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Democrats May Hold the Senate, as Some Trump-Backed Candidates Are Struggling

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Published on Aug 24, 2022
Democrats May Hold the Senate, as Some Trump-Backed Candidates Are Struggling

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This article is part of The D.C. Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this sent to your inbox. Don’t look now, but Democrats may have turned around their sinking Senate hopes. Maybe. After months of prognostications that Joe Biden would be contending next year with a Congress fully controlled by Republicans, the story on the Senate side has shifted considerably. It turns out, candidates matter, and some clunkers are not helping the broader Republican effort. More from TIME Let’s run the tape. In nine of the 10 Senate races that the Cook Political Report treats as serious, the likely Democratic nominees are outpacing their GOP opponents in dollars raised. (Florida is picking its nominee Tuesday, and New Hampshire will do the same on Sept. 13.) And the fundraising deficit is serious: a net advantage of $181.1 million for Democrats in those races, including Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona who outpaced his Republican rival, Blake Masters, by more than $47 million. More from TIME Polling, which admittedly over the last six years has shown its limits, looks no better for Republicans in most of those races. Using FiveThirtyEight’s polling tracker and, where available, its state averages, these races are very much in play. Of the 10, Republicans are ahead or even in just two: North Carolina and Florida, where Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is polling so far ahead of Rep. Val Demings that many Democrats have quietly shelved hopes of picking up that seat. Democrats’ advantage ranges from the narrow one point in Ohio to a gaping 10 points in Pennsylvania. This all makes for an upheaval in conventional wisdom in Washington from way back to last month, when Democrats’ current majority in the House was widely viewed as toast and their control of the Senate was seen as equally as fragile. The first part of that outlook remains largely still in place. Even before House candidates were set, the board was being tilted toward the GOP. Gerrymandering in just four states—Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas—was enough to very likely undo Democrats’ control in the lower chamber. In the Senate—which is evenly split, allowing Vice President Kamala Harris to give Democrats control by serving as a tie-breaker—Democrats are defending 14 seats. The assumption most of this year has been that gives Republicans the clear edge, considering the party’s better performance as recently as June when polls gauged voter intensity on which party should control Congress. While the midterms at times have seemed more like a reality-show casting couch than any serious debate over the direction of this country, Democrats rightly fretted that they were frittering their opportunity in the same way Barack Obama did in the first two years of his tenure. Then came a summer that included a Supreme Court decision upending a half-century of federal abortion rights, the riveting work of the Jan. 6 committee, and a sudden burst of legislative wins for President Joe Biden and his allies. Polls moved. Checked-out activists checked back in. Armchair liberals opened their checkbooks. And the quiet work of the Democratic consulting class now seems less like wasted dollars. Put another way: anecdotally and objectively, the Senate appears to be a lot more in play. Adding to the GOP’s troubles are some first-time candidates having a rough stretch, like J.D. Vance in Ohio, Herschel Walker in Georgia, and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. (All three, notably, won their primaries after drawing a coveted endorsement from Donald Trump.) The Senate line-up for Democrats, in comparison, does not include a single first-time candidate. Factor in falling gas prices, soaring jobs numbers, and a supply chain that is less garbled, and Republicans may find that even persistent sky-high inflation won’t be enough to spike Democrats’ advantage. That said, a lot can still happen before Election Day on Nov. 8—or even when the first early-vote window opens in some states as early as next month. Mistakes can happen. The Biden administration can mess things up or an external news event can shift voter thinking on a dime. And don’t discount the power of a late infusion of outside cash, especially from mercurial billionaires with pet candidates this cycle. It’s become stylish among institutional conservatives to lay the blame for the changing landscape on the National Repub...


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