Democrats lowering midterm expectations

Democrats are tamping down expectations for a “blue wave” two weeks before the midterm elections as key races in the House tighten and winning back the Senate majority looks increasingly out of reach.

Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Tom Perez said on CNN's “New Day” that he doesn’t use the term “blue wave,” and added that he’s always thought this year’s races would be close.

Many Democrats are convinced that the 2016 presidential race was lost in part because Democratic voters didn’t show up, perhaps because they thought there was little chance that Republican Donald Trump would win.

Talk of a blue wave sends the signal that Democrats have races in the bag, and that voters don’t need to come to the polls on Nov. 6.

“I think it’s really, really smart and if you look at some of our strongest candidates, they’re being very thoughtful and very intelligent on how they’re approaching this, which is always run like your 10 points down,” said Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

“It’s less of an expectation management game than it is a turnout game,” he added. “Never say ‘we’ve got this.’ "

At the same time, there are real reasons for Democrats to fret over their chances given President Trump’s rising approval ratings, fallout from the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight and a strong economy the White House has taken credit for delivering.

Perez still said he has “a lot of confidence” that his party will win back the House.

Democrats have led Republicans on the generic congressional ballot in virtually every public poll conducted over the past year, and an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Monday gave the party a 9-point lead over the GOP in the race to control Congress.

Some Democrats insist that winning the bare minimum of 23 seats needed to flip the House still amounts to a wave.

“Winning 23 seats is a wave,” said a Democratic strategist familiar with House races. “The frustration among some Democrats is losing sight of how big of an accomplishment it is.

“People built expectations for this giant tsunami without the evidence there. The people actually looking at that data, in this fight, know how hard it is and are not taking anything for granted.”

Perez acknowledged, however, that the race for the Senate presents “a tougher map” for Democrats.

More than two dozen of the party’s incumbents are defending their seats this year, including 10 in states won by Trump in 2016, and Republicans are eager to expand their slim 51-49 majority by flipping seats in deep-red states, such as North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri.

Democrats believe they have benefited from an enthusiasm gap with Republicans for most of the year, but there are some signs that GOP voters are getting more motivated ahead of Nov. 6.

Trump has been campaigning across the country and is increasingly using the bully pulpit to steer the national conversation toward issues such as the immigrant caravan headed toward the U.S. border with Mexico — something seemingly designed to fire up his base.

Early voting in some critical battlegrounds as of Monday found that GOP-affiliated voters are outnumbering the Democratic-affiliated voters in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, Tennessee and Texas, according to TargetSmart data analyzed by NBC News.

Democratic-affiliated voters outpaced GOP ones only in Nevada, according to the report.

Democrats are also worried about laws in crucial pockets of the country that could suppress Democratic voters.

These allegations have become a dominant issue in Georgia’s nationally watched governor’s race between former state House minority leader Stacey Abrams (D) and Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp. If elected, Abrams would be the first black woman to serve as governor in U.S history.

An APM Reports analysis found an estimated 107,000 voters in Georgia have been removed from the state’s voter rolls because of the “use it or lose it” law, which removes people who have not voted or made contact with an election official over three years.

Kemp, who oversees the state’s elections, said his office is following the law and has worked to prevent voter fraud.

Some Democratic strategists are also exercising caution about their midterm prospects because they’re “still a little scarred," in the words of one observer, after Trump’s shock victory over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has stepped up campaigning for Republicans in the final stretch of the campaign, attracting thousands of Republicans, while expressing confidence about the party’s prospects.

In recent rallies, the president has also sought to cast Democrats as unfit to govern and has spoken intermittently about a coming “red wave” that would expand the Republican majorities in both chambers.

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