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Don’t look now, but the Democrats may have dashed their Senate hopes. Maybe.
After months of predictions that Joe Biden would grapple with a fully Republican-controlled Congress next year, the story on the Senate side has changed dramatically. It turns out that candidates matter, and some pests don’t help the larger Republican effort.
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Let’s play the tape. In nine of the 10 Senate races that Cook’s political report considers serious, likely Democratic candidates outstrip their GOP opponents in dollars raised. (Florida picks its nominee on Tuesday and New Hampshire will do the same on Sept. 13.) And the fundraising shortfall is serious: A net benefit of $181.1 million for Democrats in those races, including the senator Arizona’s Mark Kelly who topped his Republican rival, Blake Masters, by more than $47 million.
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Vote, which admittedly over the past six years has shown its limits, looks no better for Republicans in most of these races. Using FiveThirtyEight’s poll tracking and, where available, its state averages, those races are very much in play. Of the 10, Republicans are leading or even in just two: North Carolina and Florida, where Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida votes so far ahead of Rep. Val Demings that many Democrats have quietly given up hope of winning that seat. The Democrats’ advantage ranges from a narrow spot in Ohio to a gaping 10 spots in Pennsylvania.
All of this is creating a shake-up in conventional wisdom in Washington since last month, when Democrats’ current majority in the House was widely seen as a toast and their control of the Senate was seen as equally shaky. The first part of this outlook largely remains in place. Even before the House candidates were set, the council was tilted toward the GOP. Gerrymandering in just four states — Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas — was most likely enough to undo Democratic control in the lower house.
In the Senate — which is split evenly, allowing Vice President Kamala Harris to give Democrats control by serving as a tiebreaker — Democrats are defending 14 seats. The most important assumption this year has been that Republicans have the clear advantage, given the party’s better performance as recently as June, when polls measured voter intensity on which party should control. the Congress. While the midterms have at times felt more like a reality TV couch than any serious debate about the direction of this country, Democrats were rightly worried they was wasting their opportunity the same way Barack did. Obama did so in the first two years of his term. .
Then came a summer that included a Supreme Court decision overturning half a century of federal abortion rights, the fascinating work of the Jan. 6 committee, and a sudden burst of legislative victories for President Joe Biden and his allies. The polls have moved. The militants who left have returned. The armchair Liberals opened their checkbooks. And the quiet work of the Democratic consulting class now looks less like wasted money.
Simply put: Anecdotally and objectively, the Senate seems to be much more at stake. In addition to GOP issues, some first-time candidates are struggling, like JD Vance in Ohio, Herschel Walker in Georgia, and Mehmet Oz. in Pennsylvania. (All three, notably, won their primaries after winning Donald Trump’s coveted endorsement.)
The Senate lineup for Democrats, by comparison, does not include a single first-time candidate. Factor in lower gas prices, soaring job numbers and a less scrambled supply chain, and Republicans might find that even lingering sky-high inflation won’t be enough to lift the economy. advantage of the Democrats.
That said, a lot can still happen before Election Day on Nov. 8, or even when the first early voting window opens in some states as early as next month. Mistakes can happen. The Biden administration can mess things up, or an external news event can change voters’ thinking in no time. And don’t overlook the power of a late infusion of outside liquidity, especially from mercurial billionaires with favored candidates this cycle.
It has become elegant among institutional conservatives to blame the changing landscape on the National Republican Senate Committee and its chairman, Senator Rick Scott of Florida, for not doing more to try to block candidates like Vance, Walker., and Oz to win their primaries. But strategists working with the NRSC rightly note that trying to choose candidates would likely have created a conflict between the party’s official arm and Trump, one in which the former president was better positioned to prevail.
The shifting new field has brought much frustration to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is just one seat away from taking back the gavel. Last week, he said the Senate would be close no matter who claimed a majority: “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood of the House tipping over than the Senate. Senate races are just different — they’re statewide, the quality of the candidates has a lot to do with the outcome.
In response, Trump attacked McConnell’s wife, Trump’s own Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who tells observers all about why Scott did not commit to the primaries.
Still, McConnell is the smartest strategist in the GOP and scrutinizes the same high-profile data as everyone else, and Democrats are sitting in at least a fighting position. He scrambled to pump more money into the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC that has already disclosed $114 million raised this cycle. It sends $28 million to help Vance in Republican-leaning Ohio, and pours $37 million into Georgia and $34 million into Pennsylvania. McConnell attempts to mount a rescue operation, an operation he previously orchestrated to save races that were considered gimmicks at the start of the cycles.
But we are now approaching the end of August and the time for tinkering is over. Threats to democracy is now at the top of voters’ minds, according to a new NBC News poll, which means Republicans hoping for a Trump halo could be deadly. Most Americans believe the ex-president should continue to be investigated, and the GOP brand is not what it was two years ago.
All campaign cycles eventually involve a level of cruel-eyed triage, and it’s shaping up to be no different. In all but New Hampshire, GOP nominees are set. Democrats are heading into the fall much stronger than expected, building campaign machinery in places where Democrats haven’t really had operations in years.
But their margin of error is close to zero. When you talk about an evenly divided house, the same goes, of course, for Republicans.
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