- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Republicans are facing serious headwinds in their battle to keep control of the Senate this year, and the only question is how strong the hurricane will be, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview published Wednesday.

Mr. McConnell said he was hoping Republicans would keep control of the Senate to help President Trump by confirming appointments.

“This is going to be a challenging election year,” Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told Kentucky Today. “We know the wind is going to be in our face. We don’t know whether it’s going to be a Category 3, 4 or 5.”

Historically, the president’s party loses seats in the midterms, but Republicans are bracing for a rougher year than most others. Republicans have ceded seats in statehouses, governorships and the U.S. House and Senate since Mr. Trump took office, in what some analysts said are the beginnings of a Democratic blue wave.

The Senate initially appeared to be immune, with the playing field tilted toward Republicans. Of the seats up for election this year, Democrats have 26 seats to defend, including the two independent senators who caucus with Democrats. Republicans have only nine.

Of the Republican seats up, Nevada and Arizona are severely endangered, and some analysts also put Tennessee on that list.

On the Democratic side, a number of seats are up for election in states where Mr. Trump won in 2016: North Dakota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Montana. Democrats must maintain all of these seats and win two Republican-held seats to be in the majority.

Minnesota, which Mr. Trump lost by less than 2 points, has two seats up — one of them formerly held by Al Franken, whose resignation amid a sexual assault scandal has left Republicans hoping for an opening.

“The Democrats do have a path to the majority, but it’s a narrow one,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball election newsletter. “They basically need to hold all of their seats — and almost all of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats are on the ballot this year — and then flip two Republican-held seats, most likely Arizona and Nevada.”

The president’s party has lost Senate seats in 19 out of 26 elections since the chamber began direct elections in 1914, according to the Cook Political Report.

Mr. Trump’s approval rating, which averages in the low- to mid-40 percent range, could be a drag.

“The president’s approval rating is generally the most important factor affecting midterm elections,” said Frances Lee, election analyst and professor at the University of Maryland. “And presidents usually lose seats in Congress even when their approval ratings are above 50 percent.

“On average across all midterm elections since 1934, the president’s party has lost 3.9 senate seats, though Republicans are much more insulated from losses than is normal for a party, given the seats that are up this cycle,” Ms. Lee said.

Mr. Kondik said Democrats could have a shot at taking a few surprising seats such as Texas, where Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke has surprised some with his fundraising prowess, or Mississippi where Republican Sen. Thad Cochran is stepping down for health reasons.

The House side looks better for Democratic victory. They need to win 24 seats and maintain the 194 seats they currently hold in order to win the majority. Only 48 seats are considered competitive in the midterm races, but a majority of those that are considered toss-ups are held by Republicans.

Mr. McConnell, in the interview published Wednesday, said Mr. Trump will need a Republican-controlled Senate to avoid serious damage to his agenda.

“I’m hoping we can hold the Senate,” he said. “And the principal reason for that, even if we were to lose the House and be stymied legislatively, we could still approve appointments, which is a huge part of what we do.”

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