Democrats have slim hopes of flipping the Senate

Democrats are feeling better about their chances of limiting GOP gains in the Senate as signs emerge that voter turnout on Tuesday could be exceptional for a midterm election.

While the party has slim hopes of winning the majority, Democrats think that if voter turnout is high, they may see a number of tightly fought races swing their way. 


A new NBC News/Marist poll on Monday showed Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Dem candidate has Hawley served subpoena at CPAC Annual scorecard ranks GOP environmental efforts far below Dems in 2018 MORE (D) up by 3 points in Missouri, after earlier polls showed her slipping. 

Four new polls on Monday showed Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonEx-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight 2020 party politics in Puerto Rico MORE (D) sitting on a solid lead in his reelection bid against Gov. Rick Scott in Florida, where Democrats hope their gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum will attract new voters to the polls.

And in Nevada, eye-popping early voting numbers among Democratic voters has even some GOP strategists conceding that incumbent Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R) may lose.  

The Senate race in Tennessee has also tightened, according to recent polls. And early voter turnout in some areas of the state is up substantially compared with 2016.   

The problem for Democrats is that they’d have to win Nevada, Tennessee and an open seat in Arizona to even have a chance of winning the majority. They’d then need to hold on to every one of their seats in jeopardy to seal the deal. 

Besides Missouri and Florida, Democrats are in tough contests in Montana, Indiana, West Virginia and North Dakota. Losing just one of those seats would make it almost impossible for Democrats to win the Senate majority.

Aside from Nevada, Arizona and Tennessee, the only possible Democratic pickup in the Senate is in Texas, which is a long shot at best.

Still, Democrats are feeling better than just two weeks ago, when the rancorous debate over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughKavanaugh to teach summer course in England GOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left MORE’s confirmation appeared to close a narrow path to a Democratic majority. 

Since then, Democrats feel they’ve regained their footing as attention has shifted to a series of pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats and the shooting deaths of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Those events put a renewed focus on the nation’s political climate and President TrumpDonald John TrumpHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Countdown clock is on for Mueller conclusions Omar: White supremacist attacks are rising because Trump publicly says 'Islam hates us' MORE’s rhetoric.

Trump has whipped up the GOP base in key Senate battlegrounds, most of which he won by double digits in 2016. 

But unlike two years ago, when he primarily focused on the economy, the president has centered his closing argument on immigration.

The question is how this will play with independents and swing voters. 

Democrats say nationwide polling shows that more moderate Republicans are defecting to their side than conservative Democrats going to Republicans — a flip from 2016. The party is also hopeful that independent voters will help turn a few Senate races in their party’s favor.

Democrats entered the election cycle with the daunting task of defending 10 incumbents in states that Trump won in 2016.

In the run-up to Election Day, however, Democratic seats in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — which all voted for Trump — appear safe, and Republicans are on the defensive in traditional strongholds such as Tennessee and Texas. 

“You’re seeing Republicans on defense in Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas,” said David Bergstein, press secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He predicted it will all come down to turnout.

Some of those numbers look positive for Democrats.

Nearly 40 percent of active voters in Nevada have already cast ballots, far exceeding the pace set in the 2014 midterm election, with especially strong numbers in Washoe and Clark counties. 

In Texas, early voting numbers indicated that turnout is on a trajectory to match what it was in the 2016 election, with nearly 5 million ballots cast in the 30 most populated counties. 

In Tennessee, young voters — a key demographic for Democrats — are turning out in substantially higher numbers than in the last midterm election. 

In Indiana, early voting numbers are about twice as high as they were in the 2014 and 2010 midterm elections.  

Republicans say Trump is a master at mobilizing his base, suggesting some of those turning out are loyal to the president. 

Trump packed the McKenzie Arena at The University of Tennessee for a rally for Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTaylor Swift says she wants to get more involved in politics Bipartisan lawmakers introduce resolution supporting vaccines Hillicon Valley: Cohen stuns Washington with testimony | Claims Trump knew Stone spoke to WikiLeaks | Stone, WikiLeaks deny | TikTok gets record fine | Senators take on tech over privacy MORE (R-Tenn.) on Sunday and hundreds of people waited in line in chilly weather to hear the president speak for Senate candidate Matt Rosendale in Belgrade, Mont., on Saturday.  

“It’s all about turnout, right? And Trump is the master of turnout and that’s why he’s doing two events a day,” said Chip Saltsman, a Republican strategist based in Tennessee. 

Democratic voters didn’t turn out for former President Obama in the midterms, but the GOP is betting it will be a different story with Trump.

“Are Trump voters going to come out for someone who’s not Trump? I think he’s done a pretty a good job of laying it on the line and saying, a vote for Marsha Blackburn is a vote for Donald Trump,” Saltsman said. 

Democrats point out that Trump’s job approval rating was 40 percent in Gallup’s most recent weekly average, which is about 5 points worse than Obama’s rating in the final week of October 2010, when Republicans, then in the minority, picked up six seats. 

“There’s a plethora of public polling suggesting we’re winning almost everywhere, with one exception being North Dakota,” said one Democratic strategist. 

“In a lot of these swing states the polls are swinging against the party in power. When the election is a referendum on an unpopular president and an unpopular Republican agenda in Washington pushed by one-party control, it’s no surprise these races are breaking our way,” the source added. 

There is nervousness among Democrats given 2016, when Trump won in a surprise and several Senate Republicans rode his coattails to victory.

“All the polling has to be taken with a grain of salt because the turnout universe is so unpredictable that it’s going to be hard to model for it,” said a second Democratic strategist.

The Republican strategist said Republicans have an early-vote advantage in Arizona, where more Republican voters have turned in ballots in the race between Reps. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArpaio's wife recovering after rattlesnake bite in Arizona Former astronaut running for Senate in Arizona returns money from paid speech in UAE The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game MORE (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D). 

The source predicted that McCaskill and Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying World Lobbying World Overnight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down MORE (D-Ind.) would lose, giving Senate Republicans a two-seat pickup. 

But Democrats counter the Republican early voting advantage in Arizona isn’t as large as it was in 2016. 

“Democrats have closed it a lot. The percentage is smaller than it was in 2016,” said a third Democratic strategist, who said that younger and Hispanic voters are likely to turn out in greater numbers on Election Day.