Things seem to be looking up for the Democratic Senate candidates.
Just a few months ago, Republicans were widely seen as the favorites to take control of the Senate after the crucial US midterm elections last November. Given the current 50-50 split, Republicans only need to flip one seat to regain a majority in the upper house.
But now, the nomination of several controversial Republican candidates and a recent string of Democratic legislative victories are forcing many forecasters to reconsider their predictions. Democrats appear better positioned to retain the Senate now than at any other point in this election cycle, though experts stress the outlook could change significantly again before November.
Democrats have the advantage of a favorable Senate map this year, as they are not defending any seats in states that Donald Trump will carry in 2020.
Democrats’ prospects were also helped by Republicans’ failure to recruit top candidates in several states, including incumbent governors Doug Ducey of Arizona and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire. Instead, vulnerable Republicans have managed to secure nominations in some key battleground states, often with the help of Trump’s support.
In Georgia, former professional football player Herschel Walker has caused a scandal by not admitting to having two hidden children and abusing his ex-wife. Walker has acknowledged the abuse, saying he suffered from mental illness at the time.
In Pennsylvania, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz has alienated voters because of his past dubious claims about his health and his longtime residency in New Jersey before deciding to run.
In Ohio, author J.
As Republican candidates have stumbled, Democrats have enjoyed a wave of victories on Capitol Hill.
Last week, Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, a sweeping spending package that includes hundreds of billions of dollars in investments aimed at reducing the nation’s global warming emissions and lowering Americans’ health care costs.
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, ending the federal right to access abortion, appears to be driving voters to the polls as well. On Tuesday, Democrat Pat Ryan won a hotly contested congressional race in New York after running a campaign focused on protecting abortion rights.
Republican Senate candidates have indicated that abortion rights could be a weakness for them in the November election. Blake Masters, who is running against Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona, changed his campaign website this week to remove some language expressing support for strict abortion restrictions.
All of these developments appear to have repercussions in several key Senate races. According to FiveThirtyEight, Democrats advanced slightly in Ohio and Georgia, while the party’s candidates in Pennsylvania and Arizona opened up larger leads of eight to nine points.
“Retirements, hiring failures and vicious primaries – combined with Trump’s endorsements – have left Republicans with a slate of flawed and deeply flawed candidates, while Democrats are running strong, battle-tested incumbents and challengers backed by their own unique coalition of voters. Christy Roberts, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Committee, said in a note late last month.
Even senior Republicans have acknowledged that the tide has turned against them in the Senate race. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that the party’s chances of regaining control of the chamber were “50-50.”
“We have a 50-50 Senate right now. We have a 50-50 nation,” McConnell said at a business lunch in Kentucky. “And I think the result is likely to be very, very close either way.
Election forecasters have similarly argued for this shift in dynamics. FiveThirtyEight’s forecasting model now says Democrats are slightly favored to retain control of the Senate, while the Cook Political Report updated its Senate forecast to “blow up” last week.
“I would say, before the primaries started in earnest in early May, the Republicans had at least a 60 percent chance of wresting control of the Senate,” said Jessica Taylor, Cook’s Senate and Governors editor. “Now we see it as a clean sweep and I can see anywhere between the Democrats picking up one seat and the Republicans picking up three.”
Democrats are not dismissing this new advantage, instead pointing out their opponents’ weaknesses. An anti-Trump group aired an ad featuring Walker’s ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, describing how he once held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her.
The Ohio Democratic Party bought Vance’s defunct nonprofit website, adding a greeting on the home page that read: “This website no longer exists because JD Vance is a fraud.”
Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman has made increasingly humorous attempts to troll his opponent. At one point, Fetterman’s campaign circulated a petition calling for Oz to be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Fetterman went so far as to enlist the help of celebrities such as Nicole “Snooki” Polizzifrom the reality TV show Jersey Shore, to movie ads encouraging Oz to return to New Jersey.
Democratic Senate candidates have also enjoyed somewhat of a cash advantage in recent months. The DSCC reported raising $10 million in July, marking the fourth straight month the group outspent its counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The NRSC recently cut ad purchases in three battleground states, sparking questions about possible financial difficulties, though the commission strongly pushed back against that speculation.
“We’ve invested in building our grassroots fundraising program, which has paid dividends this cycle and will benefit the NRSC and the party as a whole for cycles to come,” Chris Hartline, NRSC communications director, said Monday. “We work closely with each of our campaigns and will continue to do so.”
But even if Democrats manage to retain control of the Senate, Republicans are still favored to retake the House, in part because of their success in redistricting. If Congress splits after the midterms, Democrats will face serious obstacles in trying to advance their legislative agenda.
“Under that scenario, I expect [House] Republicans will go overboard every week, passing one form of extreme legislation after another when they’re not trying to investigate the Biden administration. All of this will die a quick, painful death in the Senate,” said Jim Manley, who served as a senior adviser to Harry Reid, the late Senate Democratic leader.
While bills may be difficult to pass, a Democratic majority in the Senate could reap significant benefits for Biden, particularly when it comes to presidential nominations. If another high court seat opens between now and 2024, a Democratic Senate would help Biden add another liberal justice to the bench.
“While there may not be much opportunity for legislation because the House will be dominated by extremists, that doesn’t mean nothing can be done,” Manley said. “Maybe there will be an opportunity or two to try to work on a bipartisan basis after some negotiation, but the Senate I think would spend most of its time under that scenario confirming judicial nominees.”
Although things are looking up for Democrats now, experts warn that November is still a political eternity away, and Republicans have historical trends working in their favor. The president’s party routinely loses seats in midterm elections, and Biden’s approval rating has been underwater for about a year now, which could be enough for Republicans to flip the Senate.
“While things are looking up for Democrats, it could backslide. This could just be a blip on the radar. I wouldn’t be shocked if that’s the case and we’re kind of back in the middle where the party out of power has the momentum,” Taylor said. “But even if Democrats can narrow it down, that could mean keeping the Senate.”