Numbers against Democrats flipping the Senate


Democrats are feeling better about their chances of limiting GOP gains in the Senate as signs emerge that voter turnout on Tuesday could be exceptional for a midterm election.

While the party has slim hopes of winning the majority, Democrats think that if voter turnout is high, they may see a number of tightly fought races swing their way.

A new NBC News/Marist poll on Monday showed Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) up by 3 points in Missouri, after earlier polls showed her slipping.

Four new polls on Monday showed Sen. Bill Nelson (D) sitting on a solid lead in his reelection bid against Gov. Rick Scott in Florida, where Democrats hope their gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum will attract new voters to the polls.

And in Nevada, eye-popping early voting numbers among Democratic voters has even some GOP strategists conceding that incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R) may lose. 

The Senate race in Tennessee has also tightened, according to recent polls. And early voter turnout in some areas of the state is up substantially compared with 2016. 

The problem for Democrats is that they’d have to win Nevada, Tennessee and an open seat in Arizona to even have a chance of winning the majority. They’d then need to hold on to every one of their seats in jeopardy to seal the deal.

Besides Missouri and Florida, Democrats are in tough contests in Montana, Indiana, West Virginia and North Dakota. Losing just one of those seats would make it almost impossible for Democrats to win the Senate majority.

Aside from Nevada, Arizona and Tennessee, the only possible Democratic pickup in the Senate is in Texas, which is a long shot at best.

Still, Democrats are feeling better than just two weeks ago, when the rancorous debate over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation appeared to close a narrow path to a Democratic majority.

Since then, Democrats feel they’ve regained their footing as attention has shifted to a series of pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats and the shooting deaths of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Those events put a renewed focus on the nation’s political climate and President Trump’s rhetoric.

Trump has whipped up the GOP base in key Senate battlegrounds, most of which he won by double digits in 2016.

But unlike two years ago, when he primarily focused on the economy, the president has centered his closing argument on immigration.

The question is how this will play with independents and swing voters.

Democrats say nationwide polling shows that more moderate Republicans are defecting to their side than conservative Democrats going to Republicans — a flip from 2016. The party is also hopeful that independent voters will help turn a few Senate races in their party’s favor.

Democrats entered the election cycle with the daunting task of defending 10 incumbents in states that Trump won in 2016.

In the run-up to Election Day, however, Democratic seats in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — which all voted for Trump — appear safe, and Republicans are on the defensive in traditional strongholds such as Tennessee and Texas.

“You’re seeing Republicans on defense in Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas,” said David Bergstein, press secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He predicted it will all come down to turnout.

Some of those numbers look positive for Democrats.

Nearly 40 percent of active voters in Nevada have already cast ballots, far exceeding the pace set in the 2014 midterm election, with especially strong numbers in Washoe and Clark counties.

In Texas, early voting numbers indicated that turnout is on a trajectory to match what it was in the 2016 election, with nearly 5 million ballots cast in the 30 most populated counties.

In Tennessee, young voters — a key demographic for Democrats — are turning out in substantially higher numbers than in the last midterm election.

In Indiana, early voting numbers are about twice as high as they were in the 2014 and 2010 midterm elections. 

Republicans say Trump is a master at mobilizing his base, suggesting some of those turning out are loyal to the president.

Trump packed the McKenzie Arena at The University of Tennessee for a rally for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Sunday and hundreds of people waited in line in chilly weather to hear the president speak for Senate candidate Matt Rosendale in Belgrade, Mont., on Saturday. 

“It’s all about turnout, right? And Trump is the master of turnout and that’s why he’s doing two events a day,” said Chip Saltsman, a Republican strategist based in Tennessee.

Democratic voters didn’t turn out for former President Obama in the midterms, but the GOP is betting it will be a different story with Trump.

“Are Trump voters going to come out for someone who’s not Trump? I think he’s done a pretty a good job of laying it on the line and saying, a vote for Marsha Blackburn is a vote for Donald Trump,” Saltsman said.

Democrats point out that Trump’s job approval rating was 40 percent in Gallup’s most recent weekly average, which is about 5 points worse than Obama’s rating in the final week of October 2010, when Republicans, then in the minority, picked up six seats.

“There’s a plethora of public polling suggesting we’re winning almost everywhere, with one exception being North Dakota,” said one Democratic strategist.

“In a lot of these swing states the polls are swinging against the party in power. When the election is a referendum on an unpopular president and an unpopular Republican agenda in Washington pushed by one-party control, it’s no surprise these races are breaking our way,” the source added.

There is nervousness among Democrats given 2016, when Trump won in a surprise and several Senate Republicans rode his coattails to victory.

“All the polling has to be taken with a grain of salt because the turnout universe is so unpredictable that it’s going to be hard to model for it,” said a second Democratic strategist.

The Republican strategist said Republicans have an early-vote advantage in Arizona, where more Republican voters have turned in ballots in the race between Reps. Martha McSally (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D).

The source predicted that McCaskill and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) would lose, giving Senate Republicans a two-seat pickup.

But Democrats counter the Republican early voting advantage in Arizona isn’t as large as it was in 2016.

“Democrats have closed it a lot. The percentage is smaller than it was in 2016,” said a third Democratic strategist, who said that younger and Hispanic voters are likely to turn out in greater numbers on Election Day.

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