GOP sees new hope to expand Senate majority

Republicans are increasingly optimistic about their chances of expanding their narrow Senate majority after the polarizing confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Amgen — Supreme Court sides with Planned Parenthood, declines to take funding case | NIH to fund research into fetal tissue alternatives | Oklahoma seeks Trump approval for Medicaid work requirements Time fumbles another 'Person of the Year' by excluding Kavanaugh Trump, Mueller both make Time 'Person of the Year' shortlist MORE.

In the weeks since a series of sexual misconduct allegations were raised against Kavanaugh, the GOP has seen candidates in the Republican strongholds of Texas and Tennessee strengthen their positions, putting possible upset bids by Democrats on hold.

Republicans are increasingly bullish on their chances of gaining a seat in North Dakota, where Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSchumer walking tightrope with committee assignments Banking panel showcases 2020 Dems Trump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator MORE (D) has seen Republican Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerNorth Dakota New Members 2019 Rick Scott appears with GOP senators, ignores voter fraud question as recount continues How President Trump won last night MORE pull ahead in polls. They also believe they can defeat Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMissouri GOP Secretary of State launches investigation into Hawley’s time as AG The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Congress to act soon to avoid shutdown Schumer gets ready to go on the offensive MORE (D) in Missouri. Both Democrats voted against Kavanaugh's confirmation.

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“If you look at the polling we’ve seen in the last four or five days, it’s become clear that states like North Dakota and Missouri are moving in the Republicans’ direction,” said Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist.

“Most importantly, the opportunity that existed for Democrats in Tennessee and Texas looks like it's on the way out,” he said.

In Arizona and Nevada, widely seen as the best pickup opportunities for Democrats, recent polls suggest that the GOP is holding its own.

One poll released Wednesday by Phoenix-based pollster OH Predictive Insights showed Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) trailing Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyMaine’s 2nd District outcome proves value of ranked choice voting Arizona airport says Trump campaign owes K from October rally The 5 most competitive Senate races of 2020 MORE (R-Ariz.) by 6 points.

While most other recent polls show Sinema with a narrow lead, the race to succeed retiring Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake: Republican Party ‘is a frog slowly boiling in water’ Tim Scott: Stop giving court picks with 'questionable track records on race' a Senate vote Flake stands firm on sending a ‘message to the White House’ on Mueller MORE (R-Ariz.) appears to be tightening. A Fox News poll conducted around the same time as the OH Predictive Insights survey showed Sinema ahead by 2 points – well within the poll’s 3.5-point margin of error.

In Nevada, an NBC News/Marist poll released earlier this month put Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur Heller How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit White House jumps into fight over energy subsidies One last fight for Sen. Orrin Hatch MORE (R-Nev.) ahead of his Democratic challenger, Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenSchumer walking tightrope with committee assignments 10 things we learned from the midterms Election Countdown: Florida fight ends with Scott, DeSantis wins | Dems see Sunbelt in play for 2020 | Trump to campaign in Mississippi ahead of runoff | GOP wipeout in Orange County | Ortiz Jones concedes in Texas House race MORE (Nev.), by 2 points. Heller has long been seen as the most vulnerable GOP Senate incumbent.

“I think Senate races are tightening and that’s not a real surprise,” said Doug Thornell, a former deputy political director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). “As you get closer to an election, that typically happens. There’s more information that voters take in and on both sides see enthusiasm grow.”

The GOP’s best chances for picking up seats look to be in North Dakota and Missouri, but the party also sees opportunities in Montana and Indiana, two states Trump won easily in 2016, as well as Florida, another state won by Trump where Republicans have a strong candidate in Gov. Rick Scott.

West Virginia is another pick-up chance, though Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchumer to Trump: Future infrastructure bill must combat climate change Overnight Energy: Senate confirms controversial energy pick | EPA plans rollback of Obama coal emissions rule | GOP donor gave Pruitt K for legal defense Senate confirms Trump’s controversial energy pick MORE, the only Democrat to vote to confirm Kavanaugh, is holding on strong in polls. The Cook Political Report moved that race into the “Lean Democratic” column last month.

Republicans also see a longshot chance of flipping New Jersey, a deep-blue state that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — NRCC exposes security flaws 2 years after Russia hacks | Google Plus to shut down early | Scathing House report scolds Equifax for breach | McCarthy knocks Google ahead of CEO's hearing Press: Mueller closes in on Trump McCarthy dismisses Dem-led Trump probes MORE carried by 14 points in 2016.

A Stockton University poll released earlier this month showed a statistical dead heat in the race between Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMore oversight of America’s international media networks a good idea Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Trump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it MORE (D) and his Republican challenger Bob Hugin, with the incumbent Democrat carrying only a 2-point lead. Menendez was reprimanded by a Senate ethics panel in April after federal prosecutors dropped corruption charges against him.

Republican officials and operatives argued that the bitter fight over Kavanaugh’s confirmation has boosted their chances. They are hoping that the fight will energize their base in November in a year when Democrats have largely held an edge in voter enthusiasm.

At the same time, they say they are not taking anything for granted, and acknowledge the political winds can change quickly.

In North Dakota, they say it’s still possible Heitkamp could make a late comeback.

“Heidi’s never going to be done for,” one North Dakota Republican operative said. “Part of that is this state is cheap. A little bit of money can have a lot of impact. She’s a fighter, and she’s got nothing left to lose.”

In Missouri, a recent poll from Fox news showed Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) tied at 46 percent with McCaskill. A CNN poll conducted days earlier gave McCaskill a 3-point lead.

In Texas, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGillum reached out to O’Rourke amid 2020 speculation: report O'Rourke spoke with Al Sharpton amid 2020 speculation O’Rourke is fireball, but not all Dems are sold MORE’s (R) polling numbers are on the rise. Two recent surveys by Emerson College and CBS News/YouGov showed the conservative firebrand pulling ahead by 5 and 6 points, respectively, over Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).

In Tennessee, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnCorker: Saudi Crown Prince is ‘out of control’ Corker: Trump governs by using ‘anger’ and ‘hate’ Tennessee New Members 2019 MORE (R) held a 5-point lead in a Fox News poll earlier this month over former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen. Another poll by CBS News/YouGov showed her ahead by 8 points.

In Florida, Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonMore than 6000 mail-in ballots in Florida were not counted: officials Rick Scott funded three-quarters of his Senate campaign, to tune of .6M Manchin’s likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives MORE (D) has seen his numbers rebound in recent polls against Scott. Hurricane Michael, which hit the state on Wednesday, has introduced a new uncertainty to that race.

Democrats have expressed optimism that the partisan fight over Kavanaugh will pump up their base.

“I think the pathway to the majority was always going to be difficult for Democrats,” Thornell said. “This is one of the most treacherous Senate maps either party has had in years. But it’s still in play because our incumbents are running strong campaigns, and we have put the GOP on defense in four states.”