“It certainly is going to be really, really tough if we don’t, you know, start to kind of, at least on some level, get some of these places open and get people back to work,” McLaughlin said. “That’s going to be important when the time is right.”
Recent polls and fundraising have suggested a strengthened position for key Democratic Senate candidates, a trend that has alarmed some in the GOP. McLaughlin, whose group coordinates with the Republican Senate campaigns, took a more positive view, telling the donors that polling shows the pandemic aid packages approved by the Republican-controlled Senate are very popular, according to a person on the call who relayed the comments on the condition of anonymity to describe a private discussion.
But embattled incumbents are not receiving the lion’s share of credit for those efforts, McLaughlin added, citing polling Republicans have conducted.
“What our members have done is incredibly popular,” said McLaughlin, according to the person on the call. “The problem and the room to improve is, is not a lot of voters associate it with the members of Congress. They’re seeing their governors out on TV every day, for obvious reasons, and so they’re giving a lot more credit to their governors.”
Republican strategists are encouraging GOP senators to emphasize their endeavors to help their states deal with the deadly virus and its devastating impact. The hope is that even in purple states where President Trump is unpopular, these senators can win over swing voters by showcasing their individual efforts.
“The numbers are good for our folks, but they are not as great as they are for the governors,” said McLaughlin. “So it’s important for our candidates to be out there beating their own chest and subtly and respectfully reminding people what the United States Senate did, and Congress did, to help out Americans through this tough time.”
Public polls have showed Democratic challengers leading or tied with Republican incumbents in several key states. McLaughlin said the head-to-head numbers he sees in the GOP polling do not necessarily predict what will happen in November in a world shaken by the pandemic.
“Concern about what the ballot looks like is not what we’re going after,” McLaughlin said. “I’m looking for environment and how people perceive what’s going on. And by and large, the numbers are really good.”
Asked about his remarks, McLaughlin declined to comment, saying he would not confirm or deny their accuracy.
Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate (two independents caucus with the Democrats), and they are defending 23 seats compared to just 12 for the Democrats. The Democrats have gained enough steam in recent weeks, according to strategists in both parties and nonpartisan analysts, to put them within striking distance of winning back the majority.
Trump’s handling of the pandemic and the collapse of the economy have boosted the Democrats’ odds, analysts said. Joe Biden becoming the presumptive presidential nominee instead of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a democratic socialist, has also helped the Democrats’ downballot candidates, they added.
If Biden captures the White House, Democrats would need three seats to take control of the Senate, because ties in the chamber are broken by the vice president.
Still, McLaughlin put a relatively positive spin on the GOP’s electoral prospects on Wednesday’s call, arguing that coverage of the coronavirus outbreak has made it tough for Biden to break through, while the president is dominating the airwaves.He added that this effect has cascaded down the ballot to the benefit of Republican candidates.
The difficult question of when and how to safely restart closed industries across the country has largely divided Republicans and Democrats. Trump and many Republicans have displayed an eagerness to open things up swiftly, while many Democrats have urged more caution.