With exactly 100 days to go before the November 4 mid term elections, Republicans still see a path to a Senate majority, but Democrats are holding out hope that some of their vulnerable incumbents can squeak through to victory.
The good news is that, in 3 red state open Senate races currently held by Democrats, GOP candidates maintain solid leads on their opponents. West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota all appear ready to fall to the Republicans.
But in 4 other races that feature vulnerable Democratic incumbents who were thought to be ripe targets for the Republicans, Democrats are running better than expected.
Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) seem to have the edge in their races, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) is hanging tough, and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) isn’t dead yet.
Hagan’s approval ratings are low, but state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) is even less popular, and public and private polls both show her ahead.
Tillis has been trapped in an extended legislative session as unpopular GOP lawmakers war over the state budget, and Hagan has a four-to-one cash advantage.
“Tillis has to put this legislative fight behind him. He’s got to move on. He’s struggled,” admitted one national GOP strategist.
Begich also appears to be in good shape in a tough state. His attacks on GOP primary front-runner Dan Sullivan have taken a toll and could hurt him in his August primary, too.
“Begich is running the best race of any Democrat right now,” said another national Republican consultant. “In Alaska it’s tough to see the path to victory until this primary plays itself out.”
Pryor has stayed alive because of Cotton’s unbending conservatism, most notably his vote against the Farm Bill. Both parties say they have a small advantage in the race and each have polls to back those claims.
Democrats admit Landrieu is their most vulnerable incumbent. It will be hard for her to reach the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a December runoff with two GOP candidates on the ballot. If that scenario plays out, Republicans believe Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) holds the edge in a runoff, especially if Senate control remains undecided after November.
Landrieu has been in this position before. She narrowly won run off elections in 1996 and 2002. Of the four vulnerable Dems, she probably has the best chance to sneak through.
All four are extremely well funded and outside money is pouring into their coffers. Republican candidates are trying to catch up, and between now and Labor Day should give a good showing of themselves in raising cash.
But circumstances have arisen in Iowa and Colorado that have cheered Republicans and placed those two races that were previously thought to lean Democratic into the toss-up column:
While Republicans have failed to knock out the incumbents some predicted would be underwater by this point in the election cycle, Rep. Bruce Braley’s (D-Iowa) missteps have given Democrats severe heartburn in that open seat race, and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) is also running strong against Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.).
“We really have already expanded the field…. A year ago we weren’t even talking about those races. We were talking about having to win three of four open seats,” Carl Forti, the political director of the GOP super-PAC American Crossroads, told The Hill.
Braley damaged himself with comments that as a trial lawyer he’s more qualified than popular Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school,” to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) has run a strong race so far, and Democrats admit Braley’s lackluster campaign is cause for alarm.
“Braley has shot himself in the foot again and again. We have a lot of work to do. Iowa is a lot closer than we want it to be,” said one national Democrat.
Gardner’s entrance into the race earlier this year put Colorado on the Senate map. Democrats think Udall’s attacks on social issues have paid dividends, though Udall has squirmed on some controversial environmental issues. Recent public surveys show a dead-even race, but private polling from both sides show the incumbent up slightly.
Other potential GOP targets in Michigan and New Hampshire appear to be slipping away. In Michigan, Rep. Gary Peters has opened a significant lead over Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land in a race to succeed retiring Democrat Carl Levn, while in New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown’s campaign against Senator Jeanne Shaheen has failed to generate much momentum.
Democratic hopes rest on the open Georgia race where charity exec Michelle Nunn, daughter of legendary Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, has raised a lot of money and received good reviews for her efforts. But she’s running an uphill campaign against GOP nominee David Perdue. There has been talk about “changing demographics” in Georgia which Democrats believe give Nunn a shot at victory. But Georgia is still a very conservative state and Republicans have a clear advantage. Perdue would probably have to commit some horrible gaffe for Nunn to win.
Political prognosticator Charlie Cook still gives the Republicans a 50-50 shot at winning the Senate. Now, 100 days out, the sprint to the finish is underway and Republicans consider themselves in very good shape.