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The one sentence that shows how worried Senate Republicans are about Donald Trump

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) (AP Photo)

"If he carries this message into the general election in Ohio, we’ll hand this election to Hillary Clinton — and then try to salvage the rest of the ticket."

That's a quote from Matt Borges, chairman of the Republican Party in Ohio. He's just one of several Republican operatives who recently told Jonathan Martin of the New York Times just how concerned they are that Republicans' chances of keeping a hold of the U.S. Senate are inversely related to Donald Trump's chances of getting the nomination.

Borges is in the thick of that right now. He's trying to keep Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in office in what is already a competitive reelection race in a presidential battleground state.

That's going to be tough to do even without Trump, who risks turning off potential Republican voters with his inflammatory rhetoric on women and minorities. (A November Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Trump is viewed unfavorably by 64 percent of women and 74 percent of non-whites.)

Republicans are defending 24 seats in 2016, many of them in potential swing states where the 2016 race could play a big role in deciding how the rest of the races go — states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois, New Hampshire and Borges's Ohio.

There's little room for error. With all the heavy lifting they have to do already, Republican officials in those states — and others — aren't too happy about the prospect of a Trump nomination.

The concerns echo ones voiced publicly by other Republicans to The Post's Philip Rucker and Robert Costa a few weeks ago.

“To have a leading candidate propose a new federal police force that is going to flush out illegal immigrants across the nation? That’s very disturbing and concerning to me about where that leads Republicans,” said Dick Wadhams, a former GOP chairman in Colorado, a swing state where Republicans are trying to pick up a Senate seat next year.
Said Austin Barbour, a veteran operative and fundraiser now advising former Florida governor Jeb Bush: “If we don’t have the right [nominee], we could lose the Senate, and we could face losses in the House. Those are very, very real concerns. If we’re not careful and we nominate Trump, we’re looking at a race like Barry Goldwater in 1964 or George McGovern in 1972, getting beat up across the board because of our nominee.”

Others who talked to Martin echoed Barbour's sentiment:

  • Pat Brady, former state Republican chairman in Illinois, of Sen. Mark Kirk's reelection chances: “If he’s our nominee, the repercussions of that in this state would be devastating.”
  • Brian Walsh, a Senate campaign veteran talking about Portman's and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte's reelection chances: "And there goes the Senate.”
  • Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a presidential candidate: "It would be an utter, complete and total disaster."

And at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters on Wednesday morning, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has a little bit of experience being the GOP presidential nominee, had this to say: "Of course I worry. All of us have to worry about the viability of the top of the ticket."

As worried as they all might be, reality is setting in among Republicans that a Trump 2016 ticket could be a reality. Donald Trump is leading in most national polls and shows no signs of slowing. For four months and counting now, Trump has been the front-runner while most everyone else has ebbed and flowed.

Those trying to keep Senate Republicans in control are making contingency plans if Trump wins the nomination, The Post's Robert Costa and Philip Rucker reported on Wednesday. In a memo to Senate candidates, the National Republican Senatorial Committee's director, Ward Baker, laid out how the GOP would deal with Trump if he's their nominee.

It came with plenty of advice on how the candidates could harness their inner Trump without actually becoming Trump. Things like: Promote tweets that condemn Washington's dysfunction and lose the suit to look more authentic, but stay away from Trump's comments on minorities and women except to say that your wife or daughter is offended by what Trump said.

But no matter what they do, Baker acknowledged that Trump's baggage will, to some degree, become the party's baggage if he's their nominee.

"It is certain that all GOP candidates will be tied in some way to our nominee," he wrote, "but we need not be tied to him so closely that we have to engage in permanent cleanup or distancing maneuvers."

He offered one other piece of advice — advice that seems to underline the party's current Trump strategy: “Don’t get drawn into every Trump statement and every Trump dust-up.”

Translation: If Donald Trump is the Republican Party's 2016 presidential nominee, all Senate Republicans can do is hang on — and hope for the best.