Dem campaign chairman expresses confidence over path to Senate majority

Dem campaign chairman expresses confidence over path to Senate majority
© Anna Moneymaker

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenCivil rights activist Gloria Richardson dies Senate Democrats hit speedbumps with big spending plans Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer MORE (Md.), the chairman of the Senate Democratic campaign arm, said turnout in recent primaries and growing support for Democrats among independents suggests the party has a strong chance of taking control of the Senate.

Though Democrats face a difficult map that has them defending more than two dozen seats — including 10 in states won by Trump by double digits — Van Hollen says a path exists for Democrats to win the Senate majority.

“Everybody knows the odds are tough but the odds are getting better by the day,” he said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program, which is set to air Friday night and over the weekend. “We’ve seen this growing momentum at the grass-roots level.”


Van Hollen said the upset win by Sen. Doug Jones (D) in Alabama last fall is a huge factor, as it cut the GOP majority to 51-49.

While Republicans are defending few seats this fall, Democrats think they have a chance to win contests in Nevada, Arizona and possibly Tennessee.

If they could win two of those contests and not lose any of their own incumbents, they’d take back the majority.

The problem is that this will mean winning races in states where Trump is popular, including North Dakota, Missouri, West Virginia and Indiana.

Republicans also hope to defeat Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonTom Brady to Biden: '40 percent of the people still don't think we won' Rubio, Demings rake in cash as Florida Senate race heats up How transparency on UFOs can unite a deeply divided nation MORE (D) in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott is seen as a strong GOP candidate.

Van Hollen points to Democratic enthusiasm and turnout in primaries in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, where his party is defending two more seats, in explaining his confidence.

Wisconsin’s primary on Tuesday broke turnout records as 537,000 Democratic votes were cast in the gubernatorial primary and the Democratic stronghold of Dane County saw a 40 percent increase in votes over any previous year, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“If you look at the results from the Minnesota primary elections, the Michigan primary elections, big turnouts among Democratic voters,” he added. “And we’re seeing more and more independent voters looking for a senator who’s going to stand up for the people in their state.”

A CNN-SSRS poll released Wednesday showed that 70 percent of Democrats said they are more excited to vote — a 32-point jump since 2016. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans in the survey said they are also more excited to vote but the jump in enthusiasm is not as great when compared to two years ago.

Van Hollen said that Democratic candidates have done much better this year in congressional districts carried by Trump in 2016, pointing to special elections in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, which Democrats won, and Ohio’s 12th District, which is in the midst of a recount.

“The trends are very much in Democrats’ favor,” he said. “We’re seeing that in special elections where regardless of the actual outcome, the reality is that Democrats are doing a lot better in states and congressional districts that Trump won in 2016 than anyone would have expected.”

The Democratic campaign chief said that unlike in other cycles, his party has a chance of pulling off upsets in Republican states such as Texas where Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) raised $10.4 million in the second quarter.

“It’s also a year where in any one of those eight Republican senate states, you could have an upset by one of our candidates,” he said.

He praised O’Rourke for “running an incredible grass-roots campaign” but stopped short of committing to put money into the race.

But he said funding won’t be one of O’Rourke’s hurdle, implying that he faces other challenges in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since Sen. Lloyd Bentsen in 1988.

“His challenges probably go beyond money and he knows that, which is why he’s everywhere around the state of Texas,” Van Hollen said.

He said Democratic candidates in 2018 have learned some of the lessons of 2016, when Democrats thought they had a chance of taking back the Senate but were disappointed.

Van Hollen said one of the mistakes candidates made two years ago was not to campaign in all parts of their states, taking some voters for granted while writing off others.

“There were disappointments in 2016,” he acknowledged. “The first thing I did when I was elected to the Senate and became chair of the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] was take a look at those races."

“My sense was that people did not campaign in every square inch of their states,” he said.

Senate candidates are adopting a different work ethic this year, he noted.

“The momentum looks good but people are working really hard,” he said.