Believe it or not, after months of doomsaying about Trump’s effect on Republicans down-ballot, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the GOP will retain its Senate majority in 2017. That majority will be reduced, of course: Mark Kirk and Ron Johnson are likely goners, and beating a brand-name former senator like Evan Bayh in Indiana will be a heavy lift for Republicans even in a red state. If those three seats go blue, the GOP’s advantage will fall to 51/49 with no fewer than seven seats — all but one of which is currently held by a Republican — still toss-ups. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the party is holding its own in the battle for those toss-ups even though Trump is reliably a few points behind Hillary in most swing-state polls. The New Hampshire and Nevada Senate races are dead heats right now, and if you believe the new data from Quinnipiac, the Republican incumbent is leading in every one of the “big four” — Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and, yes, even Pennsylvania. If Republicans take all six and Roy Blunt holds on to his seat in Missouri, which seems likely, they’re at 51. Difficult, but doable.
A 51/49 Senate wouldn’t just mean Republican veto power over any Hillary Clinton executive appointments. It would give McConnell the votes needed to eliminate the filibuster altogether under President Trump if he wants to go that route. And he’ll face a lot of pressure, first and foremost from Trump himself once Democrats filibuster a few of his proposals, to do so.
The closest race is in Pennsylvania, where Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey has 46 percent, to Democratic challenger Katie McGinty’s 45 percent. This compares to the results of an August 11 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University, showing McGinty at 47 percent and Toomey at 44 percent.
Senate matchups in other swing states show:
Florida – Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio leads U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, his Democratic challenger, 50 – 43 percent;
North Carolina – Republican incumbent Sen. Richard Burr leads Democratic challenger Deborah Ross 49 – 43 percent;
Ohio – Republican incumbent Rob Portman buries former Gov. Ted Strickland, his Democratic challenger, 51 – 40 percent.
Quinnipiac released a presidential poll of the same four states yesterday. Trump is at 47 percent in the two-way race in Florida, tied with Hillary; Rubio is running three points better. Trump is at 43 percent in the two-way in Pennsylvania, five points behind Clinton; Toomey is also three points better. In North Carolina, Trump is four points behind at 43 percent in the two-way; Burr is six points(!) better. The only state where Trump leads is in Ohio, where his 46 percent mark is good for a one-point lead head to head. Portman is not only five points better, he’s dominating that race so thoroughly that his Democratic opponent, Ted Strickland, has begun canceling ad buys. Democrats are apparently giving up on the Senate race and reallocating their ad money elsewhere. In September. In Ohio!
Trump has been competitive in Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina across multiple polls lately, reducing the strain on Rubio, Portman, and Burr. Pennsylvania is … different. With Hillary managing a five-point lead or better in most surveys, Toomey is facing strong headwinds. In fact, until very recently he was trailing McGinty reliably: She led in nearly every poll taken in August, in one case by as much as five points. In the last two surveys conducted, though, Toomey tied her and now leads slightly. How’d that happen?
One reason is that, although not particularly competitive, Trump is more competitive in Pennsylvania now than he was a few weeks ago. During Clinton’s convention bounce in mid-August, he trailed by nine points in the RCP average. Today he’s down 6.2. As Hillary’s numbers have fallen off a bit, so have those of Toomey’s opponent, Katie McGinty. For a deeper grasp of Toomey’s strength, though, compare and contrast Trump’s numbers against Hillary in yesterday’s Quinnipiac poll of Pennsylvania with Toomey’s against McGinty:
Toomey’s numbers are better among men and independents, two core Trump constituencies, but his support among white college grads and nonwhite voters jumps out the most. He’s winning whites with a college education, as Republican candidates usually do, but Trump has had problems all campaign with that group. He dominates Clinton consistently among whites who didn’t graduate from college but he can’t build enough white support overall to offset her giant lead among minorities because white college grads tend to tilt her way. A small but meaningful number of them are splitting their tickets here, making victories for Clinton and Toomey possible in November. Likewise, among nonwhites, you’re seeing evidence that Trump is especially toxic in a way that other Republicans might not be. Pat Toomey is about as close as you can get to a generic Republican and he’s pulling a quarter of the nonwhite vote; Trump, however, is stuck at 15 percent. According to the 2012 exit poll of Pennsylvania, blacks and Latinos were around 20 percent of the electorate, which, if 2016 looks like that, would mean that Toomey outperforming Trump by 11 points among them is worth two points to him overall — the margin between victory and defeat over McGinty in the one-point race that Quinnipiac is seeing. Let’s hope for Trump’s sake that his minority outreach recently does something for here, either with nonwhites or those moderate college-grad whites he’s losing, or else Pennsylvania is cooked.