As Donald Trump enjoys as steady rise in national polling – buttressed by the “October surprise” that the FBI is renewing their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server – Republicans are hoping his rising fortunes will help them maintain their fragile Senate majority. “Even the slightest breeze can tilt those races among undecided voters and among those that are very reluctantly voting for Hillary,” Senate Leadership Fund communications director Ian Prior said earlier this week. “And for the Republicans making a check-and-balance argument, this is only going to give them a stronger argument to make.”
Data shows Donald Trump is the next U.S. president. Maintaining control of the Senate was always going to be an uphill battle for Republicans, with the GOP defending 24 of the 34 seats up for election this year. If Clinton wins the White House – which is still viewed by forecasters as the most likely outcome on Election Day – Democrats need to net only four seats to retake control of that chamber. And with just four days left until voters head to the polls, it’s becoming a little more clear which races are going to determine which party has control of the upper chamber.
Democrats appear poised to pick up seats in a pair of traditionally blue states where Republican incumbents are running well behind their Democratic challengers. In Illinois, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) is out to a clear lead, and may have put the race away after Sen. Mark Kirk was forced to apologize after making a comment during a recent debate about Duckworth having a Thai parent. In Wisconsin, Sen. Ron Johnson has faced an uphill climb in a state that hasn’t voted Republican in a presidential year since 1984. Although former-Senator Russ Feingold (D) has been leading in almost every poll we’ve seen from the Badger state, some suggest that the race might be tightening in the final weeks. A new poll by the Marquette Law School found Feingold up only 1 percentage point.
A few other incumbents that analysts thought might be in jeopardy appear to be on safer ground. In Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman (R) has run a strong campaign, sticking closely to local issues. Polls show Portman over 15 percent ahead of former Governor Ted Strickland (D). In Arizona, Sen. John McCain (R), probably the best-known down-ballot candidate this cycle, was thought to possibly be vulnerable in part because of a primary challenge from Trump supporter Kelli Ward. McCain has emphasized that he would be a check on a “President Clinton,” which has helped neutralize a threat from Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) and solidify alead of about 10 percent. In Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennett (D) was never thought to be in serious trouble in a presidential election year, and hold a lead in the polls of about 6 percent.
If Democrats pick up two seats in Illinois and Wisconsin, they would need to win three of the seven most competitive races if Clinton wins (four if Trump wins). Republicans are on defense in all but one of these seven races – the exception being Nevada, where the GOP hopes to win the seat of outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D).
Here’s a quick look at the seven most competitive Senate races, with those most favorable to Democrats (according to FiveThirtyEight) listed at the top (analysis from ABC News):
- Pennsylvania: Sen. Pat Toomey (R) vs Katie McGinty (D) – Toomey rode the insurgent Tea Party wave into the Senate, but he’s courting both moderates and Trump supporters to keep his seat. He’s one of two Republicans to receive the endorsement of Gabby Giffords’ gun control super PAC, which has helped him court Clinton backers in his race against McGinty, a former state official and first-time candidate. Toomey hasn’t said if he will vote for Trump — and argued in a recent debate that voters aren’t interested — but continues to outperform the candidate in the state. RealClearPolitics Average: McGinty (D) +3.8
- Nevada: Rep. Joe Heck (R) vs Catherine Cortez Masto (D) – This seat has belonged to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid since 1987. It is now the Republicans’ only chance of picking up a seat this cycle. Cortez Masto, the state’s former attorney general, has been hammered with ads criticizing her record on a rape kit backlog, while Heck got flak from some Republicans for disavowing Trump after the 2005 bus comments. Recent polls show Heck leading, sometimes within the margin of error and sometimes outside of it, but Nevada is notoriously hard to poll accurately, in part because of the sheer number of residents employed in jobs that support the state’s hospitality industry. RCP Average: Heck (R) +1.4
- New Hampshire: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) vs Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) – Ayotte is consistently outpolling Trump, meaning she could very well withstand his defeat here and still win among ticket-splitting Clinton supporters. Hassan has run a fine campaign and has good name recognition but the bottom line is that if Trump doesn’t bomb too badly in New Hampshire, Ayotte could squeak by with a win. RCP Average: Ayotte (R) +2.5
- Indiana: Rep. Todd Young (R) vs Rep. Evan Bayh (D) – With his strong name recognition, the former two-term senator and Indiana governor Bayh, whose father served in the Senate for two decades, started this race with double-digit leads and was expected to win easily, but an onslaught of GOP ads accusing him of being a carpetbagger and lobbyist have brought him back to earth, and this race to within the margin of error. RCP Average: Bayh (D) +2.3
- Missouri: Sen. Roy Blunt (R) vs. Jason Kander (D) – This race, in red Missouri, is way closer than anyone thought it was going to be. Blunt was caught flat-footed with an aggressive campaign painting him and his family as career lobbyists, and military veteran Kander has become the breakout star of this campaign cycle, with an impressive ad showing him assembling a gun blindfolded. RCP Average: Blunt (R) +1.5
- North Carolina: Sen. Richard Burr (R) vs Deborah Ross (D) – Like Blunt in Missouri, Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is a powerful incumbent but one that many Republicans concede has run a lackadaisical campaign. He’s also had a stronger-than-predicted challenger in Ross, a former state representative. In a state where Clinton and Trump are polling neck-and-neck, Burr hasn’t tried to distance himself from the Republican nominee, which could help him with some Tar Heel voters and hurt him with others. Ross is getting hit with ads about her controversial tenure as the state’s ACLU executive director, but it’s not clear whether they’ll be the factor that prevents her from beating Burr. It’s more likely Burr’s survival will depend on Trump’s results here. RCP Average: Burr (R) +1.5
- Florida: Sen. Marco Rubio (R) vs Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) – While he’s been criticized for running for re-election after saying he wouldn’t and his endorsement of Donald Trump after questioning his sanity, Rubio is running well ahead of the GOP presidential nominee in the Sunshine State and is among the embattled GOP incumbents most likely to keep his seat. His well-funded opponent, Murphy, has faced questions about his resume and business experience but could benefit from any boosted turnout spurred by Clinton and President Barack Obama crisscrossing the state in the final days of the campaign. RCP Average: Rubio (R) +3.2
Stay tuned for next Monday’s edition of ‘Today on the Trial’ – our final publication before the election. We’ll provide a final sweep of all polling for the White House and key Senate races, and discuss a few things that we think will be worth watching on Election Day.
Welcome to the Trump presidency. We are predicting a Trump win in 2016.