GOP senators to donors: Stick with us regardless of Trump

Greg Nash

CLEVELAND — Wealthy Republican donors, worried about how Donald Trump might affect the fight for the Senate majority, held a discussion Monday with party leaders about keeping control of the chamber even if Trump loses the White House.

Donors gathered with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) over lunch at the Drury Plaza Hotel to discuss strategy for the fall election. 

{mosads}While those attending are hoping that Trump can defeat presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, GOP leaders are clearly prepared to cut their losses and keep a distance from Trump if necessary to keep Senate control.

“Everyone in that room wants Trump to win the presidency, but no one dares wait for that to happen to keep the Republican majority,” said an elite donor who attended the meeting.

The donor, who requested anonymity to discuss the meeting, said he is worried about Trump weighing down Senate candidates but added the participants did not dwell on whatever headwinds the presumptive nominee may create.

The meeting took place hours before delegates opposed to Trump lost a floor battle that highlighted how divided the GOP is about its soon-to-be presidential nominee, even at a convention intended to unify the party.

Senate Republicans face an uphill battle this fall because they have to defend 24 seats, including six in states carried by President Obama in 2008 and 2012, while Democrats only have to protect 10 If Democrats win the White House, they need a pickup of only four seats to win control of the Senate.

NRSC Executive Director Ward Baker, who gave a presentation at the start of the meeting, pre-empted any hand-wringing over Trump by stating a clear plan to win no matter what happens at the top of the ticket.

Baker’s presentation highlighted polling data that shows several vulnerable Senate Republicans are running well ahead of Trump in battleground states.

Such polling suggests Trump could be a drag on the candidates.

Baker said the trend would have to hold strong for Senate Republican candidates to keep their seats in November, according to another Republican source who attended the meeting.      

Wicker also addressed the meeting, but McConnell did not, according to sources.  

The backdrop of Monday’s meeting is the growing competition for dollars between the Trump and Republican senatorial campaigns.

Trump is under pressure to step up his fundraising after reporting only $1.3 million on hand at the end of May. So far this cycle, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has outraised the NRSC $89 million to $60 million, but the GOP organization has $21.5 million on hand to the Democrats’ $21 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Some Senate Republicans are already trying to raise money off the prospect of Trump losing to Clinton in November.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a Trump critic, circulated a fundraising email Monday with the subject line: “What if Hillary wins?”

“We can only imagine what a Hillary Clinton administration would do,” he wrote to prospective small-dollar donors. “This makes it absolutely critical that Republicans maintain control of the Senate in order to keep a Clinton administration in check in case she wins.”

Clinton is leading Trump in Ohio by an average of 2 points, according to RealClearPolitics. Trump receives an average of 37 percent support in Ohio, according to four recent polls, while Clinton registers 39 support.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), one of the most vulnerable incumbents, is running about 6 points ahead of Trump. He has an average of 43.7 percent support in three recent polls.

In Pennsylvania, Trump has an average of 37 percent support in three recent polls — one by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, and two by Quinnipiac University.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R), another vulnerable incumbent, has an average of 44 percent support, according RealClearPolitics average, 7 points ahead of Trump.

Clinton has led Trump consistently in New Hampshire. Most recent surveys show her with a 3-point lead, on average, and Trump with average support of 42 percent.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), who faces a tough race this fall, has an average of 47 support in recent polls, about 5 points ahead of Trump.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who attended the meeting, said lawmakers and donors were generally upbeat about their prospects for beating back the Democratic effort to recapture Senate control.

“People are excited. You go through numbers and you see the races and the state of the races and people are generally excited. It’s going to be tough work, but we feel good about where we’re at,” he said.

“The Senate races today seem more closely bound to what’s happening locally,” he added.

Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and David Perdue (Ga.) also attended the meeting.  

Republican sources who were there said Baker stressed the importance of targeting swing and likely voters.

That strategy was on display later in the day when Portman’s campaign gave a presentation to its elite volunteers about the state of the Senate race in Ohio.

Corry Bliss noted the campaign’s effort to research what issues are important to voters in northern Ohio and tailor its message accordingly. Research showed many voters in the area are most concerned about preserving Lake Erie.

Initially, Portman was down 3 points among voters who rated Lake Erie a top priority. After launching a web ad about Portman’s work to improve water quality in the lake, he surged to a 6-point lead over his rival, former Gov. Ted Strickland (D), among voters near the Great Lake.

Tags Cory Gardner Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jeff Flake John Cornyn Johnny Isakson Kelly Ayotte Lamar Alexander Mitch McConnell Rob Portman Roger Wicker Susan Collins

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