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 KavanaughPelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Kavanaugh book authors dismayed about Democrats 'rush to judgment' on impeachment calls Clinton celebrates first visibly pregnant CEO to be on business magazine cover MORE polarized the electorate, hurting Democrats running for reelection in states where President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report 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 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 has fallen behind by double digits. And in Montana, Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocratic senators quietly hope Biden wins over rivals GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson to resign at end of year Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan READ: Trump administration memo on background checks NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' 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 DonnellyLobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries 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 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’s (Mo.) reelection race against Republican Josh Hawley remains tight, while Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonMedia and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity Al Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 MORE (D-Fla.) has drawn a tough challenger in Gov. Rick Scott (R).

In New Jersey, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezAs NFIP reauthorization deadline looms, Congress must end lethal subsidies Senate Democrats warn Trump: Don't invite Putin to G-7 Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid 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 McConnellLawmakers run into major speed bumps on spending bills Budowsky: Donald, Boris, Bibi — The right in retreat Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet 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 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, 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 CruzGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' Barr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks 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 BlackburnTaylor Swift 'obsessed' with politics, says she's cautious about celebrity support backfiring for Democrats The evolution of Taylor Swift's political activism Kellyanne Conway responds to Taylor Swift criticism by invoking pop star's lyrics 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 CramerPrimary challenges show potential cracks in Trump's GOP Castro, Steyer join pledge opposing the Keystone XL pipeline EPA proposes rolling back states' authority over pipeline projects 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 ThuneHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' Trump administration floats background check proposal to Senate GOP 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.”