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 KavanaughKamala Harris staffer mocks O'Reilly for saying Harris 'lost' his vote for president Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World MORE polarized the electorate, hurting Democrats running for reelection in states where President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 HeitkampOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction Gary Cohn criticizes the shutdown: 'Completely wrong' EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE has fallen behind by double digits. And in Montana, Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party 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) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks 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 DonnellyEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Senate approves funding bill, preventing partial government shutdown 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 McCaskillThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Ex-Sen. McCaskill joins NBC, MSNBC Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party MORE’s (Mo.) reelection race against Republican Josh Hawley remains tight, while Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonFlorida lawmaker diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Rick Scott threw party at Florida governor’s mansion after DeSantis and family had moved in: report Restoration of voting rights by felons marks shift in Florida MORE (D-Fla.) has drawn a tough challenger in Gov. Rick Scott (R).

In New Jersey, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president More oversight of America’s international media networks a good idea Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems 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 McConnellGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Senate GOP eyes 'nuclear option' for Trump nominees next week Taiwan’s President Tsai should be invited to address Congress 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 HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems 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 CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science 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 BlackburnBarr hearing marks first time Senate Judiciary has GOP women serving on panel Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Overnight Defense: Appeals court sides with Trump on transgender military ban | Trump threatens years-long shutdown | Trump floats declaring national emergency to build wall with military 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 CramerGOP senators would support postponing State of the Union Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Hopes fade for bipartisan bills in age of confrontation 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 ThuneRove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions 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.”