Trump’s tarnish not sticking to Senate candidates
Democrats are eager to tie the brash and polarizing Donald Trump to Republican candidates in key U.S. Senate races, but, at least so far, he has avoided being the apocalyptic wipeout factor many in the GOP had feared.
While voters say they’re more likely to vote against candidates who back Mr. Trump, it’s not a dominant factor, and there are signs voters are prepared to split tickets to support Republicans down the ballot, even if they don’t plan to back Mr. Trump at the top, according to polling taken in the month since he sewed up the party’s presidential nomination.
The lack of early movement in key races isn’t dissuading Democratic strategists who are confident Mr. Trump will tarnish enough Republican candidates to put control of the Senate in play.
Most recently, Democrats are trying to tie Republicans to Mr. Trump’s comments that a judge overseeing a fraud case against his Trump University has a conflict of interest because of the Indiana-born judge’s Mexican heritage.
“Either Republican Senate candidates don’t understand the gravity of Trump’s attacks, or they are too scared to stand up to them,” said Sam Lau, a spokesman for Senate Democrats’ campaign arm.
One of those key races is Arizona, where five-term Sen. John McCain is running again. Mr. McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, has said he backs Mr. Trump now that the primary is over, but is keeping some distance and doesn’t plan to be at this summer’s nominating convention.
A survey from the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling found 39 percent of Arizonans were less likely to support someone merely for backing Mr. Trump.
Still, Mr. McCain leads in his race over leading Democratic candidate Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick by 6 percentage points — more than the 2-point lead the poll gave Mr. Trump over likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Arizona has voted for the Republican candidate in nine of the past 10 presidential elections, with 1996 the lone outlier.
Nationally, some 45 percent of voters say they would be less likely to support a candidate who supported Mr. Trump, compared to 35 percent who said more likely, according to a recent Morning Consult poll.
GOP Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who faces a tough re-election fight, went beyond merely condemning Mr. Trump’s remarks about Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
Mr. Kirk, who previously said he’d support Mr. Trump if he was the GOP nominee, said the comments, coupled with past attacks, “make it certain that I cannot and will not support my party’s nominee for president regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week that he’d advise Mr. Trump to stop attacking various minority groups and get on message.
But the Kentucky Republican also said recently he’s not worried about losing any particular state because Mr. Trump will be at the top of the ticket, pointing out that both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton are unpopular.
“Senate races are big enough to stand on their own,” Mr. McConnell said in a recent interview with CNN. “I think this is going to be a ticket-splitting election.”
But polling on key battleground states has shown the general election matchup between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton tracking closely with the Senate elections.
Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton were tied at 44 percent apiece in a recent Franklin Pierce University poll on New Hampshire, while GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte had a 1-point, 48 percent-to-47 percent lead over Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.
About 83 percent of Ayotte supporters also backed Mr. Trump, while 82 percent of Hassan supporters backed Mrs. Clinton.
Recent Quinnipiac polling on Ohio and Pennsylvania showed similarly close races, with Mr. Trump enjoying slightly better polling numbers than GOP Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio. Mr. Trump led Mrs. Clinton by 4 points, 43 percent to 39 percent, while Mr. Portman is trailing by 1 percentage point Democrat Ted Strickland, a former governor there.
In Pennsylvania, Mrs. Clinton had a 1-point, 43 percent-to-42 percent lead over Mr. Trump, while GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey had a 1-point, 45 percent-to-44 percent lead over Democrat Katie McGinty.
Republicans currently hold an effective 54-to-46 majority in the Senate, but are defending twice as many seats as Democrats are this year.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has said it could be difficult for people to separate out the presidential contest from down-ticket races in key states, and has pledged that the GOP will have a robust operation up and down the ballot.
“We can’t win the Senate if we don’t do well at the top of the ticket. It just doesn’t work that way,” Mr. Priebus told radio host Hugh Hewitt recently. “People can’t just decide that, well, we don’t want to participate in the presidential, but we do care about winning the Senate.”