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 KavanaughTrump's Fed pick on critics: 'They're pulling a Kavanaugh against me' Conservative justices signal willingness to allow census citizenship question Supreme Court sees more serious divide open on death penalty 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 HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (D) has seen Republican Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerOn The Money: Cain withdraws from Fed consideration | Says he didn't want 'pay cut' | Trump sues to block subpoena for financial records | Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Cain withdraws from Fed consideration Cain says he 'won't run away from criticism' in push for Fed seat MORE pull ahead in polls. They also believe they can defeat Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate 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 McSallyGOP Senate campaign arm hits battleground-state Dems over 'Medicare for All,' Green New Deal Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing 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 FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family 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 HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R-Nev.) ahead of his Democratic challenger, Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Prosecutors used FISA warrant to get info on Huawei | Study finds discrimination in Facebook ads | Bezos retains voting control over ex-wife's Amazon stocks More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Dem senators introduce bill to combat sexual harassment in STEM 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) ManchinCain says he withdrew from Fed consideration because of 'pay cut' On The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed 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 ClintonDavis: The shocking fact that Mueller never would have accused Trump of a crime Trump says he would challenge impeachment in Supreme Court The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? 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) MenendezWe can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange 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 CruzCornyn campaign, Patton Oswalt trade jabs over comedian's support for Senate candidate MJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid Liberal survey: Sanders cruising, Buttigieg rising 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 BlackburnConservative groups defend tech from GOP crackdown Lawmakers weigh challenges in fighting robocalls Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal 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 NelsonTrump administration renews interest in Florida offshore drilling: report Dem reps say they were denied access to immigrant detention center Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances 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.”