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 KavanaughThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Susan Collins raises M in second quarter fundraising, surpassing 2014 reelection bid The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic infighting threatens 2020 unity MORE polarized the electorate, hurting Democrats running for reelection in states where President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA 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 HeitkampTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments McConnell's Democratic challenger says she likely would have voted for Kavanaugh MORE has fallen behind by double digits. And in Montana, Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives Democratic senators want candidates to take Swalwell's hint and drop out 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) ManchinTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments 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 DonnellyTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments 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 McCaskillTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Feds allow campaigns to accept discounted cybersecurity services GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE’s (Mo.) reelection race against Republican Josh Hawley remains tight, while Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups How Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA MORE (D-Fla.) has drawn a tough challenger in Gov. Rick Scott (R).

In New Jersey, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate passes .5B border bill, setting up fight with House Senate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week 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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA —Biden unveils health care plan | Proposal pitches subsidies, public option | Biden vows if you like your health insurance, 'you can keep it' | Sanders protests planned Philadelphia hospital closure 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 CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Cruz in 2016 said 'something fundamentally wrong' with Christians who back Trump: book Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid 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 BlackburnSocial media summit highlights partisan approaches on tech Trump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Hillicon Valley: Trump rails against 'terrible bias' at White House social media summit | Twitter hit by hour-long outage | Google admits workers listen to smart device recordings 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 CramerTrump puts hopes for Fed revolution on unconventional candidate Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Acosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers 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 ThuneGOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries High anxiety hits Senate over raising debt ceiling 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.”