Republicans uncomfortably playing defense

Republicans uncomfortably playing defense
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Being on defense may work for some football teams; it doesn't for political candidates — as the outlook for the November congressional elections attests.

With support for Trump sinking and the pandemic and economy worsening, Republicans are fighting rear guard actions. Three months out, the prospects are for Democrats to take control of the Senate and to add a handful or more seats to their House majority.

Looking at the two reliable and justifiably cautious election ratings, the Cook Political report and Inside Elections report, the momentum has moved to the Democrats. Usually the party in power, especially after a big win in the previous election, has more vulnerable seats.


Looking at private Democratic polls — the more bullish side always is more forthcoming — the advantage deepens.

There are a half dozen House Democratic incumbents facing tough contests. A few are newcomers who won in 2018 in heavily Republican districts like Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornThe US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it What should Biden do with NASA and the Artemis Program? Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year MORE in Oklahoma City. In a couple others, there are strong Republican challengers like David ValadaoDavid Goncalves ValadaoUpton becomes first member of Congress to vote to impeach two presidents The Hill's Morning Report - Trump impeached again; now what? Kinzinger says he is 'in total peace' after impeachment vote MORE trying to reclaim a seat in California's San Joaquin Valley. He lost a close race last time and has broken with Trump's anti-immigration policies.

There are more than a dozen districts that a year ago Republicans were targeting that now seem secure for the incumbents — like Mikie Sherill in New Jersey, Anthony Brindisi in New York, Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathHouse Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump On The Trail: Eight takeaways from Georgia's stunning election results Maloney vows to overhaul a House Democratic campaign machine 'stuck in the past' MORE in Georgia, Jason Crowe in Colorado, among others.

Similarly, across the country there are a dozen or more GOP seats that could switch, including three in Texas, two in New York, and other seats from Indiana and Ohio in the Midwest, Georgia in the South and Nebraska in the Plains.

The top of the ticket matters on the margins. If, as now projected, Joe BidenJoe BidenWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Trump moves to lift coronavirus travel restrictions on Europe, Brazil MORE wins by seven or eight points, the House gains probably are in the five to ten point range; if his margin reaches double digits, those pickups could double.


In the Senate, with 23 of the 35 seats up this year, Republicans knew they faced a challenge to hold their majority — but they calculated that there were almost as many Democratic-held seats in play as their own.

Today, there's only one vulnerable Democratic incumbent: Doug Jones in solidly red Alabama. Republicans’ once bright hopes with Michigan's John James, an African American businessman and veteran, have dissipated as Trump and national Republicans seem to be throwing in the towel in the Wolverine state.

There are seven or eight Republican senators facing very competitive contests. Democratic strategists say they are ahead and confident of victory in Arizona with former astronaut Mark Kelly; in Colorado with former Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperSenate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes Democrats frustrated, GOP jubilant in Senate fight Chamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night MORE; in North Carolina with veteran and former state senator Cal Cunningham, and probably in Maine, where House speaker Sara Gideon threatens to end the career of Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party Impeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP MORE.

There are several toss-ups which, at this stage, often spells trouble for an incumbent: in Montana where Democrats recruited the only candidate who might win, Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockBiden's identity politics do a disservice to his nominees Senate Democrat: Party's message to rural voters is 'really flawed' Ducey to lead Republican governors MORE; in Iowa where Republican Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Military survivors of child sex abuse deserve more NASA selects the next Artemis moonwalkers while SpaceX flies a Starship MORE is struggling; in Georgia where one time failed House candidate, Jon Osoff, is a markedly improved candidate.

There could be a sleeper or two, like Al Gross, a physician and fisherman running as an independent in Alaska with Democratic support. The Democrats’ hopes to win a Senate seat in Kansas for the first time in more than 80 years were set back Tuesday when right-wing Republican Kris Kobach lost a Republican primary to a more electable opponent.

Morever, like the House races, any Biden wave would put several “safe” Republican Senate seats in play: Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham pushes Schumer for vote to dismiss impeachment article Impeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP An attack on America that's divided Congress — and a nation MORE in South Carolina; John CornynJohn CornynHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Cruz, Cornyn to attend Biden inauguration McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE in Texas… and in a landslide, conceivably Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat would MLK say about Trump and the Republican Party? Biden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party MORE in Kentucky.

Republicans want to hold their three-seat margin of control in the Senate, but also see another tough cycle in two years, when most of the seats up are held by Republicans including vulnerable ones in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

As this year's Republican candidates rush to avoid Trump or the pandemic or the economy, it can get awkward. In Iowa Joni Ernst assailed her opponent, Theresa Greenfield, for staying in her basement “and taking selfies with her dog, Ringo.”

Fala and Checkers — FDR and Nixon's dogs — could have told the good Senator: Don't mess with us dogs.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.