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Democrats in tough races throw their party under the bus

Democrats in tough Senate races around the country are throwing their party under the bus as they seek to pull out victories in red states won just two years ago by President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Memo: Punish Trump or risk a repeat, warn Democrats GOP senators criticized for appearing to pay half-hearted attention to trial Hawley watches trial from visitor's gallery MORE (D) has a radio ad declaring she’s “not one of those crazy Democrats.” She’s in a razor-tight race against Josh Hawley, the state’s attorney general.

In Montana, Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Democrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic MORE (D), whose race against Republican Matt Rosendale has tightened considerably, told The Hill that Democrats “botched” the debate over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughJustices hear sparring over scope of safeguards for minority voters Supreme Court faces landmark challenge on voting rights Will 'Cover-up Cuomo' be marching to 'Jail to the Chief'? MORE

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He also criticized Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Health Care: Biden says US will have enough vaccine for all adults by end of May | Biden calls on all states to vaccinate teachers by the end of March | Texas, Mississippi lift mask mandates Biden picks for financial agencies offer preview of regulatory agenda Becerra tells Warren he will do 'thorough review' of executive actions on drug prices MORE’s (D) use of DNA results to claim Native American heritage, saying it doesn’t “pass the test.” 

In Tennessee and Arizona, former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D), respectively, are telling voters that they will not back Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerA Biden stumble on China? First Black secretary of Senate sworn in Republican Ohio Senate candidate calls on GOP rep to resign over impeachment vote MORE (N.Y.) for Senate Democratic leader. Trump won both of those states in 2016, too.

In West Virginia, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMurkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden On The Money: Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief | Relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority | Senate confirms Biden's picks for Commerce, top WH economist Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief MORE (W.Va.) broke with his party and backed Kavanaugh's confirmation.

In Indiana, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEverybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big MORE (D) has a television ad warning of “socialists” who “want to turn health care over to the government" and of the “radical left” wanting to eliminate U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. 

The efforts by these candidates make sense given the plight that the Senate Democrats have found themselves in.

Republicans have a narrow 51-49 majority, but they have chances across the country to build on it despite a political climate in which Democrats are favored to win back the House majority.

The Senate battle is different from the House largely because of the territory.

McCaskill and Tester are running for reelection in states that Trump won by double digits in the 2016 election against Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons remember former adviser Vernon Jordan Biden praises Vernon Jordan: He 'knew the soul of America' The parts of H.R. 1 you haven't heard about MORE. He won Montana by more than 20 percentage points and Missouri by 18 percentage points.

In North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampCentrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Harrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment Biden to tap Vilsack for Agriculture secretary: reports MORE is now an underdog against Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill On The Money: Manhattan DA obtains Trump tax returns | Biden nominee previews post-Trump trade agenda | Biden faces first setback as Tanden teeters MORE (R). Trump won North Dakota by 35 percentage points. 

Heitkamp, like the other Democrats, has sought to separate herself from her party. She slammed Clinton for saying that Democrats can’t be civil with Republicans until they are back in control of Congress.  “That’s ridiculous,” Heitkamp responded. “I can’t imagine how you get anything done if you don’t bring civility back into politics.” 

The trend is evident even in the few states Trump lost that are home to competitive Senate elections this year. 

In Nevada, a state Clinton won in 2016, Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenDemocratic senator demands Rand Paul wear a mask on Senate floor Overnight Defense: New START extended for five years | Austin orders 'stand down' to tackle extremism | Panel recommends Biden delay Afghanistan withdrawal Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (D) has an ad touting her clash with House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority Some Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress MORE (Calif.) to reform the Veterans Affairs Department. 

“Jacky stood up to Nancy Pelosi to reform the VA,” a veteran tells viewers. 

Rosen is in a tight race against 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 (R-Nev.).

Democratic strategists say it’s a smart tactic because most of these candidates — with the exception of Rosen — are running in states that Trump overwhelmingly won, and Republicans are doing everything they can to tie them to the most liberal members of their party. 

