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 KavanaughMississippi professor, who went to Georgetown Prep with Brett Kavanaugh, sues HuffPost McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Collins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' reelection would go well if she runs 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 HeitkampPence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa Al Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D) has seen Republican Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerCastro, Steyer join pledge opposing the Keystone XL pipeline EPA proposes rolling back states' authority over pipeline projects GOP senator held up Trump aide's confirmation to get info on border wall contracts MORE pull ahead in polls. They also believe they can defeat Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand 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 McSallyGabby Giffords participating in gun violence town hall in El Paso following mass shooting Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid 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 FlakeAnti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid Arpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument 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 HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R-Nev.) ahead of his Democratic challenger, Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Key endorsements: A who's who in early states 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) ManchinTrump awards Medal of Freedom to NBA legend Bob Cousy Overnight Energy: Green groups sue Trump over Endangered Species Act changes | Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency | Wildfires in Amazon rainforest burn at record rate Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency out west 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 ClintonThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces DHS cyber agency to prioritize election security, Chinese threats ABC chose a debate moderator who hates Trump 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) MenendezPelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid House passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback 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 CruzIs this any way for NASA to build a lunar lander? GOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 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 BlackburnTaylor Swift defends staying out of the 2016 election: 'I just knew I wasn't going to help' The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Senate passes sweeping budget deal, sending it to Trump 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 NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups 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.”