- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2018

Democrats’ dreams of flipping the Senate have dimmed over the past month as their candidates faltered in some key races, leaving Republicans confident that they will retain their grasp — and the ability to advance at least part of President Trump’s agenda.

It would take a net gain of two seats to win control, and Democrats are left with an increasingly small battleground.

Only one Republican-held seat, in Arizona, is a 50-50 bet for the party at this point. Three other targets — in Texas, Nevada and Tennessee — have shifted toward the Republican Party in the wake of the battle over Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

“The short interval in which there seemed to be some kind of possibility that Democrats could rally in the Senate was probably ill-fated to begin with, and we see less suggestion of that as we get closer to Election Day,” said James Henson, a pollster with Strategic Research Associates LLC. “Have the Democrats’ hope of a majority in the Senate, have they dimmed? Yes, full stop.”

Democrats’ prospects are better in the House, where most analysts say odds are that they win at least the 23 seats needed to flip control.

The key House races are playing out in territory that is less friendly to Mr. Trump than the Senate, where more than two-thirds of the seats up for re-election are held by Democrats, including a number of seats in states that Mr. Trump carried by at least 20 percentage points.

Democrats say they can defend those seats, but Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, wouldn’t predict enough wins to give his party a majority.

“I am optimistic that we are going to see a big turnout,” Mr. Van Hollen said Thursday at a forum sponsored by The Washington Post. “I am not going to make any predictions for this reason. It entirely depends on turnout.”

The biggest hurdle to his hopes is North Dakota, where a poll this week showed Sen. Heidi Heitkamp trailing her Republican challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, by 16 points.

Mr. Henson, who conducted the survey, said the results showed another sign that the Kavanaugh battle had accelerated the typical partisan tendencies of voters who tune in late in the electoral season.

“We are not seeing evidence of enough of a groundswell to move things in a Democratic direction,” he said.

That’s also true in Texas.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke outperformed early expectations. He entranced liberals, who poured cash into his campaign hoping he could oust Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. But most polling shows Mr. Cruz with a small but persistent advantage, raising questions about how many more supporters Mr. O’Rourke can find in the Republican-dominated state.

“Any Democrat running in Texas starts down by about two touchdowns,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “O’Rourke has cut that gap from a two-touchdown advantage to a one-touchdown advantage, but that is where he hit the wall.”

The good news for Democrats is that they appear poised to defend Senate seats in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Also, in a bit of a surprise, Sen. Joe Manchin III is well-positioned to win re-election in West Virginia.

The bad news for the party is that incumbents are in tight races in Indiana, Florida, Missouri and Montana.

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill’s re-election race against state Attorney General Josh Hawley is so close that she started running a radio ad in which a supporter assures listeners she is “not one of those crazy Democrats.”

The race for the open seat in Arizona between Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally is still considered jump ball.

Ms. Sinema, the Democrat, needs to win an overwhelming percentage of independents and see a massive Democratic turnout to counter Arizona’s Republican registration advantage.

Mike Noble, a pollster with OH Predictive Insights, said early voting totals instead mirror historic midterm turnout levels in the state, which would give Republicans a double-digit edge.

“Here in Arizona, we are currently not seeing the effect of the blue wave as many have been speculating,” Mr. Noble said.

Prognosticators also see the Nevada contest between Sen. Dean Heller and his Democratic challenger, Rep. Jacky Rosen, as a toss-up, though the latest three polls this month all showed the Republican with a lead.

Mr. Van Hollen said the early voting in Nevada could bode well for Ms. Rosen, but Carl Bunce, chairman of the Clark County Republican Party had a different take.

“The current turnout indicates no blue wave of any kind unless Democrats turn out in higher numbers than Republicans on Election Day, which would be against precedent,” Mr. Bunce said.

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.


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