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Democrats slide in battle for Senate

The battle for control of the Senate is looking worse and worse for Democrats, who just a month ago saw a path to the majority but now increasingly look like they could lose more seats and have a smaller minority next year.

Republicans have seen a bump in the polls in several key races since Labor Day. They believe momentum has flipped to their party since the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughConservative justices split in ruling for immigrant fighting deportation Supreme Court weighs whether to limit issuance of exemptions to biofuel blending requirements The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP makes infrastructure play; Senate passes Asian hate crimes bill MORE polarized the electorate, hurting Democrats running for reelection in states where President TrumpDonald TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE is popular.

Two states where Democrats had hopes of pulling major upsets — Texas and Tennessee — have moved in favor of Republicans. Races in Nevada and Arizona, two other states where Democrats had hoped to make gains, remain tight, but Republicans feel more confident about their candidates.

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Meanwhile, the tide has moved against Democratic candidates in a couple of states that Trump won by double digits in 2016.

In North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampEffective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests Bill Maher blasts removal of journalist at Teen Vogue Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives MORE has fallen behind by double digits. And in Montana, Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterAmericans for Prosperity launches campaign targeting six Democrats to oppose ending filibuster Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform MORE (D), who seemed poised for victory a month ago, has seen his race tighten amid attacks by the president.

There is some good news for Democrats in the polls.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' Bowser on Manchin's DC statehood stance: He's 'not right' It's Joe Manchin vs the progressives on infrastructure MORE (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat to back Kavanaugh’s confirmation, has maintained a healthy average lead of 9 points in the polls, despite running in a state that Trump won by a whopping 42 points in 2016. 

And Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans fret over divisive candidates Everybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives MORE (D-Ind.), long seen as vulnerable, is hanging onto an average poll lead of 3 points, despite voting against Kavanaugh. 

But there are other chances for Republicans to grow their 51-49 majority.

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemings asked about Senate run after sparring with Jordan on police funding Republicans fret over divisive candidates Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP MORE’s (Mo.) reelection race against Republican Josh Hawley remains tight, while Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonCrist launches bid for Florida governor, seeking to recapture his old job The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Trump, Cheney trade jabs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Biden sales pitch heads to Virginia and Louisiana MORE (D-Fla.) has drawn a tough challenger in Gov. Rick Scott (R).

In New Jersey, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezJuan Williams: A breakthrough on immigration? Biden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 Bottom line MORE (D) is ahead in polls but Republicans still think they have a chance of pulling off an upset.

Democrats argue that they have an advantage on health care, the No. 1 issue for voters.

They are trying to capitalize on recent comments by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' McConnell alma mater criticizes him for 1619 comments McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' MORE (R-Ky.), who blamed Social Security and Medicare for the nation’s deficit problems and said Republicans may take another shot at repealing ObamaCare next year. 

“In the last week Fox News, CBS and Washington Post-ABC polls all confirmed that the top issue this election is health care. Then Mitch McConnell reminded voters he wants to take away coverage for pre-existing conditions and target Medicare and Social Security,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein.  

“This isn't what Republicans want to be talking about, and we appreciate his help reminding voters exactly what's on the ballot,” he added.

Despite the Democrats’ focus on health care, however, their top GOP target, Nevada Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE, has remained steady in polls despite his vote to repeal ObamaCare. FiveThirtyEight gives him a nearly 56 percent chance of winning reelection.  

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts Pollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls MORE (R), who has increased his lead over Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), says the Kavanaugh debate helped him and other GOP candidates. 

“Absolutely,” Cruz said. “I think the Democrats' behavior in the Kavanaugh hearing was appalling and I think a great many Texans were deeply disturbed at the partisan games and the political circus where they were willing to smear Judge Kavanaugh and his family to score political points.” 

The race between Cruz and O’Rourke was tightest in early September when Cruz’s lead in the Real Clear Politics poll average was only three points. But as the battle over Kavanaugh heated up, he saw his lead grow to 5 and now 7 points, according to an average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com. 

In Tennessee, the RealClearPolitics polling trend lines of Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen and Republican Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnThe Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base Will Biden's NASA win the space race with China? Hillicon Valley: Parler app risks charges of selling out with Apple return | Justices hear First Amendment clash over cheerleader's Snapchat | Google pressed to conduct racial equity audit MORE (Tenn.) crossed in late September, when the vicious Supreme Court fight was peaking in national attention. 

Blackburn now has a 6.5-point lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average, a substantial improvement over most of the late spring and summer, when she trailed by an average of 5 points. 

“You can probably thank Brett Kavanaugh for that. Everybody that I talked to that was on the bubble or maybe even for Bredesen — and I’m talking about Republicans — I haven’t talked to one of them since Kavanaugh that’s not saying I’m voting for Marsha,” said Chip Saltsman, a Tennessee-based GOP strategist. 

Bredesen tried to blunt the impact of the Kavanaugh debate earlier this month by announcing his support for the nominee, which caused some of his volunteers to quit. 

Democrats haven’t written off the contest at all.

A Washington-based Senate Democratic strategist argued that recent polls show Bredesen in a dead-heat with Blackburn. A Vanderbilt University survey released Thursday showed him ahead 44 percent to 43 percent. And a poll published Wednesday by Reuters showed Blackburn ahead by only 3 points, within the survey’s margin of error. But a New York Times/Siena College poll conducted around the same time gave Blackburn a 14-point lead. 

The McCaskill-Hawley race is tight, but Republicans also think the Kavanaugh fight helped them in that state.

The RealClearPolitics polling trend lines have crossed, as McCaskill held a lead until mid-August but now trails slightly in an average of recent polls. A CNN poll from last month did show her ahead by 3 points and a Fox News survey showed her even with Hawley.

In Montana, a Gravis poll from June showed Tester with an 8-point lead while a follow-up Gravis survey in late September showed it had shrunk to 4 points. 

Montana is also a top target of President Trump, who made his third trip to the state Thursday to hold a rally for Tester’s opponent, Matt Rosendale. 

Rosendale has tried to take advantage of voters’ anger over Kavanaugh by drawing comparisons to how he was treated by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and how Tester treated Trump’s pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ronny Jackson, who withdrew after Tester led the opposition to him. 

In North Dakota, Heitkamp has seen her poll numbers drop since Labor Day. 

A Fox News poll from early September showed her trailing Republican Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerSenate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill Biden administration faces big decision on whether to wade into Dakota Access fight OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies MORE (N.D.) by 4 points but an NBC poll conducted later in the month showed Cramer ahead by 10 points and a follow-up Fox News poll released Oct. 3 gave Cramer a 12-point lead. 

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneCheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Trump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan The Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base MORE (R), who comes from neighboring South Dakota, says he’s feeling good about knocking off Heitkamp, even while he acknowledges she’s a good retail campaigner. 

“She’s a good retail campaigner,” he said, but added the race is Cramer’s to lose because “it’s kind of gotten nationalized.”

A Washington-based Senate Republican strategist said that Kavanaugh has polarized the electorate and as a result moderate GOP and independent voters are less likely to cross over and cast ballots for incumbent Democrats. 

“It improved Republican prospects across the board,” said the strategist. “It polarized the electorate in red states and that’s the worst thing for Democrats who rely on a handful of Republican voters crossing the aisle and supporting them in order to get over the top."

In Arizona, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has tried to distance herself from how her fellow Democrats treated Kavanaugh in the Senate. 

“I was incredibly disappointed in the way that the Senate behaved during this confirmation hearing. It was a circus,” she said during a debate on Monday. “I was disappointed in the method that the Senate handled this. It felt like it really denigrated the work that the Senate should do.”