Some stunning numbers from an Axios-SurveyMonkey poll show Democrats leading in Senate races in Arizona (by 8 percent to 29 percent depending on the opponent) and Nevada (by 6 percent). The Senate race in Tennessee is a dead heat. We’ve been saying for a while now that the GOP cannot take the Senate majority for granted, and this seems to confirm that assessment. “Losing both the House and the Senate to Democrats would be a clear repudiation of President Trump and his brand of Republicanism,” writes Axios’s Alexi McCammond. “Democrats have been clearly outperforming in the special elections since Trump became president.”
With regard to resolution of the “dreamers” issue — which some White House advisers such as Stephen Miller and some on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), thought would be a GOP winner — there is evidence that Republicans badly misplayed their hand. As Axios notes, “DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] is the biggest warning sign for Republicans: 64% of voters across all three states support protections for immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children, and 71% support offering immigrants a chance to apply for citizenship rather than deporting them.” Another GOP issue — repeal of the Affordable Care Act — is also a dud: “Roughly half of voters in all three states want to fix the Affordable Care Act ‘so it works better.’ Only about three in 10 want to repeal it.”
Looking more carefully at the polling, voters who strongly disapprove of Trump outnumber those who strongly support Trump in both Arizona (+19) and Nevada (+16). In Tennessee, there are equal numbers who “strongly approve” and “strongly disapprove,” a stunning result for a state that Trump won by 26 points. In Nevada, incumbent Sen. Dean Heller’s approval rating is high (48 percent), but so is his disapproval (45 percent, with 22 percent strongly disapproving).
If things are this bad in Tennessee, Arizona and Nevada for Republicans, one wonders where contests and voter opinion on DACA stand in Florida and Texas, both of which have large Hispanic populations. (Florida has also seen a large influx — more than 135,000 by one count — of Puerto Ricans who fled Hurricane Maria.) Mike Allen writes: “Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas is Exhibit A [of GOP worries]. His Democratic rival, Beto O’Rourke, more than doubled Cruz’s first quarter fundraising.” Indeed, O’Rourke, who has set out to campaign in every Texas county including those that are overwhelmingly Republican, showed just how confident he is by telling progressive donor and impeachment cheerleader Tom Steyer to save his money. In Cruz, O’Rourke has a perfect foil — someone who has treated his state like it’s still 1990, Democrats are a non-factor and the far right dominates.
O’Rourke certainly seems confident — confident enough to turn down money. The Texas Tribune quotes O’Rourke as saying: “Literally, not only do I not have any control but I’m prohibited by law from coordinating. Having said that, for he and anyone considering doing this, we don’t want that. It’s not the way to run this, and I’m convinced it’s not the way to win. … This is going to be a real test for Texas and for the country and our democracy to see if people are a match for the PACs and the super PACs and the special interests and the corporations, and I’m all in on the people.”
Trump and Republicans more generally have played the anti-immigrant and “build the wall” cards over and over. Trump has given critics of his response to Hurricane Maria the back of the hand. They have assumed that they could safely disregard the interests and opinions of a sizable cross-section of their voters (or ignore entirely Puerto Ricans who do not vote in U.S. congressional or presidential elections). Democrats have the chance to demonstrate that Republicans’ pandering to their older, angry white base is antithetical to the values of increasingly diverse states. But Democrats better make sure voters register and turn out in November. If they are able to pull off surprise wins in red states, perhaps the policy of stoking fear about immigrants will end.