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Don’t look now, but Democrats may have turned their sinking Senate hopes around. Perhaps.
After months of predictions that Joe Biden would struggle next year with a Congress fully controlled by Republicans, the story on the Senate side has changed significantly. Turns out candidates matter, and some rattles do not help the broader Republican effort.
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Let’s play the tape. In nine out of ten Senates competitions which the Cook Political Report sees as serious, the likely Democratic candidates are overtaking their GOP opponents in dollars collected. (Florida chooses its candidate Tuesdayand New Hampshire will do the same on September 13.) And the fundraising deficit is severe: a net advantage of $181.1 million for Democrats in those races, including Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, who outspent Republican challenger Blake Masters by more than $47 million.
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Research, which has certainly shown its worth over the past six years borders, it doesn’t look better for Republicans in most of those races. Using the FiveThirtyEight survey stalker and, where available, state averages, these races are very much in play. Of the 10, Republicans are ahead, or even ahead, in only two: North Carolina and Florida, where Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is as far ahead of Rep. Val Demings as many Democrats have quietly made shelves hopes to take that spot. The Democratic advantage ranges from a tiny one point in Ohio to a gaping 10 points in Pennsylvania.
All of this adds up to a shake-up in the conventional wisdom in Washington since last month, when the current Democratic majority in the House was widely seen as toast and their control of the Senate equally tenuous. The first part of this perspective largely remains valid. Even before the House nominees were decided, the board was leaning toward the Republican Party. Gerrymandering only four states— Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas — was enough to very likely overturn Democratic control of the lower house.
In the Senate, which is evenly divided, allowing Vice President Kamala Harris to give control to Democrats by playing the role of broker, Democrats defend 14 seats. The assumption for much of this year was that it gave the Republicans a clear advantage, given the party’s better performance in June, when polls gauged the intensity of voters over which party should control Congress. While the midterm elections at times felt more like a reality TV casting couch than a serious debate about the direction of this country, Democrats rightly worried that they were squandering their opportunity in the same way Barack Obama did in his first two years from his mandate.
Then came a summer that included the Supreme Court answer overturning half a century of federal abortion rights, the riveting work of the committee from Jan. 6, and suddenly I explode of the legislature wins for President Joe Biden and his allies. The polls have moved. Unsubscribed activists re-registered. Armchair liberals opened their checkbooks. And the quiet work of the Democratic Party’s consulting class now looks less like wasted dollars.
Put another way: anecdotally and objectively, the Senate appears to be much more active. Adding to the GOP’s woes are some first-timers candidates has a rough stretch, like JD Vance in Ohio, Herschel Walker in Georgia and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. (All three, notably, won their primaries after receiving the coveted endorsement of Donald Trump.)
By comparison, the Senate Democratic slate does not include a single first-time candidate. Gas drop factor pricesgrowing jobs numbersand a supply chain it’s less skewed, and Republicans may find that even sky-high inflation won’t be enough to increase the Democratic advantage.
Still, a lot can happen before Election Day on November 8, or even when the first early voting window expires opens in some states as early as next month. Mistakes can happen. A Biden administration could screw things up, or an outside news event could change voters’ minds on a dime. And don’t underestimate the power of a late infusion of outside money, especially from Mercury billionaires with pet candidates this cycle.
It has become fashionable among establishment conservatives to blame the changing landscape on the National Republican Senatorial Committee and its chairman, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, for not doing more to try to block candidates like Vance, Walker, and Oz from winning the primary. But strategists who work with the NRSC correctly note that trying to pick candidates would likely set off a conflict between the party establishment and Trump, one in which the former president was better positioned to come out on top.
The new swing field has brought plenty of frustration for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is just one seat away from reclaiming the gavel. Last week he said The Senate will be close no matter who claims the majority: “I think the House is probably more likely to flip than the Senate. Senate races are different – they’re statewide, the quality of the candidates has a lot to do with the outcome.”
In response, Trump attacked McConnell’s wife, Trump’s own Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who tells observers all about why Scott is not in the primary.
Still, McConnell is the GOP’s smartest strategist and looks at the same primary data as everyone else, and Democrats are at least in a fighting position. He is looking to pump more money into the McConnell-led Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC he already has revealed $114 million collected this cycle. He is sending $28 million to help Vance lean Republican Ohioand dumping $37 million in Georgia and $34 million in Pennsylvania. McConnell tries to organize a rescue operation like before orchestrated to save races that were seen as gimmicky early in the cycles.
But it’s almost the end of August and the time for tinkering is over. Threats to democracy is now top of voters’ minds, according to new NBC News voting, which means Republicans hoping for a Trump halo may remain mortal. Most Americans believe the former president should continue to face investigations, and the GOP brand is not what it was two years ago.
All campaign cycles eventually involve a tier of cruel staredowns, and this one is shaping up to be no different. In all but New Hampshire, the GOP nominee is set. Democrats are heading into the fall much stronger than expected, building campaign machines in places where Democrats haven’t really had operations in years.
But their margin of error is almost zero. When you talk about an evenly divided House, the same is of course true for the Republicans.
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