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Trump’s immigration push lifts Senate GOP

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report California wildfire becomes deadliest in state’s history Sinema’s Senate win cheered by LGBTQ groups MORE’s focus on immigration has lifted Republican chances of building their Senate majority, even as it’s rattling GOP lawmakers in the House. 

Republican Senate candidates in Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota have all seen their fortunes rise in the last few weeks as Trump talks up immigration and makes a flurry of campaign appearances, including in Indianapolis on Friday night. 

Immigration isn’t the only reason for the Senate GOP’s rising confidence in the last few weeks. The party also believes its Senate candidates were helped by the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughScalise: Investigations into Trump by House Democrats could backfire Schumer’s headaches to multiply in next Congress Top Judiciary Dem: No plans to investigate or impeach Kavanaugh MORE’s confirmation. 

But it’s unmistakable that the GOP candidates in red states won by Trump in 2016 are on the rise as Trump zeroes in on what he says is an imminent danger from illegal immigration. 

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What makes the rise all the more remarkable is that it is happening as GOP strategists express fears that the House majority could be slipping away. 

One such strategist, Ford O’Connell, predicted that Democrats would likely pick up 30 House seats — seven more than the 23 Democrats need to win the majority — but that Republicans will keep control of the Senate.

“The Republicans are going to keep the Senate. The only question is whether they make gains or they flatline,” he said. 

O’Connell says Senate Republican candidates such as Josh Hawley in Missouri, Mike Braun in Indiana, Matt Rosendale in Montana and Patrick Morrisey in West Virginia have momentum. 

Trump’s vow to stop the caravan of migrants marching to the U.S. border from Central America has revved up conservative voters in these Senate battlegrounds, all of which Trump carried by double digits. 

The president said this week that he may send 15,000 troops to the border and warned that soldiers could fire on migrants who throw rocks — though he later backed off and said they would be arrested instead. 

“When we look at the polling, immigration is the issue that fires up Republicans the most and is also the issue that best correlates to turnout,” O’Connell added. 

But what’s good for statewide Republican candidates in Montana and Missouri could wind up hurting moderate Republican candidates among college-educated voters in suburban swing House districts. 

“I don’t think it’s going to work so well for Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloFeehery: With 2020 looming, Republicans must learn lessons from midterms Republicans must learn from the election mistake on immigration Dem wins leave behind a more conservative GOP conference MORE in Florida,” O’Connell said of the second-term Republican representative who represents a 70-percent Latino district just outside of Miami which Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSinema invokes McCain in Senate acceptance speech Sinema defeats McSally in Arizona Senate race Hillicon Valley: Social media struggles with new forms of misinformation | US, Russia decline to join pledge on fighting cybercrimes | Trump hits Comcast after antitrust complaint | Zuckerberg pressed to testify before global panel MORE won by 16 points. 

Democrats say Trump’s rhetoric on immigration has turned off college-educated voters in suburban districts, especially women. 

They believe that the president’s strategy is to sacrifice those districts and rev up Republican voters in more conservative areas to limit the loss in the House to 30 to 35 seats. 

“It’s backfiring badly in the Hillary Clinton districts and with women voters, particularly college-educated women,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. “I think [Trump] is trying to hold the line with the blue-collar districts and also the Senate races in Republican states.

“What he’s trying to do is draw a red line where he’s going to sacrifice some suburban districts to keep the erosion down and increase his margin in the Senate,” she added. “It’s getting worse and worse with the 15,000 troops.”

Trump caused an uproar this week when he tweeted a web video of Luis Bracamontes, an illegal immigrant who killed two California police officers, declaring in a court room that he wished he could kill more. 

The video also appears to show a crowd of migrants breaking down fences and gates, superimposed with the text, “Who else would Democrats let in?”

Mike Lux, a Democratic strategist who worked in the Clinton White House, said he’s seen internal polling that shows Trump’s rhetoric has energized young voters, who turn out in lower numbers during midterm elections — a crucial bloc for Democrats.

