Democrats on the Senate: We got this

Greg Nash

Democrats are now extremely confident they will capture control of the Senate next month in the wake of Donald Trump’s drop in the polls and an intensifying civil war in the Republican Party.

Winning the majority is a given, Democratic officials told The Hill, adding that signs point to a pickup of seven seats and possibly more on Election Day.

To win control of the Senate, Democrats need to pick up four seats on Nov. 8, or five if Trump wins the White House.

{mosads}But they say the billionaire businessman has no chance of becoming commander in chief and that his bombshell comments about groping women have tilted races around the country.

Democrats contend they’re on track to pick up seats in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“You’re looking at a potential plus-seven night,” said a Senate Democratic strategist. “I mean, that is a huge night for us if that’s how it goes down.”

The last big Democratic wave election was in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) won the White House and Senate Democrats netted eight seats.

And then, Republicans weren’t as starkly divided as they are now.

The intraparty brawl unfolding in the GOP has Democrats wondering whether seats they had given up on in Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Arizona may be within reach after all.

Some Democratic strategists think a nine- or 10-seat victory is not out of the question.

A senior Democratic aide said Tuesday that Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat in Florida is back on the table and that Ohio, where GOP Sen. Rob Portman had pulled away from his Democratic challenger, former Gov. Ted Strickland, may become competitive again. Democrats canceled ads in Florida and in Ohio after Portman built a double-digit lead there in recent weeks.

The aide floated the possibility of shifting money away from New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, where more moderate voters are likely to be turned off by Trump’s lewd comments, to races in more Republican-leaning states.

That probably won’t happen, given the risky nature of such an unorthodox move, but the talk shows that some Democrats want to go big, believing the Republican Party is in the middle of a historic meltdown.

“If Trump loses Ohio by 15 points or more, which is entirely possible, then yeah, Ohio’s in play. Or if by 10 points or more, that’s entirely possible, too. Trump declared war on the establishment. Rob Portman is the establishment,” said the aide.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch ­McConnell (R-Ky.) has told colleagues throughout the election cycle that it is possible for Republicans to lose the White House, even by a large margin, and keep Senate control, pointing to various historical examples.

“It’s never a good strategy to start measuring the drapes with still weeks to go in an election, especially when you are pulling resources out of competitive races,” said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.   

Clinton and Trump are tied in Ohio, according to an average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics, but those surveys were conducted before Trump’s most recent scandal.

“We are working to figure out if this expands us into new states,” a Senate Democratic strategist with knowledge of the Senate races said Tuesday.

Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at The Cook Political Report, said “it’s entirely too early” to know whether Florida and Ohio will become competitive again and noted Democrats’ recent advertising cancellations in both states.

Some Democratic strategists don’t want to wait another week to get all the polling data because time is of the essence with Election Day less than a month away.

The biggest problem Senate Democrats face in expanding the map is a lack of financial resources.

While the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has raised more money than its counterpart, Republican-allied outside groups have flooded money into expensive battlegrounds such as Florida and Ohio, forcing Democrats to retreat and focus on cheaper races in Missouri and North Carolina.

Rubio has not retracted his endorsement of Trump, who defeated him for the presidential nomination. Portman on Saturday said he could no longer support Trump and would instead write in his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. 

If Trump vents his anger on Portman by attacking his tenure as U.S. trade representative or his past support for trade deals, it could cost the senator at the ballot box.

Trump this week lashed out at Republicans who pulled their support, such as Portman and vulnerable Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), tweeting: “Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides.”

Ayotte initially said she supported Trump but declined to endorse him. She now says she won’t vote for him.

Republican candidates who stick with Trump risk turning off Republicans who might decide to sit the election out. But those who withdraw their support from Trump may see a sizable chunk of the GOP base vote against them in retaliation.

“This is the worst Catch-22 I’ve ever seen in politics. These Republicans are absolutely damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” said Matt Canter, a Democratic strategist at Global Strategy Group.

With the election shifting decisively for Clinton — hardly a Republican strategist in Washington thinks Trump can win now — Democrats are beginning to wonder if they might be overly focused on Senate races they’ll end up winning handily.

“Do you aim for a bigger night that would help you build a sea wall against losing the Senate in 2018, when we have such a terrible map?” the senior Senate Democratic aide said.

Republicans are defending 24 seats this year compared to the Democrats’ 10, but in two years the advantage will be reversed. Democrats will have to worry about 25 seats while Republicans will have to defend only eight.

“If you take that leap of faith, everything is in play. If Republicans stay home en masse — whichever side of the civil war they’re on — sure, everything is in play,” the source added.  

Arizona, where Sen. John McCain (R) appeared to be cruising to reelection, is no longer a slam-dunk for the GOP, Democrats say, especially if Trump declares war on Republicans who abandon him.

That’s what happened Monday, when Trump blasted McCain, the party’s presidential nominee in 2008, who said over the weekend he would not vote for Trump next month.

“The very foul mouthed Sen. John McCain begged for my support during his primary (I gave, he won), then dropped me over locker room remarks!” Trump tweeted.

McCain was in a dead heat with his Democratic challenger, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), earlier this year. He pulled ahead, seemingly decisively, after outside groups spent big in Arizona to defend him.

In Nevada, Rep. Joe Heck (R), who is running for Senate, announced over the weekend he would not vote for Trump.

Heck drew boos at a weekend campaign rally, and Republican National Committeewoman Diana Orrock said she would no longer back the Senate hopeful.

“How hypocritical of him to denounce Trump on comments that were [11] years old and locker room banter? By not endorsing Trump, he is supporting Hillary,” she said.

Tags Ann Kirkpatrick Barack Obama Donald Trump John McCain Kelly Ayotte Marco Rubio Mike Pence Rob Portman
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