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 John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed MORE

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMSNBC's McCaskill: Trump used 'his fat thumbs' to try to intimidate Yovanovitch GOP senator rips into Pelosi at Trump rally: 'It must suck to be that dumb' Iranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts 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) TesterTester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing Veterans face growing threat from online disinformation 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 Kavanaugh Christine Blasey Ford receives ACLU courage award Election 2020: Why I'm watching Amy and Andy Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE

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He also criticized Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenRahm Emanuel: Bloomberg, Patrick entering race will allow Democrats to have 'ideas primary' Feehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Jayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill Overnight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary MORE (N.Y.) for Senate Democratic leader. Trump won both of those states in 2016, too.

In West Virginia, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPolitical purity tests are for losers Former coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda MORE (W.Va.) broke with his party and backed Kavanaugh's confirmation.

In Indiana, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyWatchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand 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 ClintonThe Memo: Centrists change tone of Democratic race In 2020, democracy will be decided at the margins Michelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award 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 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 is now an underdog against Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week 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 RosenHillicon Valley: Facebook to remove mentions of potential whistleblower's name | House Dems demand FCC action over leak of location data | Dem presses regulators to secure health care data Senators introduce bill to create 'parity' among broadband programs Senators introduce cybersecurity workforce expansion bill MORE (D) has an ad touting her clash with House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Key GOP senator: 'We need a breakthrough' on spending talks Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran 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 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 (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.Donald (Don) John TrumpConway and Haley get into heated feud: 'You'll say anything to get the vice-presidential nomination' Conservative group cuts ties with Michelle Malkin Conservatives seek to stifle new 'alt-right' movement steeped in anti-Semitism 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 SandersRahm Emanuel: Bloomberg, Patrick entering race will allow Democrats to have 'ideas primary' Feehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Jayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' 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 CruzOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran Cruz, Graham and Cheney call on Trump to end all nuclear waivers for Iran Pompeo: US ending sanctions waiver for site where Iran resumed uranium enrichment MORE (R-Texas) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds McConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters Key GOP senator: 'We need a breakthrough' on spending talks 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 McCainConservative group cuts ties with Michelle Malkin Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters Donald Trump's 2020 election economic gamble 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.