Senate GOP: We will grow our majority in midterms

Senate Republicans say they are confident about expanding their majority even while their party faces strong political headwinds amid growing sentiment that GOP control of the House is in serious jeopardy. 

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Minneapolis protests rock the nation McConnell: Next coronavirus bill will be final COVID-19 package Democrats gear up to hit GOP senators on DACA MORE (Colo.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), gave colleagues a pep talk during a private meeting Tuesday, pointing out poll numbers showing Republicans beating five vulnerable Democratic incumbents. 

“He said if the election were held tomorrow, we’d pick up five seats,” said a Republican senator who heard Gardner’s comments and said the “upbeat” outlook was based on public polling.

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Asked about the pep talk, Gardner pointed to the GOP tax bill in arguing Republicans in the Senate can expand their majority this fall, even as House Republicans increasingly worry they could be crushed by a blue wave.

“I think come November we will continue to build our strong economy message,” he said. “The benefits of the tax cuts are real. Today Democrats are advocating a massive tax increase at the Commerce Committee.”

The lawmaker who requested anonymity said Gardner’s comments reflect a prevailing view within the Senate Republican Conference that any possible Democratic wave is likely to be felt more in the House than the Senate. 

A significant reason for GOP optimism is the Senate 2018 map, where Democrats are defending 26 of the 35 seats up this fall. Among those 26 seats, President TrumpDonald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE won five states by 18 or more points and five more by narrow margins. Republicans, meanwhile, have three tough races in Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee.

Senate Republicans took note of the still-undecided race in Tuesday’s special House election in Pennsylvania, where Democrat Conor Lamb is narrowly ahead of Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone in a district Trump won by 20 points. Yet, they say they aren’t panicked. 

A survey by Axios and SurveyMonkey published last week showed five Senate Democratic incumbents losing if the election were held today.

The poll showed Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Memorial Day during COVID-19: How to aid our country's veterans Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections MORE (D-Mont.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December MORE (D-W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (D-Ind.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (D-N.D.) losing to generic Republicans.

It also showed Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMissouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties Senate faces protracted floor fight over judges amid pandemic safety concerns Amash on eyeing presidential bid: 'Millions of Americans' want someone other than Trump, Biden MORE (D-Mo.) trailing Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R).

A second Republican senator, who confirmed Gardner’s comments, said there’s growing optimism about knocking off Tester because he faces competition from a Green Party candidate who could divide liberal voters in November.

The Associated Press, however, reported Tuesday that the Green Party candidate, Timothy Adams, was previously on the Republican Party’s payroll and heads a newly formed anti-tax group, which diminishes his credibility with the left.

Gardner is bucking up his colleagues as signs accumulate of a coming Democratic wave in November that could flip control of the House and possibly the Senate as well.

A spokeswoman for the NRSC declined to comment on Gardner’s private comments.

David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Gardner’s optimistic talk is actually a sign of growing desperation.

“Republicans can’t defend their higher health-care costs or their tax scam that benefits corporate executives at the expense of the middle class, and have lost a Senate seat in Alabama along with a congressional seat in a district Trump won by 20 points. No wonder they’re grasping at straws,” he said.

Senate Republicans say Lamb’s possible victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th District is concerning, but they’re hopeful that it is not a harbinger of things to come in the fall. 

“Obviously it’s not a good story when a district that I think I carried by 20 points and President Trump carried by 20 points is basically a tie,” said Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy NSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general MORE (R-Pa.), who won the district handily in his 2016 reelection win.

But Toomey cautioned, “I’d be careful about extrapolating.”

“Every race has its own peculiarities, its own unique circumstances,” he added.

Saccone’s possible loss and the dismal showing by Republican candidates in state races in New Jersey and Virginia in November has underscored a feeling among Republicans that they are facing a political headwind because of Trump.

While Gardner is expressing confidence to his colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFor city parks: Pass the Great American Outdoors Act now US ill-prepared for coronavirus-fueled mental health crisis Schumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe MORE (R-Ky.) has been more circumspect. 

McConnell last month told The New York Times, “The odds are that we will lose seats in the House and the Senate.” He also acknowledged Democrats have a major edge in fundraising over the Senate GOP.

Historically, the president’s party loses seats in midterm elections, but some Republicans think that trend could be exacerbated by Trump’s polarizing style.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane Flake'Never Trump' Republicans: Fringe, or force to be reckoned with? The Memo: Can the Never Trumpers succeed? Former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake says he will not vote for Trump MORE (R-Ariz.), a regular critic of the president, called the Pennsylvania special election “a wake-up call, and a big one.”

“This is a 20-point Trump district. A year later, we lose it,” he said, expressing hope that it would illustrate to fellow Republicans “the limits of Trumpism.”

“You can only drill down so hard on the base. You have to appeal to a broader electorate,” Flake added.

“Having the president come into town and ridicule Democratic members of Congress and encourage cheers of ‘CNN sucks’... right-thinking people are saying that’s not our view.”

Flake, who is not seeking reelection, said his colleagues are feeling more nervous about the midterms despite cheery talk from GOP leaders such as Gardner.

Other Republican senators say they’re not nervous but nevertheless realize they face an uphill battle because of historical trends.

“Any party in control needs to keep its eyes wide open as you approach the first midterm election in a new president’s term. That’s historically been the case, so we’ll just have to work harder,” said Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSenate GOP chairman criticizes Trump withdrawal from WHO Trump: US 'terminating' relationship with WHO Soured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet MORE (R-Tenn.), who will work to elect a Republican to replace retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRomney is only GOP senator not on new White House coronavirus task force McConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' MORE (R-Tenn.) later this year. 

Alexander said that Trump has proven he has rock-solid support among the Republican base, but the challenge will be to broaden that enthusiasm for GOP candidates to swing and independent voters. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats gear up to hit GOP senators on DACA OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Unemployment claims now at 41 million with 2.1 million more added to rolls; Topeka mayor says cities don't have enough tests for minorities and homeless communities MORE (R-Maine) said party strategists should pay close attention to the result to make course corrections ahead of the midterms, if necessary. 

“I don’t think there’s any need to panic but certainly we should take a look at the results and why people voted the way they did,” she said. 

Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeHouse FISA bill suddenly on life support House GOP lawmaker breaks with party to back proxy voting House conservatives voice concerns over minority rights during remote hearings MORE (R-Okla.), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Senate Republicans are probably in better shape than House Republicans in this midterm elections.  

“The map, no matter what happens, still leans in our direction, so I think they have a better than even chance to actually pick up a seat or two,” Cole said of Senate Republicans and the favorable battleground map.