Democrats need to flip five Senate seats in order to take control of the upper chamber in the next session of Congress — and just four, if Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine win the presidential election. Republicans have to defend 24 of the 34 seats at stake on November 8th, making them highly vulnerable. However, recent polling suggests that Democrats won’t easily win the majority, and new NBC/Wall Street Journal surveys by Marist in two key states offer some hope for the GOP in holding serve.
In Nevada, the presidential race has come down to the wire as expected in the Silver State, tied up at 43% each with twelve days to go. However, the state will also replace retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and the GOP’s nominee has a commanding lead in the new survey, a shift from last month in the series:
Looking at the down-ballot races, Republican Joe Heck, 49%, leads Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, 42%, in the race for U.S. Senate in Nevada among likely voters statewide including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate or who have already voted. Four percent are for another candidate, and 5% are undecided. In September, Heck, 47%, and Cortez Masto, 45%, were competitive. 55% of likely voters with a candidate preference, little changed from September, strongly support their choice of candidate for U.S. Senate.
“One key observation in the U.S. Senate race in Nevada is that Heck outperforms Trump among key groups in the state. Heck does better than Trump among Democrats, independents, and Latinos,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “In contrast, Cortez Masto does not outperform Clinton in Nevada.”
Not only does Heck do better than Trump with Hispanics, he does better than Cortez Masto too, 43/42. Cortez Masto wins millennials but only 47/42, and loses all of the other age demos. Heck trails among women, but only by two points, 43/45, and has a 17-point lead among men, 56/39. His support is slightly softer than his opponent’s, with 53% strongly supporting Heck to 58% for Cortez Masto, but only 6% of his voters say they might vote differently — and 7% of Cortez Masto’s says the same thing.
A win in Nevada has both practical and political value. The practical value is obvious; by winning a seat currently held by a Democrat, it makes it more difficult for Democrats to win a majority. Politically, a win by Heck would be a humiliating end for Harry Reid’s political career.
In New Hampshire, the outlook for Republicans at the top of the ticket looks more grim for the GOP. Hillary leads in this new poll by nine points, 45/36, a big change from September’s 39/37 edge. Gary Johnson’s support dropped by five points, and it appears that all of those voters have come home to Hillary. However, that’s not the case in the Senate race, where incumbent Kelly Ayotte clings to a one-point lead over Governor Maggie Hassan:
In the New Hampshire contest for Senate, Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte, 48%, and Democrat Maggie Hassan, 47%, are locked in a tight battle among likely voters including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate or who have already voted. Two percent support someone else, and 2% are undecided. Last month, Ayotte, 52%, was ahead of Hassan, 44%, among likely voters statewide.
65% of likely voters with a candidate preference for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire strongly support their choice of candidate, similar to the 64% who said they were firmly committed to their selection in September. The proportion of Hassan’s supporters, 69%, who say they are strongly committed to their choice of candidate is greater than the proportion of Ayotte’s backers, 61%, who express a similar level of support for their candidate. These proportions are little changed from last month.
“Expect the New Hampshire Senate race to attract a lot of attention as both parties vie for a hotly contested seat,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “Right now, Ayotte is competitive because she has established separation from Trump and is outpacing him by 12 points.”
That separation didn’t come easily. Ayotte had to walk back a statement that referred to Trump as a “role model” after the Access Hollywood outtake emerged, and Hassan has tried to paint Ayotte as a Trump stooge. That seems to be working, as evidenced by the polling shift from last month, but it also seems as though it’s not enough. Ayotte may have righted the ship by distancing herself from the party’s presidential nominee.
In my column for The Week, I argue that this might be the time for the rest of the GOP’s Senate hopefuls to do the same. Control of the Senate is still within reach — and a closing argument about containing the damage that Hillary Clinton will do as president might make the sale:
TheCook Political Report agrees. “We are increasing the range of expected Democratic pick ups to five to seven seats,” Jennifer Duffy wrote on Tuesday morning. Duffy also pointed out that early voting makes it difficult for Republicans to turn the closest Senate races around — unless they’re willing to concede defeat at the top of the ticket. “The GOP’s only hope is to start running a checks-and-balances message,” she concluded “or more blatantly, a don’t-give-Clinton-a-blank-check message to motivate their base, particularly what one strategist called ‘casual Republicans,’ to the polls.” …
The question Duffy poses now, though, is one that Republicans will have to face head on. It’s not a question of rescinding endorsements, but rather one of preparing for the likeliest outcome. No doubt a “contain Clinton” pitch will anger Trump’s supporters with its tacit concession that she will likely win on Nov. 8. But it’s a perfectly rational option that does nothing to denigrate the nominee. It has a precedent as well: Republicans used the same strategy in 1996 when Bob Dole clearly got outmatched by Bill Clinton.
On top of that, voters clearly have already distinguished between the presidential race and those down the ballot. This strategy would have voters take the next logical step of seeing their Senate vote as another means of registering their displeasure with Hillary Clinton. They even have new ammunition for that argument; Clinton has pledged to keep the ObamaCare system, while the White House just admitted that its consumers will get hammered with a massive premium rate increase next year. Voters going to the polls after watching mandatory insurance eat even further into their income will look for an effective way to punish those who created the problem, and with the presidency all but lost, Senate races have the most potential impact.
The GOP is dumping $25 million into six key Senate races to hold onto the gavel. A dose of grim reality isn’t too much to add to that.
Update: I misspelled Catherine Cortez Masto’s name in several places, which have now been corrected. My apologies for the error.