“I’m seeing some evidence in the last week that this is moving more Latinos and young people who are Democrats to go vote,” he said, arguing that it will help not only in moderate House districts but also some Senate battlegrounds with high numbers of Hispanic voters.

“We’re seeing big numbers of Latino and young voters that did not vote in 2014 and in some cases did not vote in 2016 coming out now. Just in the last week in early voting we’ve been making big gains in those numbers over what we thought we would,” he said.  

“Anything that spurs young people to get out and vote is a really helpful thing for Democrats,” he added.

Political handicapper Charlie Cook said on MSNBC Thursday that “there seems to be a little bit of movement back towards Democrats” and speculated that Trump’s response to the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh may have influenced voters. 

But Republicans argue the immigration message is a clear winner with the conservative electorate, who could propel them to victory in Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia if they turn out in large enough numbers. 

“We could pick up anywhere to two to five Senate seats. I think we’ll lose about 35 House seats,” said Jim McLaughlin, a Republican pollster. 

“I think there’s a silent majority looking at the caravan and they want the president up against that,” he said. “I’ve seen in focus groups that some of the people most opposed to [the caravan] are Hispanic voters because the ones who came into the country legally are saying, ‘I had to wait in line. I had to do things the right way.’"

“Nobody talks to the base better than Trump does,” he added.

That could explain why Senate Republican candidates in states with large Hispanic populations are doing better than expected. 

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerSinema invokes McCain in Senate acceptance speech Sinema defeats McSally in Arizona Senate race The Memo: Dem hopes for 2020 grow in midterms afterglow MORE (R-Nev.), who was thought to be the most vulnerable Senate incumbent earlier in the election cycle, has kept a narrow lead over Democratic Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenSinema invokes McCain in Senate acceptance speech Sinema defeats McSally in Arizona Senate race The Memo: Dem hopes for 2020 grow in midterms afterglow MORE (Nev.) in the polls. 

McLaughlin said House GOP incumbents such as Curbelo in Florida and Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHow Republicans who voted against ObamaCare repeal fared in midterms Election Countdown: Recount prospects grow in Florida | Abrams team to sue over absentee ballots | Dem wins pivotal Georgia House seat | A look at the uncalled races | Corporations spend big to beat ballot measures Immigrant groups brace for post-election border wall fight MORE (R) in Texas, who also represents a district that is close to 70 percent Latino, can withstand a backlash against Trump’s rhetoric by having their own, independent political brand. 

It’s the same strategy that Senate Democrats in red states are using to differentiate themselves from Democratic leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSunday shows preview: Trump taps acting attorney general to lead Justice Department Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Pelosi: Acting attorney general 'should not be there' MORE (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiActing AG will meet with DOJ ethics officials to discuss possible recusal: reports Progressives flex muscles as Dems return to Washington Swalwell calls acting AG an 'assassin' hired to 'take out' Mueller probe MORE (Calif.) in Washington. 

But Democrats think Trump is overplaying his hand on immigration in a way that will backfire on GOP candidates, particularly in competitive House races. 

Lake, the Democratic pollster, conceded that polls show not all Latino voters are turned off by Trump’s hard-line immigration stance. 

“Particularly Latino men who have been born and raised here or came here legally, there is some sympathy [to Trump’s message], but the sympathy is eroding fast now that he’s going so far,” she said.  

Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who worked on Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersVoters chose the politics of inclusion Ojeda announces bid to challenge Trump in 2020 Former Army paratrooper and congressional candidate Richard Ojeda files papers to run for president MORE’s (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign, said Trump’s rhetoric hurts Republicans in suburban districts. 

“In these suburban districts where Republicans are having a very hard time holding onto voters, Republican women, who were within them in past elections, including the last one, the president’s rhetoric is so over the top,” he said. “When you have the commander in chief talking about American troops shooting unarmed people, it’s just so discordant with the way people feel about issues."