Battle for Senate majority marked by volatility as midterms approach


Less than two weeks before the midterm elections, the path to Senate control looks uncertain and unsettled, as polls show Democrats and Republicans neck and neck in several battleground states that hold the majority key.

Republicans this week touted their momentum, as Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman, recovering from a stroke, struggled in a high-profile debate in Pennsylvania, and as Cook’s political report moved the race in Arizona between Democratic Senator Mark Kelly and Republican Blake Masters to tip Democratic to a coin toss.

But Democrats have shown surprising strength in other races, including in red-leaning Ohio. And new allegations against Republican Georgia candidate Herschel Walker could further bolster Democratic Sen. Raphael G. Warnock. In total, polling averages show at least seven Senate races within the margin of error, making the battle for the Senate a real draw.

“It’s more of a mixed bag that it’s all going one direction, and Republicans are good at projecting confidence and Democrats are good at panicking,” said Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist opposed to former President Donald Trump.

As the Senate race enters its final stage of the campaign, candidate by candidate, political forecasters find themselves at a loss trying to predict what will happen. Inflation and historical trends benefiting out of power party favor Republicans, but Supreme Court ruling overturns Roe vs. Wade earlier this year and primary wins by some inexperienced Republican Senate candidates have kept Democrats surprisingly competitive.

“You have this unique cycle where both sides seem to have a high level of energy and enthusiasm,” said Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic political data company. “We see polls in New York showing [the governor’s race] being a close race. We see polls in Oklahoma showing the Democrat winning [the governor’s race]. What election year do you remember when you can look at these two things? »

Democratic Senate incumbents benefited as Republicans picked rookie candidates in deadly Senate primaries in key states, in some cases elevating candidates who had advocated sweeping abortion bans. But polls in several key Senate races have tightened since the summer, as conservatives have consolidated around the candidates and independent voters have shifted. Recent polls have shown Mehmet Oz, who consistently trails Fetterman, nearly catching the Democrat ahead of Tuesday’s debate. The same dynamic is at play in Arizona, as traditionally conservative voters appear to be returning to the Republican nominee, despite his relatively high unfavorable ratings.

“The more voters hear about Republican candidates and compare that to the beaten track record of their opponents, the clearer and, frankly, easier their decision becomes,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Chairman of the Senate National Committee. Republican, said in a statement.

Democratic incumbents in Arizona, Nevada and Georgia have also been bombarded with ads linking them to crime and inflation, while Democratic groups and candidates have focused on abortion and raised questions about the character of Republican candidates.

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Brent Buchanan, president of Cygnal, a Republican polling firm, noted that abortion fell on the priority list of some voters, and cited Walker as a “perfect example” of why Democrats focusing on candidate quality issues don’t work. Walker’s polls held fairly steady as he faced an allegation from a woman that he paid for her abortion.

“That’s what the Democrats totally miss – there’s no value proposition for character issues because it has no impact on the voter’s life,” Buchanan said. “But inflation and crime, those things have a direct daily impact and threaten the lives of voters.”

But the move toward Republicans in Senate races so far isn’t nearly as dramatic as what’s happening in the House, where Democrats are on defense in districts President Biden won by double digits there. barely two years ago.

Democrats are focused on defending their Senate incumbents in Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire and Arizona while hoping to flip seats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer was surprised by a warm microphone reassuring Biden about the party’s chances of retaining a majority in the Senate. “Looks like the debate didn’t hurt us too much in Pennsylvania…so that’s good,” he said, while noting there was some momentum in Nevada, where Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto risks losing his seat. He also said Democrats were going “downhill” in Georgia and said it was hard to believe the state would vote for Walker.

Democratic-aligned groups and candidates plan to outspend Republicans in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and Arizona in the final two weeks of the race, according to ad bookings analyzed by the firm AdImpact earlier this week. . One of the biggest gaps is in Arizona, where Democrats plan to spend nearly $13 million and Republicans have earmarked $7 million.

“A few months ago, everyone was saying Republicans would sweep the Senate — now they’re cutting funding and pulling out of battleground states,” said David Bergstein, spokesman for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, in a press release. “In the final weeks, our incumbents have the advantage in their races, we have multiple offensive opportunities strongly in play, and the Democrats are well positioned to protect and extend our majority in the Senate.”

Pennsylvania was a bright spot for Democrats as Oz fell behind Fetterman in the purple state. But some Democrats have raised concerns about his performance in Tuesday night’s debate, and Republicans have said they believe it will tip the race in Oz’s favor.

Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, which is aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), called the performance “disastrous” and said it would fuel questions about Fetterman’s fitness for office.

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“There’s no doubt that John Fetterman has lost ground over the past month,” said former Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. “No questions about that. And it was a slow but fairly steady descent. The question is, is there a peak?

Rendell said it was impossible to know if the debate performance would hurt or help Fetterman.

National Democrats cite the Oz debate’s comment about leaving abortion to ‘local political leaders’ – which was already cut from an ad – as the most salient moment of the night, and believe the attacks against Fetterman will backfire.

Polls also showed a move toward Republicans in Arizona, where Kelly, a former astronaut, led Masters, a venture capitalist and protege of tech billionaire Peter Thiel.

“If this ends up being a wavering night, don’t be surprised to see surprise results like in Arizona, which means we’re not talking about whether Republicans have regained control of the Senate, but about the importance of their majority beyond 51-49,” the nonpartisan Cook Political Report wrote, as it upgraded the race to draw status, citing several private polls.

A Senate majority would give Republicans more leverage over judicial and other Biden appointments, as well as the ability to send Republican legislation to Biden’s office, should the House fall under GOP control.

Some operatives from both parties have long predicted that the Arizona Senate race would tighten. And polls have overestimated Democrats there before: Kelly won his 2020 special election by just over 2 percentage points after numerous public polls close to Election Day moved him up at least 5 dots.

This year’s race “should never have been anything more than a toss,” said a Democratic agent working on Senate campaigns, who spoke on condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the race. But they added: “I would much rather be Mark Kelly today than Blake Masters.”

GOP strategist Chuck Coughlin, whose firm HighGround conducted a poll on the Senate race, said older, conservative-leaning voters appear to be consolidating behind Masters, who emerged from a caustic primary in August with fewer votes. GOP support than Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. Coughlin argued that Masters and Lake have underperformed in a state with particularly high inflation and border politics at the forefront. Given those terms and conditions, “I would say the game is over, the Republicans are going to be one plus eight, plus nine,” he said.

Still, some Republicans once gloomy about the Masters prospects have changed their tune as more money pours into the race, polls tighten and the national environment hardens for Democrats.

Barrett Marson, another GOP strategist in Arizona, said he thought a month ago that Masters would underperform Martha McSally, the Republican candidate who lost in 2020. Now, he said, he thinks that Masters “could actually win this thing”.

“We never took this race for granted,” Kelly’s campaign spokeswoman Sarah Guggenheimer said in a statement Thursday. “As Senator Kelly travels to every corner of Arizona speaking to voters and mobilizing volunteers, it’s never been clearer what an overwhelming enthusiasm there is to re-elect Senator Kelly and do so. keep fighting for our state.”


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