“You’re talking about senators that are running for reelection that [Trump] won their states by double digits. The Republican brand is strong in those states and the fact is that for these moderates to succeed, they need to reach out to not only their base but also to independents and Republicans who will put policy over partisanship,” said Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist. 

This is true of Tester, who will need moderate Republicans and independents to win, according to a recent survey by the Montana Television Network and Montana State University that showed Tester with 15 percent support among voters who approve of Trump. 

Republicans have also been turning the screws on red-state Democrats.

At rallies in Montana over the weekend, Donald Trump Jr.Don TrumpTrump: 'I can't imagine' any Republican would beat me in 2024 primary if I run Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged Donald Trump Jr. attacks Cheney at CPAC: 'Lincoln Project Liz' MORE and his girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, warned voters that a vote for Tester would be a vote to make Schumer the Senate majority leader and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIntercept bureau chief: minimum wage was not 'high priority' for Biden in COVID-19 relief Murkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief MORE (I-Vt.) the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. 

Guilfoyle also took a shot at Warren, who has touted DNA results showing she is between 0.1 percent and 1.6 percent Native American. 

“I’m actually the real Pocahontas, 6.1 percent Native American,” she said. 

Tester is bracing for the president's trip to Montana Saturday, his fourth, where he will no doubt try to portray the incumbent Democrat as one of Schumer’s loyal soldiers.

“The Democrat Party has gone so far left that no one knows what to do. It’s become radical resistance,” Trump said at a rally in Missoula two weeks ago.  

McCaskill distanced herself from liberal activists shortly before Trump was scheduled to visit her state on Thursday. 

McCaskill later explained that when she referred to “crazy Democrats” she was thinking of the activists who have confronted Republican colleagues such as Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Boehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump Senate confirms Biden Commerce secretary pick Gina Raimondo MORE (R-Texas) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Boehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress MORE (R-Ky.) at restaurants during the Kavanaugh debate.  

She also made a pointed effort to distance herself from Warren and Sanders during a Fox News interview, noting that Warren “sure went after me” after McCaskill proposed rolling back some banking regulations and that “I certainly disagree with Bernie Sanders on a bunch of stuff.” 

Steven S. Smith, a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis, said Republicans have been working overtime to paint that Democratic Party as a bunch of wild-eyed radicals. 

“The Republicans have been working hard to say that the Democrats have become radicalized and revolutionary and socialistic,” he said. “She’s clearly trying to respond to an element of criticism of the Democrats.

“She knows that pivotal voters in Missouri are getting that from the Republican side so she wants to deal with it,” he added of McCaskill. “If she’s worried that some middle-of-the-road voters are thinking that it’s the Democrats who are the radicals, then she needs to distance herself from them."

Smith said he’s not sure “it’s an effective strategy” before adding that “at this stage of the game it’s not possible for her to do much else.”

In states with strong Democratic bases, especially states with strong labor unions and large blocs of minority voters, appealing to moderates by criticizing liberals is a tricky task.  

Even though Donnelly talks like a conservative in some of his ads, blasting “socialists” and the “radical left,” he will attend a rally with former President Obama in Gary, Ind., an old steel town with a history of labor organizing and a large African-American community. 

A Democratic strategist argued that Obama can help mobilize the black vote in Gary and noted that he carried the state over the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainHouse Freedom Caucus chair weighs Arizona Senate bid Cindy McCain planning 'intimate memoir' of life with John McCain Trump-McConnell rift divides GOP donors MORE (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election. 

Donnelly’s Republican opponent, Mike Braun, however, is pouncing on Obama’s visit to go on the attack by linking Donnelly to the former president. 

“Joe Donnelly is so desperate for enthusiasm he's calling in Barack Obama to remind Hoosiers he supports the collapsing Obamacare [and] Obama’s dangerous Iran deal,” said Braun spokesman Josh Kelley.