In recent weeks, the Senate Majority Leader has been so concerned that Republicans are losing control of the Senate that he has pointed to vulnerable GOP senators in tough races who could distance themselves from the president if they believe it is necessary, according to several senior Republicans. including a source close to McConnell.
While this may give some senators the flexibility to distinguish between them and the president, it also forces them to move forward. Trump remains very popular among the Republican base, and any attempt to belittle him runs the risk of alienating these voters.
“These vulnerable senators cannot afford to explicitly repudiate Trump,” a senior Republican told Capitol Hill. “They just need to prove that they are independent on important issues in their states.”
Still, Trump continues to give ways to GOP senators to facilitate his escape with him.
Republicans currently have a three-seat majority and at least six senators facing serious Democratic challenges. Senior Republicans say the most vulnerable are Sens Martha McSally of Arizona, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Cory Gardner of Colorado. Despite polls showing a strong run in Maine, GOP sources in recent weeks have seemed more optimistic about Sen. Susan Collins, a longtime target of Democrats and liberal interest groups.
Messrs. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Steve Daines of Montana are also concerned. While some Republicans believe the two are in good shape, other GOP sources assure CNN that the races are extremely tight and that the fortunes of the two candidates may ultimately depend on how Trump does on election day in the two states. . Senior Republican Capitol Hill even expressed caution about Senator Dan Sullivan, the first Republican president in Alaska who was otherwise thought to be relatively safe.
But the importance of a clear defeat for the POP. Even if they lose control of the majority, Republicans in the Senate can effectively exercise defense against democratic legislation with a large enough minority and a handful of moderate Democratic advocates. But if the GOP’s losses in the Senate are too great, its ability to use the filibuster to force a super-majority vote to proceed with legislation will be meaningless.
“Even if we lose the majority, it’s important that we have 49 seats,” the top Republican on the hill said. “If we have 45, we can’t stop (with) the filibuster. All the seats count.”
And the trajectory of the presidential race – Joe Biden leads Trump by 14 points nationally in the most recent CNN poll – and the persistence of the coronavirus pandemic have made the project to protect the POP margin even more urgent.
“Major GOP donors are redirecting money to Senate races,” said Fred Zeidman, a Texas Republican donor. “The Senate is the firewall. We have to make sure we keep the Senate, regardless of who is elected president.”
First signs of distance
“They’re being elected to represent a state, so they should be free to represent the people who vote for them,” Zeidman said. “And if that means taking positions that aren’t fully approved or consistent with the White House, that’s a democracy.”
Re-election as a Republican in 2020, however, is primarily about changing the Trump theme and his response to the pandemic.
Endangered POP senators have wanted to expose their own positive acts, from individual command lines in the first pandemic economic stimulus bill to additional efforts to solve testing problems in their home countries . The Tillis campaign pointed to a letter the North Carolina Republican wrote to Vice President Mike Pence in March calling for more coronavirus testing. And in his first campaign announcement this year, Gardner highlighted local news about his successful efforts to import Covid masks and test kits from East Asia to Colorado.
Republican strategist Liam Donovan said this type of negotiation by endangered POP senators on the stimulus bill “tells you everything you need to know” about the state of the election and the expectation that Trump will head for defeat.
“Vulnerable members desperately need something to do while their ambitious colleagues in safe seats write in 2020 and think about what they will see and say now in 2024,” Donovan said.
Trapped in a tie
For other candidates, the distance between them and Trump is not even an option. Republican operators say that in places like North Carolina and Arizona, the fate of any GOP senators there will be irrevocably tied to Trump.
This puts GOP senators in danger in a dilemma. Republicans don’t have much incentive to break with the president and risk losing the support of his base, which is a critical part of the GOP coalition. But while contrasting with the president, at least with Covid, opens the door for us to win over voters who will vote against Trump and otherwise oppose the president’s negative allies.
McSally, who beats his Democratic rival Mark Kelly in almost every recent poll, is stuck in that bond.
McSally and Tillis’ campaigns say their goal will be to focus the contrast between them and their Democratic opponents on which party will be best positioned to re-evaluate the economy. But his overall focus is off Trump, a strong indication that not much more can be gained from an association with the president.
Follow the money
Meanwhile, the Republican National Senate Committee has spent $ 4 million to $ 6 million in the first half of the year in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa, while spending just over $ 3.5 million on it. time in Maine (where there were outside the super PACs on both sides have spent a lot) and in Arizona.
These are places where the superpacs on both sides have prioritized spending in recent weeks. According to Kantar Media, spending on television and digital ads for Senate races during the month of July was the highest in North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado (along with Kansas, which has a competitive GOP Senate in the United States). August).
There are some in Washington who care less about the circumstances of the GOP. Scott Reed, the veteran Republican strategist who heads the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce, sounded a hopeful note about the ability for first-term GOP senators, such as Gardner and Tillis, to close the re-election deal.
“The presidential race will harden and this 2014 Senate class is crisp, strong and with a good lead to victory,” said Reed, who echoed other Republicans by providing Collins with the best shot of the four senators. of the GOP vulnerable to winning re-election.
A senior Republican who spoke to CNN was more concerned about where Trump has put the party less than 100 days before the election. “Where can we play offenses? Zero places,” said this Republican. “Where do you play defense? All the places you shouldn’t worry.”
CNN’s David Wright contributed to this story.