes of several GOP Senate incumbents largely following suit, Republicans believe that any post-convention bump for the president will also lift up their party’s senators as they head into the crucial final stretch of the 2020 election cycle.
“Obviously it’s a Trump-centric convention, but if the party puts forward something that can reframe the national conversation, yeah, the senators will get a bump,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican consultant and former campaign adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “It won’t just be for Trump. It’ll help all Republicans.”
The convention comes at a particularly crucial moment for the GOP’s Senate majority. Republican incumbents in several states are facing the fight of their political lives, while Democrats have begun expanding their electoral battleground into states that were previously of little concern to the GOP.
Republicans currently hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate. If former Vice President Joe Biden wins the White House in November, Democrats will need a net gain of three seats to capture control of the chamber. They will need to net four GOP-held seats if Trump wins a second term.
With the current Senate battleground map, a Democratic majority now appears within reach.
In Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina, Republican senators are either trailing or running neck and neck with their Democratic challengers. Meanwhile, GOP-held seats in Georgia, Iowa and Montana have come into play in recent months.
The GOP also hopes to take back a Senate seat in Alabama held by Democrat Doug Jones, who won in a 2017 special election.
Handled successfully, Jennings said, the convention could give Republicans a chance to not only rally their political base, but to make a high-profile appeal to voters still on the fence about supporting the GOP.
“Conventions offer an opportunity for the entire party to make voters generally feel better about the direction the party would generally take the country,” Jennings said. “From the perspective of it being a party branding exercise, yeah, I think if it’s done successfully by Trump’s operation it will help all Republicans. In that particular case a rising tide would lift all boats.”
But some Republicans expressed skepticism in the convention’s ability to drastically alter their party’s political standing, especially in down-ballot contests.
The coronavirus pandemic has turned the event into a largely virtual convention, raising the possibility of technical hiccups. And some Republicans worry that the convention will heavily feature the culture wars that Trump has long put at the center of his political brand instead of focusing on more concrete priorities like the economy or a second-term policy agenda.
Indeed, the Republican convention’s list of speakers is expected to feature a handful of conservative figures, including a St. Louis couple who brandished guns at Black Lives Matter protesters in June and a former Kentucky Catholic high school student who became enmeshed in controversy last year following an interaction with a Native American protester at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.
“Look, do we want to make this thing about policy and not the president? Of course,” one veteran GOP operative said. “But I think to an extent, you have to accept that it’s the Trump show.”
Some Republicans, however, said the convention’s virtual format may be a win for incumbent senators, allowing them to spend valuable time in their home states instead of huddling with party elites away from their constituents.
“Senate Republicans in challenging races are not going to have to leave their states and their campaigning for several days at a centralized, remote location,” said David Polyansky, a Republican consultant and former chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “Rather, this virtual convention will allow them to get much-needed 60,000-foot messaging air cover while they’re capitalizing on it back at home talking directly with voters. I think it’s actually an unintentional win.”
Trump will almost certainly be the chief communicator of the Republican agenda at the convention, Polyansky said. But he added that many of the president’s accomplishments — the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, for instance — wouldn’t have been possible without a GOP-controlled Senate, and that it would be wise to highlight that fact.
“Yes, there are certainly positive executive orders — things that the president himself will understandably point to as singular, solo successes,” Polyansky said. “But in many instances, the success we’ve seen across the board from historic tax relief to desperately needed pandemic support really have home roots with Senate Republicans. And I think that’s a great opportunity for them to have the spotlight too.”
Republicans get one advantage in that their convention comes after the Democratic convention, giving a final word of sorts in this month of conventions to the GOP.
Jesse Hunt, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that the GOP will now have the chance to sharpen its counterargument against Democratic control in Washington.
“Last week was a window into the socialist nightmare that’d exist if Democrats capture the White House and Senate this fall,” Hunt said. “It’s important Republicans continue to present to voters what’s at stake if we allow the most extreme voices in their party to take control at a time our nation can least afford it.”
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