Republicans Scramble To Defend Mitch McConnell’s Senate Majority
Republicans rush to rescue GOP control of the U.S. Senate, spending $ 20 million in deeply conservative states that have become unexpected battlefields as a surge in small donations gives Democrats the upper hand in states which are likely to reach or break the Senate majority.
As President Donald Trump's re-election position continues to deteriorate amid his abuse of the coronavirus pandemic, the GOP watches Democrats take the lead in Senate races they once hoped to win and states previously considered safe for Republicans to turn into highly competitive battlefields. The democratic chances of winning the Senate and taking full control of the federal government are higher than at any point in this election cycle.
"The trend line is bad for these people," said J.B. Poersch, the president of Senate Majority PAC, the great super PAC that supports candidates for the Democratic Senate. "In my world there haven't been a lot of votes in the last few weeks."
Democrats have long been confident of defeating incumbent Republicans in Arizona and Colorado, and national strategists from both parties now agree that Maine GOP Senator Susan Collins will challenge Democratic State House Spokeswoman Sara Gideon, probably won't survive. Republicans have also been increasingly nervous about the reputation of North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, although a sex scandal with his Democratic opponent has allowed Tillis to go on the offensive in a stable race.
The GOP has a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and the high likelihood of Republicans ousting Alabama Democratic Senator Doug Jones on election day next month means that Democrats must defeat at least four incumbent Republicans to win majority leader Mitch To remove McConnell from control of the Senate (R-Ky.).
Republicans' hopes of maintaining their majority now rest on winning four races in a trio of states that both parties agree will be failures - Montana, Iowa, and Georgia - and one of the four States that exist now, somehow losing sight of victory tend to be democrats.
At the same time, TV ad purchases by both parties over the past two weeks make it clear that the solid Republican states of Alaska, Kansas, and South Carolina are now places where Democrats can fill their majority in the event of a blue wave election. Democratic super-PACs have posted $ 15 million in advertising in the three states, while Republicans have reserved $ 20 million.
A senior GOP official in charge of control of the Senate acknowledged the difficult political environment and said large donations from large Republican donors would keep the races competitive. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC controlled by McConnell allies, has $ 126 million in the bank.
"The political environment is more difficult than I've seen it before, we have Republican seats under siege and Democratic candidates have a huge financial advantage," said Steven Law, the group's president. "Thanks to our record-breaking fundraising campaign, we are keeping the fight to defend our Senate majority competitive."
Trump Judges Sink Collins
Republicans had hoped that the Supreme Court post created by Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death last month would set the party's base on fire. So far, however, the most direct effects on the party have been detrimental. Maine's Senate race had already started turning to Gideon and anything that reminded voters of Collins' votes for past Trump judges should hurt them further.
Gideon went up almost immediately with ads attacking Collins over judges' votes and linking her to McConnell. "With the approval of 181 Trump-nominated judges, Susan Collins's record is clear," said a male narrator in one of the advertisements. "She is no longer for you."
At the same time, Collins had to clarify her own position on when and if she would support the vote on a candidate for the Supreme Court, which only reinforced the Democrats' portrayal of being more calculating than concerned.
"They tried to call her blurry and she was only helping them. It just looks like she's going to be waffling again," said Toby McGrath, a former top adviser to Maine Independent Senator Angus King. For the past few weeks I've thought that this has become Sara Gideon's race for defeat. "
Collins has stepped up her attacks on Gideon and questioned her qualifications as a Mainer. However, public polls show that little damage has been done and a large number of Maine voters are still positive about the Democrats.
Republicans initially hoped that the Supreme Court vacancy and subsequent appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, while endangering Collins, would boost conservative voters in other states and the established corporations including Montana Senator Steve Daines and Iowa Senator Joni Ernst would give. But even in red states, there is no sign of a boost for GOP candidates.
"We're not yet seeing any partisanship that will save them in Montana or Iowa," said Poersch.
Liberal Cash Floods Conservative States
Meanwhile, Democratic Senate candidates across the country are collecting outrageous sums of money after Ginsburg's death. Three Democratic candidates - John Hickenlooper from Colorado, Cal Cunningham from North Carolina and Theresa Greenfield from Iowa - have announced that they will raise more than $ 20 million in the third quarter, breaking records.
In Alaska, National Democrat-backed independent candidate Al Gross raised $ 9 million - more than the $ 7.2 million the US spent buying Alaska in the 19th century. Gross challenges GOP Senator Dan Sullivan.
Small dollar Democratic backers have had the greatest impact in South Carolina, where Democratic dislike of GOP Senator Lindsay Graham made the race competitive. Graham, who has grown from moderate dealmaker to Trump acolyte over the past four years, faces a major challenge from Democrat Jaime Harrison.
Harrison raised nearly $ 30 million in the first six months of the year, and strategists say he could hit that figure in the third quarter. This financial strength has allowed Harrison to run an unprecedented number of ads, improve his own image as a moderate person who has grown out of poverty, and harm Graham as an untrustworthy flip-flopper.
Nu Wexler, a former South Carolina Democratic Party executive director, said Harrison exploited suspicion of the incumbent to attract a larger percentage of white voters than the typical Democrat in the state.
"There are some moderate Republicans in South Carolina who don't trust MAGA Lindsey," said Wexler. "And there are some conservative Republicans who don't trust Gang of 8 Lindsey."
In addition to South Carolina, the Senate Leadership Fund has also announced multi-million dollar ad purchases in Alaska and Kansas. In all three states, the Super-PAC is hoping its millions - provided mostly by big donors including casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, private equity CEO Stephen A. Schwarzman, and banker Timothy Mellon - the financial benefit of the Democratic candidates can compensate.
The problem? Candidates are guaranteed lower television ad rates than Super-PACs under federal law, so most Democratic dollars go further than Republican dollars.
A sudden Carolina scandal
The Republican brightest spot right now is in North Carolina, where a sex scandal last week rocked Cunningham's campaign. Leaked sexual text messages between Cunningham and a woman who is not his wife caused the Democratic challenger to admit an affair.
Before the reveal, Republicans were less confident that Tillis could defeat Cunningham, a military lawyer and former senator. But they are now arguing that the affair undermines Cunningham's character message and cripples his appeal to crossover voters. The Senate Leadership Fund began airing an ad about the scandal earlier this week.
"The North Carolina Senate race has been dramatically and permanently changed, not by gender, but by the sanctimonious lack of judgment and truthfulness that Cal Cunningham is now fully flaunting," wrote Brad Todd, advisor to Tillis, in a memo posted on Thursday. "This unfolding episode destroys the very foundation of Cunningham's campaign by showing that he cannot be trusted at any level."
So far, however, there is no evidence from public polls that the scandal has significantly changed what has long been a sleepy race in a politically polarized state. A Democratic group following the campaign said their polls showed high voter awareness of the scandal but almost no impact. Republicans are confident that new developments, like the Army Reserve announcing an investigation into Cunningham, will keep history alive.
Republicans have a backup plan, however. The Senate Leadership Fund has also invested $ 10 million in promoting John James, a businessman and veteran who challenges Michigan Democratic Senator Gary Peters. While most polls show James is lagging behind, he has outperformed Trump on internal GOP polls - especially among independent voters. Republicans are hoping a James surprise can allow them to block democratic control if the elections are closer than expected.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill September 30th. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images)
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