GOP sees falling Trump stock as growing threat to Senate majority

Republicans are growing increasingly worried that President Trump’s slide in the polls following his COVID-19 diagnosis, coupled with an outbreak at the White House, is posing a major threat to their Senate majority.

The presidential campaign has quickly become one of the most tumultuous in modern history, but there’s more than enough turmoil and uncertainty to go around as both parties battle for control of the Senate.

One of the main concerns for Senate Republicans is Trump’s cash crunch, which has forced him to cut back on advertising in key battleground states at a time when Senate Democratic challengers are projected to significantly outraise GOP incumbents heading into the final stretch.

Another challenge for Republicans is the expanding battleground map, with traditionally red states such as Alaska, Kansas and South Carolina becoming more competitive as Democratic incumbents in Michigan and New Hampshire build comfortable leads. 

Republicans are defending 23 seats, while Democrats need to protect only 12.

One GOP senator who requested anonymity to speak freely on the likelihood of Republicans losing the majority said Trump’s poor numbers are a serious headwind. 

Trump is “not doing so well” in some states he won handily four years ago, the lawmaker said, “so we worry right now.”

Senate Republicans were shocked by Trump’s performance at the first debate, where he constantly interrupted moderator Chris Wallace and Democratic nominee Joe Biden and refused to condemn white supremacists.

Another bombshell came a few days later when Trump announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. As of Thursday, more than 30 White House staffers and people who had come in contact with them had also tested positive.

The debate performance combined with Trump’s handling of his own COVID-19 diagnosis allowed Biden to widen his lead over the president.

Biden’s lead jumped from 6 percentage points the day of the first presidential debate to nearly 9 points on Friday, according to the RealClearPolitics average of national polling data. His lead also surged from just 1 point in Florida to nearly 4 points, from 5 points to 7 points in Michigan and from 6 points to 7 points in Pennsylvania.

A Quinnipiac University poll in Iowa conducted Oct. 1 to Oct. 5 showed Biden opening up a 5-point lead in the Hawkeye State.

Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist, said the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis carries dire political implications.

“That’s the one issue, obviously, he doesn’t want to talk about. He’s taken big pains from day one to say it’s not an issue, it’s a flu, it’s a hoax, it’ll go away, there will be a miracle. And all of a sudden it came home to roost,” Jarding said.

“There’s nothing worse that could have happened to this president, who’s been trying to convince America that he’s done a great job, but he couldn’t even do a great job in his own house,” he said. 

Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis also largely eclipsed his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, which Senate Republicans were rallying around in late September in hopes of a momentum boost in the home stretch of the 2020 campaign.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Friday said Trump could win reelection by a “big margin” but warned that Republican candidates could also get wiped out in a “bloodbath.”

“I am worried. It’s volatile. It’s highly volatile,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Cruz added that if voters are feeling optimistic, Republicans “could see a fantastic election.” But if “people are angry and they’ve given up hope” then “it could be a bloodbath of Watergate proportions.”

In Montana, a state Trump carried by 20 points in 2016, the president is leading Biden by 9 points, a drop that’s causing GOP jitters over the fate of Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) in his tough race against Gov. Steve Bullock (D).

In South Carolina, which Trump carried by 14 points four years ago, the president has a slim 5-point lead over Biden. That’s a problem for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who’s in the toughest reelection fight of his career.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report this past week moved the South Carolina race from “lean Republican” to the more uncertain “toss-up.”

Trump’s sliding popularity in Texas is creating more concerns for Republicans there. After winning the state by 9 points in 2016, Trump now has just a 1.5-point lead, according to an average compiled by FiveThirtyEight.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is now facing a formidable challenge from Democratic candidate and Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who announced raising more than $13.5 million in the third quarter, nearly eight times what she raised in the second quarter. Cornyn said Hegar “basically wiped out” his cash-on-hand advantage. 

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said Trump’s actions in the final weeks of the campaign season will be a key factor in determining who controls the Senate next year.

He said the battle for the Senate majority is “directly tied to the presidential race. If Trump wins their state, it’s very, very likely that they’re going to win their campaign as well.”

“If Trump loses their state, they’re probably going to lose as well,” O’Connell added, noting that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has crafted a reputation for independence over decades in Washington, is the one exception to the rule. 

“The one person who is on her own little island is Susan Collins,” he said.

Collins, who has been trailing in the polls for months, got a dose of good news this past week when a Bangor Daily News-Digital Research survey showed her trailing her Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon, by only 1 point.

A Quinnipiac University poll in mid-September showed Collins trailing by as much as 12 points. 

But the clear trend of Gideon in the lead remains unbroken, Senate Democrats point out.

Senate Republican strategists admit the environment has become even more challenging for their candidates.

“A month ago, it was an entirely different world,” acknowledged a GOP official who said it’s “incredibly challenging” to predict what will happen on Election Day given “how turbulent the cycle has been.” 

The official predicted Republicans would regain some momentum when the Supreme Court confirmation hearings begin this week and the attention returns to Barrett, who has nearly unanimous support in the Senate GOP conference and is a favorite of conservative and evangelical activists. 

Democrats also have headaches of their own.

The biggest is in North Carolina, where Democrat Cal Cunningham, who is married and has two teenage children, apologized this past week for having an affair this summer with a consultant in California. 

Before those revelations, Democrats were growing increasingly confident of a victory over Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and saw it as the most likely fourth seat pickup they would need to flip the Senate. Cunningham reported raising an astounding $28.3 million in the third quarter, before news of the affair.

Now, some handicappers think Iowa, where Democrat Theresa Greenfield has a small but consistent polling lead over Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), is a better pickup chance for Democrats than North Carolina.

“Cal Cunningham throws a little bit of a curveball here because a lot of us were looking at that as almost a must-win for the Democrats, and that was the logical fourth seat after Maine, Arizona and Colorado,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. 

Kondik said that “it’s a setback for Democrats” and that Iowa is probably a better Democratic pickup opportunity in the wake of the Cunningham news. 

Senate Republicans control 53 seats, and Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who is trailing badly in the polls, is expected to lose in November. That means Democrats need to capture at least four Republican-held seats and the White House to win back the majority. If Biden loses to Trump, Democrats would need to capture five GOP seats.

Tags 2020 campaign 2020 election Battleground states Chris Wallace Donald Trump doug jones Joe Biden John Cornyn Joni Ernst Lindsey Graham Senate majority Steve Bullock Steve Daines Susan Collins Ted Cruz Thom Tillis Vulnerable Republicans

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video