GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle

Senate Republicans say they are still feeling positive about their chances of holding their majority despite growing warning signs for the party.
 
The GOP senators acknowledge keeping the Senate majority won’t be easy, but they say it’s far too early to throw in the towel. Republicans are facing a slew of recent negative polls and troubling fundraising numbers from Democrats, but they say the quickly changing political environment could turn again before November.

“It’s going to be competitive, but you know a lot will depend on what the political environment looks like in three or four months and in this day and age it’s really hard to predict that,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Trump dismisses legal questions on GOP nomination speech at White House MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator.

He added that he felt “pretty good” about his party’s chances “notwithstanding what everybody thinks the political headwinds are right now.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: iBIO Chairman and CEO Thomas Isett says developing a safe vaccine is paramount; US surpasses 150,000 coronavirus deaths with roughy one death per minute McConnell tees up showdown on unemployment benefits Senate panel scraps confirmation hearing for controversial Pentagon nominee at last minute MORE (R-N.D.) noted that there were several close races, with political handicappers rating anywhere from two to five seats currently as toss-ups. 

“They could all go one way, or they could all go the other way, or they could go separate ways. My sense is that it’s going to go down to the wire,” he added. 

Some Republican senators characterized themselves as hopeful about their party’s chances but acknowledged that they were glad the election was happening in November and not now. 

“I’m optimistic, but it’s going to be a fight,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal Republicans uncomfortably playing defense Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts MORE (R-Texas), who is up for reelection. “It’s not Election Day. It’s a snapshot in time. Obviously those are going to be hotly contested.” 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections MORE (R-Mo.) added that he would “still bet on us [but] I’m frankly glad the election is not today.” 

Republicans hold a 53-47 seat advantage in the Senate.

ADVERTISEMENT

They’ve been worried about retaining the majority as President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE’s standing in polls has fallen amid the coronavirus crisis and the furor over George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis.

Trump is trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Biden clarifies comments comparing African American and Latino communities Kanye West may have missed deadline to get on Wisconsin ballot by minutes: report MORE nationally and in key swing states — including in North Carolina and Arizona, where two GOP senators are hoping to hang on.

Overall, the GOP is defending 23 seats compared to 12 for Democrats.

Most of those are in safe Republican states, but Democrats are feeling increasingly optimistic they can gain the seats necessary to take back the majority.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said that he viewed roughly 10 states as potential Democratic pickups. Democrats need to win a net of three seats and the White House or a net pickup of four seats for an outright majority. 

“I really think we have four races that we believe we have a very strong position, another at least four where we're on the cusp and a couple more that I think could emerge in the closing weeks,” Durbin said. 

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) is viewed as the most vulnerable Democrat up in November, and Republicans view his seat as an all-but-guaranteed pickup.

But Democrats have plenty of plenty of opportunities to win GOP seats. 

GOP-held seats in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Montana and North Carolina are considered toss-up races. And Democrats believe they’ve expanded the map to Iowa and Georgia, where Sens. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstHillicon Valley: Facebook bans ads from pro-Trump PAC | Uber reports big drop in revenue | US offers M reward for election interference info Senate passes legislation to ban TikTok on federal devices McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (R-Iowa) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) are up for reelection. Republicans are also defending another Senate seat in Georgia, currently held by Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerThe Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  Sabato's Crystal Ball shifts Iowa Senate race to 'toss-up,' Georgia toward GOP Loeffler knocks WNBA players for wearing shirts backing Democratic challenger MORE (R), for the final two years of former Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonSabato's Crystal Ball shifts Iowa Senate race to 'toss-up,' Georgia toward GOP WNBA players wear 'Vote Warnock' shirts in support of Loeffler Democratic challenger Trump and Biden tied in Georgia: poll MORE’s (R) term. 

Perdue, during an interview with Fox News Radio, acknowledged that Georgia was “in play.” 

“We’ve added a million and half new active voters here in Georgia since the president was elected,” he added. “We’re going to make sure the people of Georgia know what’s at stake here.” 

Perdue, however, added that he didn’t have a lot of faith in polling, noting they “missed” Trump’s win in 2016 and Perdue's own Senate victory in 2014. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The warning signs for Republicans have been piling up in recent weeks. 

Polls have shown Republicans within the margin of error or trailing in key states like Iowa, North Carolina and Georgia. A left-leaning Public Policy Polling poll released this week showed Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus New polls show tight races for Graham, McConnell McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (R-Maine) behind Democratic candidate Sarah Gideon by 4 percentage points.

Escalating their causes for concern, Democratic candidates have hauled in a mountain of money in the latest fundraising quarter. For example, Jaime Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, announced that his campaign had raised a staggering $13.9 million over the last three months. And Gideon, who still needs to win her primary, has raised $23 million so far this cycle, compared to $16.3 million for Collins.

Doug Heye, a GOP strategist, noted that Republicans' prospects for holding onto the majority is “looking like a steeper climb than it was two weeks ago” and that the recent fundraising hauls by Democrats have sent a “shockwave through Washington.” 

Asked when Republicans would start getting worried, he added: “I think people already are.”

Another GOP strategist said that Republicans internally had long been preparing for an all-out fight for the Senate majority despite earlier, more favorable national analysis. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“We are expecting that ... it’s going to be an absolute brawl and down to the wire to the very end,” the strategist added. 

The shifting headwinds have been touted by Democrats. Amid news that Republicans were pouring ad money into red states like Georgia and Kentucky, a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staffer sent an email to reporters saying "it looks like the Republican panic is escalating...” along with a GIF of the cartoon Spongebob trying to put out a fire with spit. 

Republicans are facing a wave of things that they can’t control: a shaky economy, a global health pandemic and Trump, who has faced a slew of negative poll numbers in recent weeks. 

The strategist said that it was “just a fact” that Trump would be more helpful for some GOP incumbents than others. 

“He’s going to win some states, and he’s not going to win other states,” the strategist said. 

Though there’s little chance that Republicans at large will break with the president, senators are looking at ways to focus on state and local issues that give themselves some space from a potentially toxic national political environment. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“I think there are a number of Senate Republicans that are, you know, trying to find a way to campaign effectively to prepare for a wave one way or the other,” Cramer said. 

Asked about Trump, Thune noted that “obviously you need the top of the ticket to perform well" but that Republican senators "have their own brand.” 

“They need to do what they need to do to win. In some states, he will be a benefit in some parts of the country, in other parts of the country, less so,” he added when asked if senators should try to distance themselves from the president.

“So I think our candidates need to make decisions that are based upon their best interests politically,” he said, “and making sure we hang onto their seats and hang onto the majority.”