It's been conventional wisdom for many months that even in a positive electoral environment for Democrats, winning back the US Senate in November will be a heavy lift. Why? The 2018 map is slanted about as favorably toward the Republicans as could possibly be imagined. Even if Democrats are able to pick off a Republican seat or two (most plausible in Nevada and Arizona; not Texas), the GOP could still gain seats by beating a handful of unpopular incumbents representing red states. The statistic that's been repeated is that five Senate Democrats up for re-election this year come from states Donald Trump carried by at least 18 points in 2016. We've already seen some polling and behavior indicating that a number of those Senators are experiencing electoral heartburn. This new data set from Axios is likely to put an additional scare into national Democrats:
A few thoughts, which cut in both directions:
(1) Montana's Jon Tester -- or Chuck Schumer with a flat top, as I prefer to call him -- deserves to be at or near the top of this list, given his liberal voting record. But top Republicans I've spoken with are concerned about the lack of a strong challenger in that race and are wary of the strength of Tester's political operation. In theory, he should be extremely vulnerable. In reality, he's likely safer than this poll indicates.
(2) "Generic Republicans" often poll better than actual Republicans when pitted against a named Democrat (the reverse is also true). An incumbent sitting in the mid-40's ain't great, of course, but when voters are faced with a choice between two actual people -- and the Democrats attack an actual opposing candidate -- the dynamics can shift.
(3) Claire McCaskill is in very hot water. She has a named opponent in this poll, and she's down by eight points -- with Republican Josh Hawley (whom she did not get to hand select this time) cracking 50 percent. That is, shall we say, an extremely precarious position for any incumbent. Again, this is just one poll, but there's a reason why McCaskill is considered the most likely Democrat to go down.
(4) The North Dakota numbers are interesting, too. In that case, the real Republican could very well be more appealing than a "generic Republican." After initially declining to jump in, the top GOP recruit in the state -- who is popular and known as a strong campaigner, got into the race. Starting with an advantage is a good spot for a challenger to occupy.
(5) The poll also shows Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin and Michigan's Debbie Stabenow under 50 percent with unnamed GOP opponents within the margin of error. Plus, keep an eye on Trump's job approval number in Ohio. Axios' survey puts it at 54 percent. Trump won the state pretty handily. Sherrod Brown is far to the left of the center of political gravity in that state.
I'll leave you with Claire McCaskill saying that Missourians fed up with DC channeled their "cynicism" by electing a "reality TV star president:"
More than 1.5 million voters in her state made that decision, and based on the Axios numbers, a majority of them approve of the job that "reality TV star president" is doing. Those seem like they'd be relevant facts for McCaskill to consider as she shapes her campaign rhetoric -- but she does tend to be forgetful sometimes.
UPDATE - The RNC is circulating two additional polls. One shows Bill Nelson trailing Rick Scott in Florida (Axios gives Nelson a comfortable lead); the other shows Tammy Baldwin languishing at 37 percent favorability in Wisconsin.