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 KavanaughSupreme Court can prove its independence — or its partisan capture Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Planned Parenthood plans M campaign for 2020 | Dem candidates embrace aggressive step on drug prices | Officials propose changes to encourage 'value-based' care Bans on public coverage for abortion are unjustified by science and outright harmful 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 HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa MORE (D) has seen Republican Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerWhite House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback Sunday shows — Officials rush to Trump's defense on Syria, sanctions GOP senator defends Trump's decision on Syria MORE pull ahead in polls. They also believe they can defeat Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillIranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest 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 McSallyFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Planned Parenthood charges into 2020 | PhRMA CEO warns against Pelosi drug pricing bill | Medicaid work requirements costing states millions 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 FlakeHow to survive an impeachment Are Senate Republicans certain that Trump can return to office? Jeff Flake calls Trump's language 'authoritarian' 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) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Fallout from Kavanaugh confirmation felt in Washington one year later 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 ClintonVideo of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Ronan Farrow exposes how the media protect the powerful Kamala Harris to Trump Jr.: 'You wouldn't know a joke if one raised you' 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) MenendezRand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter Senators ask Treasury to probe Brazilian meatpacker with major US footprint Top Foreign Relations Democrat calls on Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters 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 CruzCruz: 'Of course' it's not appropriate to ask China to investigate Bidens Sunday Show Preview: Trump's allies and administration defend decision on Syria O'Rourke raises .5 million in third quarter 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 BlackburnCongress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Hillicon Valley: Iranian hacking operation targeted campaign, government accounts | House panel pushes Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Trump officials step up attacks on Facebook encryption 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 NelsonBottom Line Bottom Line Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity 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.”