Democrats have been congratulating themselves on their good fortune in the Senate races. Donald Trump will sink the Republicans! Look at our fine recruits! There are problems on both fronts.
First, so far Trump is running more competitively in states with critical Senate races. For example, he is statistically tied with Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, where Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) is running against Gov. Maggie Hassan (D). Moreover, as Trump becomes more erratic and less associated with standard Republican messaging, it becomes harder to make the case that Ayotte or, say, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is a Trump-clone or will go along with Trump’s agenda.
Indeed, in the three races most likely to determine control of the Senate — Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire — Clinton leads Trump by single digits in the RealClearPolitics poll averages and the Senate races are statistically tied.
Moreover, the Democrats are having problems with their recruits. In Ohio, 74-year old Ted Strickland, who had a mixed record as governor, is a “target rich environment,” as one GOP operative put it. Moreover, he and Kathy McGinty in Pennsylvania can now look forward to Clinton’s comments about putting a lot of coal miners out of work getting tied around their necks. Strickland, as a long-time Clinton supporter, is especially vulnerable on that front.
And Pennsylvania is also turning out to be a slog for Democrats. Yes, the president pulled McGinty across the finish line in the primary with a campaign blitz, but she (like Clinton) has some ethics problems. In an anti-establishment year, McGinty is having to deal with criticism that she left government to go work for an industry she regulated. She is emblematic of the revolving door in which pols shuffle from the public to private sector and back again, bringing with them potential and actual conflicts of interest.
Florida might also slip through the Democrats’ fingers. Clinton running against Trump in a heavily Hispanic state should give the Senate Democratic candidate running to replace Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) a lift. However, battling it out are the demagogic, ethics-challenged Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), whom the Democratic establishment does not want in the worst way, and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), who is being hammered in the local press and by Grayson over super PAC money and by Republicans for being a child of a privileged real estate tycoon (remind you of anyone?). Republicans have a scrum of candidates.
Then there is a possible pickup in Nevada, where Rep. Joe Heck (R) from Clark County (the most populous part of the state) is going up against Sen. Harry Reid’s (D) hand-picked choice, former Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto. Nevada is also ground zero in the Democratic civil war where last week’s convention brought allegations from both presidential camps, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) claiming the system was rigged and denying allegations of violence by his supporters. If Sanders supporters stay home or resent the Democratic machine’s backing of Cortez Masto, then the race may become the Democrats’ Achilles heel.
Now, no one is saying saving the Senate majority will be easy for Republicans. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) running in a deep blue state will have to hope Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s trial in August stemming from allegations of misconduct when she headed the state veterans affairs department proves her undoing. Holding Wisconsin is a challenge as well with former Democratic senator Russ Feingold challenging Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in a state Republicans routinely lose in presidential years.
In sum, it’s amazing when you think about it that with Trump at the top of the ticket, many blue state Republicans up for reelection and Democrats crowing about their recruits, that so far the Democrats’ performance is so underwhelming. Savvy Republicans like Ayotte, Portman and Toomey will need to keep their distance from Trump, tout their individual accomplishments and tie their opponents to the worst parts of Clinton’s record and rhetoric. If they do that and hold the Senate, it will be a minor miracle and a huge upset.