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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 ThuneGOP acknowledges struggle to bring down Biden Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Biden outreach on infrastructure met with Republican skepticism 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 CramerBiden administration faces big decision on whether to wade into Dakota Access fight OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Senate GOP pushes back on list of participants in oil and gas leasing forum 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 CornynMedia complicity in rise of the 'zombie president' conspiracy Trump looms over Senate's anti-Asian hate crimes battle Senators in the dark on parliamentarian's decision 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 - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP 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 TrumpGraham: 'I could not disagree more' with Trump support of Afghanistan troop withdrawal GOP believes Democrats handing them winning 2022 campaign Former GOP operative installed as NSA top lawyer resigns 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 BidenGraham: 'I could not disagree more' with Trump support of Afghanistan troop withdrawal Obama, Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley team up to urge communities of color to get coronavirus vaccine Biden to hold second meeting with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure 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 DurbinBiden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' For a win on climate, let's put our best player in the game Biden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap 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 ErnstChild care advocates seek to lock down billion in new federal funding GOP senator: Raising corporate taxes is a 'non-starter' Tim Scott to participate in GOP event in Iowa 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 LoefflerWarnock raises nearly M since January victory A proposal to tackle congressional inside trading: Invest in the US NBA names Obama alum to be director for social justice initiatives MORE (R), for the final two years of former Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonWarnock raises nearly M since January victory Five big takeaways on Georgia's new election law Warnock: 'Almost impossible to overstate' importance of voting rights legislation 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 CollinsTrump looms over Senate's anti-Asian hate crimes battle Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds 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.”