Voters Souring on Several Vulnerable GOP Senators

The chances for a Democratic takeover of the Senate are still slim, but several GOP incumbents haven't been helping themselves in recent months. Not only are their approval levels among their constituents sinking, but several of the most vulnerable senators trail their Democratic challengers in fundraising.

The Democrats would need at least a pick-up of three seats to take control. And if Trump is re-elected, they would need four. While Democrats are licking their chops at the prospect of knocking off several Republicans, some of their own incumbents are in trouble.

In Michigan, Senator Gary Peters (D) is being strongly challenged by the attractive GOP newcomer, John James. A businessman and Iraq War veteran, James came close to unseating Michigan's senior Senator Debbie Stabenow in 2018. But with statewide name recognition and a growing war chest, James seems poised to give Peters all he can handle.

The Hill:

The poll,  conducted by the Michigan-based Marketing Resource Group, shows Peters leading businessman and Iraq War veteran John James (R) by a slim 43 percent to 40 percent margin.

Republicans are cautiously optimistic that James will put a new state on a Senate map that otherwise favors Democrats. James, who has never held public office, lost a 2018 bid against Sen.  Debbie Stabenow (D) by a 52 percent to 46 percent margin.

Republicans in the state are excited about James. He's an African American, pro-free market candidate with a talent for raising money. He outraised Peters $3.8 million to $2.4 million in the third quarter.

James may have a better chance against Peters, who is seeking his second term in office. Peters is less well-known among Michiganders than his senior colleague; while 75 percent of state voters polled said they were aware of Peters, only 35 percent knew enough about him to say whether they felt positively, 20 percent, or negatively, 15 percent.

“John James’s campaign against Sen. Stabenow in 2018 appears to have propelled him into a virtual tie with Sen. Peters in 2020,” said Tom Shields, MRG’s senior adviser.

But the reality for Republicans is that they have to defend 23 seats to the Democrats' 12. And that leaves five or six Republicans in danger.

Maine's Susan Collins is not doing well -- even among voters in her own party. Iowa's Joni Ernst's approval numbers are below 40. The same can be said for other GOP incumbents.

Morning Consult:

According to Morning Consult’s latest quarterly  Senator Approval Rankings based on nearly 534,000 responses from registered voters collected July 1 through Sept. 30, Republicans representing Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Maine and Iowa all saw their net approval — the share of voters who approve of a senator’s job performance minus the share who disapprove — decline between the second and third quarters of 2019.

[...]

Ernst is not the only Republican up for re-election next year with a home-state approval below 40 percent: Among the vulnerable incumbents, Martha McSally of Arizona, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Thom Tillis of North Carolina are all below that threshold following a quarter where each saw little movement.

Those low numbers have encouraged a slew of quality Democratic candidates to enter the race. And several of them are outraising the incumbents:

In Iowa, businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, who is backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List, outraised Ernst. In Arizona, retired astronaut Mark Kelly outraised McSally by some $2.5 million, according to his campaign. In Maine, state House Speaker Sara Gideon (D) outraised Sen. Susan Collins. In Colorado, former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) raised $2.1 million since launching his bid in August, just short of Gardner’s $2.45 million over three months. And in North Carolina, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham raised $1 million, close to the $1.2 million haul by Tillis.

Donald Trump could very well save most of these Republicans. Trump is likely to do very well in Arizona and North Carolina and could put Gardner and Tillis over the top with his coattails. And Joni Ernst was behind in her first race until Trump came to the state and carried the day.

So in the end, it will be a test of Democratic turnout versus Trump's coattails. Most in the GOP like that match-up.