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Republicans face uphill fight as battle for the Senate heats up

Republicans face uphill fight as battle for the Senate heats up

Republicans are well-positioned to flip control of the House next year, but the battle for the Senate is shaping up to be more of a dogfight, political analysts say.

Democrats are benefiting the most from competitive Senate races playing out in states that President Biden carried in November, and their most vulnerable members have raised lots of cash.

“Just in terms of terrain, Republicans probably have an advantage in the House,” said J. Miles Coleman, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Well, in the Senate, this is going to be the first midterm since Franklin Roosevelt where every seat the Democrats hold, they hold it in a Biden state. In other words, one of the advantages Democrats have this year compared to 2010 and 2014 is all the seats they are defending are on friendly turf.”

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Republicans netted a gain of six Senate seats in 2010 and nine in 2014, delivering a rebuke of President Obama.

Democrats are hoping to avoid a repeat. The expected passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal this week will give them some bragging rights when they return home for the August recess.

They plan to tout the roads and bridges package as a job creator and another win for voters alongside middle-class tax cuts and lower health care costs that came out of the American Rescue Plan.

That $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package arguably would never have been possible if Democrats had not flipped seats in Georgia, leaving the chamber split 50-50 along partisan lines and handing Vice President Kamala Harris the tiebreaking vote.

It underscores what is at stake in the 2022 midterms.

Republicans are bullish about their chances of taking back the Senate

They are framing the contest as a referendum on Mr. Biden and the failure of Democrats to tackle rising crime and inflation and the surge of illegal crossings of the Mexican border.

“The national Democratic Party is held hostage by its socialist flank, pushing the party further left than any time in recent history,” said T.W. Arrighi, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “The policies coming out of the Senate are wildly out of step with the American people and have made the 2022 midterm map favorable for Republicans.

“We see several strong pickup opportunities and feel very confident we will hold our open seats,” he said.

Of the 34 seats up for grabs, Republicans hold 20 of them. The party is dealing with retirements in Alabama, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

In addition, Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are mulling over whether they will seek reelection.

Whatever the case, the consensus is that control of the upper chamber rests on fewer than a dozen races.

The Center for Politics ranks the race to replace retiring Sen. Patrick J. Toomey in Pennsylvania as the best pickup opportunity for Democrats. 

The race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr in North Carolina is rated “lean” Republican, as is Mr. Johnson’s seat in Wisconsin.

On the Democratic side, Sens. Margaret Wood Hassan of New Hampshire, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Raphael G. Warnock of Georgia are considered slight favorites to win reelection.

The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter ranks the races in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin as tossups. 

They also rank Sen. Marco Rubio’s reelection race in Florida and the race for retiring Sen. Rob Portman’s seat in Ohio as “lean” Republican.

Republicans, meanwhile, hope New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu runs against Ms. Hassan, which could turn the race into the party’s best pickup opportunity.

“If they can convince him to run, that is an A+ recruitment right there,” said Jessica Taylor of The Cook Political Report.

A University of New Hampshire poll released last month found that 49% of likely voters would back Mr. Sununu and 48% would support Ms. Hassan. 

Former President Donald Trump gave Mr. Sununu a vote of confidence last month when he told conservative radio host Howie Carr that he would like to see the governor run for Senate

Mr. Sununu’s office dismissed Mr. Trump’s claim that he would have won New Hampshire in the presidential race if not for voter fraud.

The scenario highlights the delicate balancing act some Republicans face as they look to tap into Mr. Trump’s base of support but steer clear of claims of a stolen election, which have been blamed for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and have turned off some middle-of-the-road voters.

Ms. Taylor said Mr. Trump could be making the Republicans’ mission harder by throwing his support behind Herschel Walker in Georgia and aiming stiff criticism at Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who is widely viewed as the best Republican recruit against Mr. Kelly.

“The places where Trump has waded into, I think it has been counterintuitive,” Ms. Taylor said. “Not a lot of Republicans want to say that on the record, but they admit that it is in conversations.”

Ms. Taylor said she is keeping an eye on Mr. Biden‘s approval rating, which remains solid but has dipped in recent weeks as the nation struggles with a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Typically, midterms turn on what is an incumbent president’s approval rating,” she said.

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The money chase, meanwhile, is well underway.

The NRSC has raised $51 million and has $25 million in cash on hand, according to the latest financial filings. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has raised about $46 million and has around $11.6 million in cash on hand.

The most vulnerable Democrats also have flexed their fundraising muscles. 

At the end of the second quarter, Mr. Warnock had $10.5 million in cash on hand, Mr. Kelly had $7.6 million, Ms. Cortez-Masto had $6.5 million and Ms. Hassan had $6.5 million.

Mr. Coleman said no matter which major party comes out on top next year, its grip on the Senate likely will be fragile.

Cross-posted from Washington Times

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