Republican Chances Of Retaining The Senate Tanking With Trump

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Aug 17, 2016 3:00 PM
Republican Chances Of Retaining The Senate Tanking With Trump

The Trump train seems to be tanking the GOP hopes of retaining control of the Senate—and it all began when the Republican nominee decided to unnecessarily pick a fight with a Gold Star family. That grotesque spectacle saw the GOP candidate painfully unaware that he was never going to win that fight, as voters, including the vast majority of Republican voters, not agreeing with how he handled the situation. The Khan family, who lost their son Army Captain Humayun Khan in Iraq twelve years ago, addressed the Democratic Convention and ripped Trump over his ignorance of their religion, the Khans are Muslim, and his lack of sacrifice. A brutal attack—but one that Trump should’ve stayed away from since he has to know that there are a lot of people that hate him. He can’t mount counterattacks to all of them, and one against a Gold Star family with his temperament was bound to end in disaster. It’s been an ongoing train wreck, though one that’s raised a lot of money.

Trump has more or less closed the fundraising gap he had with Clinton, though he hasn’t spent a dime on television ads. There’s no ground game. Down ticket, as his numbers have plummeted, so have Republican chances to keeping the Senate. Democrats only need four seats to retake the chamber, and a good number of Republicans defending their offices are in states where Obama won (in some cases by a wide margin). Prior to the convention, the GOP Senate candidates were able to isolate themselves from their nominee. A week after the Democratic Convention, for a brief moment, there was an uptick in confidence as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio looks as if he’ll be able to hold off a challenge by former Gov. Ted Strickland. And that’s about the only good news that’s come since then. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) is facing a much different electorate in the Granite State. In 2010, she won in a landslide. Now, Gov. Maggie Hassan could easily boot her from her seat. She’s trailing by 10-points, and I’m sure Trump’s endorsement of her at his rally in Green Bay earlier this month didn’t make things any easier for her. She's trying to use her support for the Obama administration's horrific Clean Power Plan as a way to drive some distance between Trump/GOP and the voters of her state.  

In Pennsylvania, Sen. Pat Toomey is indeed under siege. He also was able to win in 2010 against former Rep. Joe Sestak, but faces a re-election campaign in a state that should trend Republican, but is dominated by the Democratic bastions of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. On top of that, the Philly suburbs, and corresponding collar counties around the city, often play a huge role in deciding the state. Toomey won in a midterm election, he now has to face an increased turnout with voters who are, by and large, not conservative—with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket. Prior to Trumpmentum, Toomey seemed very well placed to win re-election. He was polling strong against Sestak, who gave it another go this year, only to lose to former Chief of Staff to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf Katie McGinty. McGinty was trailing Toomey, until the weeks following the Republican Convention. The incumbent Republican is now trailing McGinty within the margin of error and Trump trails Clinton in the state by 10 points.

Toomey has been trying to distance himself from the rest of his Republican colleagues in some ways to play well with these suburban voters. For starters, these people are in favor of gun control. Toomey backed the doomed 2013 Manchin-Toomey bill that would’ve expanded background checks and proudly accepted an award from Everytown for Gun Safety, an anti-gun group that is part of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s consortium of pro-gun control groups that have yet to score a major legislative victory. Bloomberg endorsed Clinton, but also Toomey. The Republican senator is probably banking on trying to win the Bucks County, which he took in 2010, to increase the chances of his survival. The problem is that the county is key to Trump as well, a person Toomey wants to stay away from for as along as possible. Nevertheless, the obstacles facing Toomey and Ayotte may be too much, and with Wisconsin and Illinois looking like Democratic pick-ups—a miracle needs to happen (via FiveThirtyEight):

Before the conventions, polling in the 10 states whose Senate seats were most likely to flip between parties this November showed a pretty close race. Democratic candidates led in Illinois and Wisconsin, both of which would be pickups for their party. The Republican candidate was leading in Nevada (a seat that Democrats currently control). I didn’t include Indiana in my pre-convention analysis because of Democrat Evan Bayh’s late entrance into the race — we had just one partisan poll that included Bayh — but Democratic chances seemed good there (it would be another Democratic pickup). And Republicans led in the other competitive Senate races, all seats the GOP currently holds, so Democrats looked like they could pick up a net of two seats if everything stayed as it was and the polling leader in each state went on to win.

Since the conventions, however, Trump’s polling has worsened — overall and in states with key Senate races. In the eight states with competitive Senate races and both pre- and post-conventions polling,2 Trump had previously been down an average of about 6 percentage points; he’s now down an average of 9 points.3 And while Republican Senate candidates had been up by an average of a little more than 1 percentage point before the conventions in these eight states, they are now down by a little more than 1 point. That is, Republican Senate candidates in key states are still running ahead of Trump, but that cushion may no longer be enough to win now that Trump’s fortunes have worsened.

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Democrats now lead in enough states to take back the Senate — so long as Clinton holds on to her large lead. If the favorites in the polls win, the Democrats would flip and pick up the seats in Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Republicans would pick up Nevada and hold onto Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. Of course, many of these races are close, and there’s plenty of time before Election Day. The fight for the Senate isn’t over by a long shot. Republicans and Trump — or Republicans without Trump — could rebound.

Right now, we have a rough night ahead of us in November.

Last Note: In 2012, Obama carried most of the states where Republicans are playing defense this year. That's the other side of the argument–and it's not an outrageous one.