Senate Republicans can taste majority

Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are brimming with confidence they will be in the majority next year — and say Democrats are beginning to acknowledge privately that harsh political reality.

Recent polls show Republican candidates pulling ahead in Alaska, Arkansas and Kentucky. And an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Tuesday put President Obama’s approval at an all-time low and showed the GOP with a 10-point advantage among registered voters in Senate battleground states. 

{mosads}GOP senators say recent events — including President Obama’s shaky response to the growing threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a disappointing jobs report — have given them new momentum heading into the home stretch.

“I feel that we are going to take back control of the Senate and I’ve talked in confidence to a lot of my good Democrat friends, and there are a lot of Democrats who understand they’re going to lose control of the Senate,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who also predicted there will be a wave of Democratic retirements if control flips.

Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), said Inhofe is an unreliable source because “he denies the existence of climate change.”

Many Republicans say they feel more confident than two years ago, when they lost seats despite having lofty expectations early in the cycle. And they’re buoyed by the predictions of political handicappers such as Stuart Rothenberg, who on Monday foresaw a GOP wave in November beyond just the six seats the party needs. 

“I saw what Stu Rothenberg said and the Real Clear Politics average, they agree with him,” said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (Texas).

A large Senate gain could help Republicans heading into 2016 too, where they are the ones who will face a daunting map defending colleagues elected in the GOP wave of 2010. 

Some Republicans poised to become chairmen have already planned their agendas for the new Congress.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is poised to take over the Finance Committee if the Senate flips, says he will not shy away from entitlement reform.

And Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the senior Republican on Judiciary, wants to increase his panel’s oversight of the Obama administration and send out more letters requesting information he says the panel needs.

Democrats, meanwhile, were dismayed that The New York Times on Sunday projected Republicans have a 61 percent chance of taking over the Senate. 

“I’m very optimistic,” Cornyn said, citing Obama’s low approval rating and voter frustration with gridlock in Congress. “People realize Harry Reid’s in charge of the Senate, Barack Obama’s president of the United States, so I think on balance this mess will result in greater gains for Republicans.”

Cornyn, who served as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2010 and 2012, said his candidates were hurt by the lopsided loss of the party’s nominee in the presidential election.

“The biggest problem we had two years ago was the headwind of Mitt Romney’s loss. Scott Brown, for example, said to me, ‘I lost by 7 or 8 points but I couldn’t overcome a 22-point headwind,’ ” Cornyn said. 

Brown (R), the former Massachusetts senator who is now challenging Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in nearby New Hampshire, is banking on a national climate to work in his favor this time. 

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who describes himself as more of a “policy guy” than a political junkie, said he thinks the outlook for Republicans has improved considerably in recent weeks.

“It feels pretty good,” he said. “Over the last 30 days it’s been feeling more likely.

“It just feels like our candidates are doing really well,” he added. “It seems like people are getting more and more disenchanted with the administration.”

When asked how confident he was of a GOP takeover, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) chuckled before replying, “Very.”

The potential White House hopeful said the summer has “certainly been bad for the country because of the president’s inability to conduct a foreign policy that’s effective” and “the continued amount of underemployment and unemployment.”

Republicans have also largely bypassed any landmine issues that could derail the GOP’s focus.  

Republican senators expressed confidence Wednesday that they would soon pass a measure funding the government until December and dodge the threat of a government shutdown, which sunk their approval ratings a year ago.

“People want to return home and get back on the campaign trail,” said retiring Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).

Publicly, Democrats remain cautiously optimistic, but are less exuberant than their GOP colleagues. 

“I’ve been saying for months that I thought we were going to hold a narrow majority, and because it’s narrow that means it’s going to be close,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “I can see paths to victory that are pretty reasonable and even likely in a lot of the races.”

GOP candidates have avoided the disastrous gaffes that hurt them two years ago, such as when then-Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who seemed a favorite to win a Missouri Senate seat, introduced the political world to the term “legitimate rape.”

Senate Democrats tried to rekindle those memories Wednesday.

Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), who led the DSCC last cycle, said Republicans are still waging a “war on women” by trying to limit their access to birth control.

“The same party that had candidates making outrageous statements, as we all remember, about legitimate rape and then defending those comments,” she said.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) warned Hispanic voters who are disillusioned about Obama’s decision not to issue a new executive order easing deportations that things would be worse under a GOP-controlled Senate.

“As disappointed as you may be with the president, listen to what you will get if in fact this November there is a change of who ultimately has the majority in this chamber,” he said in reference to recent remarks by conservative firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has called for freezing Obama’s executive order deferring immigrant deportations. 

Barasky, the Democratic campaign spokesman, said, “Democrats are well positioned to hold the majority because we have better candidates who are running smarter campaigns while Republicans are saddled with bad candidates who are defending even worse records.”

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