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 ThuneSenators scramble to save infrastructure deal GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden Frustration builds as infrastructure talks drag 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.”

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Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTransit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal Senate falling behind on infrastructure Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor 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 CornynDACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Schumer feels pressure from all sides on spending strategy Data reveal big opportunity to finish the vaccine job 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 BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Schumer back down on his deadline? GOP fumes over Schumer hardball strategy Cybersecurity bills gain new urgency after rash of attacks 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.

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They’ve been worried about retaining the majority as President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race 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 BidenTrump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race GOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden For families, sending money home to Cuba shouldn't be a political football 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 DurbinDick DurbinSenators scramble to save infrastructure deal Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan 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 ErnstGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund 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 LoefflerSchumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up Trump says Herschel Walker will enter Georgia Senate race WNBA announces zero COVID-19 positive tests, 99 percent fully vaccinated MORE (R), for the final two years of former Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonCritical race theory becomes focus of midterms Former Georgia ethics official to challenge McBath Loeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run 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. 

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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 CollinsSchumer urges GOP to ignore Trump: He's 'rooting for failure' Trump pressures McConnell, GOP to ditch bipartisan talks until they have majority Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal 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. 

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“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. 

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“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.”