Let's begin on the southern end of Capitol Hill, where Republicans say they're increasingly upbeat about their prospects for retaining a majority in the House of Representatives this fall. Retaking the House was always going to be a heavy lift for Nancy Pelosi's crew, as consecutive midterm election waves swept the GOP to its largest majority in decades. Democrats would need to net 30 seats in November to wrest the gavel away from Paul Ryan, an outcome some speculated might be attainable if Donald Trump suffers a blowout loss at the top of the ticket. With Trump's fortunes improving, Republicans are reportedly feeling more confident that won't happen -- via Politico:
Returning to Washington after their long August recess, Republican lawmakers are cautiously optimistic that GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump can remain disciplined enough over the next two months to keep them from getting blown out — and give them a fighting chance to hold the Senate and protect their sizable House majority...But chances of sweeping Senate and House Republican losses increased sharply in August after Trump’s muddled immigration policy pronouncements — not to mention his clash with a Gold Star family in July. Still, recent national polls suggest that Trump’s slightly more disciplined approach to campaigning and focus on Hillary Clinton has helped close the gap — a trend that could likewise buoy House and Senate GOP candidates facing down-ballot headwinds created by Trump’s overall unpopularity. “We’ve seen improvement in his campaign and there’s still a number of months left. If he continues going in that direction, it could come out very positive,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)...Many congressional Republicans have managed to run ahead of Trump in individual state races, so GOP officials merely want him to stay close enough to Clinton to allow them a shot at winning reelection.
The Senate picture is, as ever, more challenging. The GOP currently holds a 54-46 majority, following a monster 2014 cycle. And thanks to a big 2010, many Republican incumbents from that landslide year are now up for re-election, forcing their party to defend far more seats in contested races than Democrats. (This dynamic reverses itself in 2018). If Senate Dems can gain four or five seats this year -- a 50-50 split is good enough if their party controls the White House -- they'll retake the edge in Congress' upper chamber. We reviewed Larry Sabato's updated ratings of the most important contests last week; he gives Democrats a slight upper hand in this battle. Why? Democratic candidates are strongly favored in Illinois (despite a dearth of polling) and Wisconsin (despite some signs of improvement from Ron Johnson), and may be slight favorites to win in Indiana and New Hampshire. Complicating this picture is the possibility that North Carolina's race may be too close for comfort, too, as sitting Republican Richard Burr is tied with or barely leading his challenger in recent polls. That leaves crucial races in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Nevada in the mix. All but one of those seats are currently held by embattled Republican incumbents, with Harry Reid's open slot in Nevada perhaps representing the GOP's only realistic chance for a pick-up.
Nevada: Silver State Republicans are fielding a very strong candidate against Reid's hand-picked successor: A popular center-right Congressman with a remarkable biography. Cliffs notes version: He's served three active duty tours in the US Army, he's an accomplished medical doctor, and he's a job-creating small businessman. If Dr. Joe Heck can capture Reid's old seat, Republicans' path to maintaining their majority would become substantially easier. The race is nip and tuck so far, though Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto "hasn’t led Heck in a public poll so far," and her party is "quietly worrying" about her campaign.
Pennsylvania: Sen. Pat Toomey continues to run substantially ahead of Donald Trump in his state, but very slightly trails his foul-mouthed Democratic opponent in the polling average. A recent CBS News survey of the state showed the race tied at 39, while Democratic firm PPP has him leading by a single point, with lots of undecideds in both surveys. Toomey is very much in this fight, but floating around 40 percent support in a blue-tinted state is a very precarious spot for an incumbent in his position. This is one state where Trump trailing by nine or ten versus five or six points could make or break Toomey's fate.
Ohio: This race is one of the most promising Senate match-ups for the GOP, as Rob Portman has led former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland in virtually every poll for months, sometimes by large margins. Portman is running a very strong race, picking up some surprise endorsements, fundraising well, and out-hustling Strickland in almost every way. Democrats haven't quite written off this seat just yet, but signs are looking gloomy for their nominee, and prognosticators' ratings are shifting accordingly. Most telling is the reported decision of Democrat-aligned groups to withdraw big ad buys from the race, as "national Democrats are preparing to abandon Strickland for good."
Florida: Marco Rubio is leading in his eleventh-hour fight for re-election. His chances have no doubt been buoyed by Donald Trump's improvement in the Sunshine State, which appeared to be in danger of slipping out of reach just a few weeks ago. Democrat Patrick Murphy has habitually embellished his professional and academic resume, hilariously (and falsely) going so far as claiming to be "an immigrant." Murphy is increasingly relying on funding from his wealthy father -- some of whose donations that are now under scrutiny in connection with an ongoing ethics investigation -- as the DSCC has delayed planned ad spending in the race. In what struck a number of observers as a "remain calm!" move, Murphy's campaign felt compelled to release a weeks-old internal poll showing him narrowly leading Rubio...with no undecided voters. Okay. It's a close race, but suffice it to say that Murphy would trade places with Rubio in a heartbeat. I'll leave you with two new TV ads down in Florida: