GOP sen­a­tors surge in Rust Belt, other races tighten

Democrats in­tent on con­trol­ling Se­nate press in­cum­bents

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

In­cum­bent Repub­li­can sen­a­tors in Rust Belt states have built big leads in their bids for re-election, but Democrats are put­ting new states in play else­where, chal­leng­ing sit­ting GOP sen­a­tors and keep­ing alive hopes of switch­ing con­trol of the up­per cham­ber.

Sen. Pat Toomey has surged to an 8-per­cent­age-point lead in Pennsylvania over Demo­crat Katie McGinty, and Sen. Rob Port­man leads for­mer Demo­cratic Gov. Ted Strick­land 55-38 in Ohio, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity poll.

But Missouri Sec­re­tary of State Ja­son Kan­der, a Demo­crat, is run­ning sur­pris­ingly close to GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, and Deb­o­rah Ross, a for­mer Demo­cratic state law­maker in North Carolina, is tied with Sen. Richard Burr in the lat­est polling, forc­ing Repub­li­cans to have to de­fend two states they thought would be rel­a­tively safe this year.

Un­der­ly­ing it all is Don­ald Trump, the GOP’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, who Democrats are count­ing on to poi­son Repub­li­can in­cum­bents up and down the ticket on Election Day.

Democrats said their chances to re­take the Se­nate grew stronger this week af­ter a stum­ble by Sen. Kelly Ay­otte, the in­cum­bent Repub­li­can in New Hamp­shire, who tripped over her­self when asked if she thought Mr. Trump was a role model for chil­dren.

Ms. Ay­otte, in a de­bate, first said “ab­so­lutely” he was a role model, then tried to take it back. Ms. Ay­otte is locked in a tight bat­tle with Gov. Mag­gie Has­san for the Se­nate seat.

“Kelly Ay­otte’s ad­mis­sion that she be­lieves Don­ald Trump is ‘ab­so­lutely’ a role model for New Hamp­shire chil­dren high­lights how Se­nate Repub­li­cans have for­saken all judg­ment and com­mon sense in their sup­port of their party,” said Sam Lau, spokesman for the Demo­cratic Se­na­to­rial Cam­paign Com­mit­tee.

Democrats need to swipe at least five Se­nate seats to guar­an­tee con­trol of the Se­nate next year, eras­ing the GOP’s 54-46 ma­jor­ity. It would only take four seats if Hil­lary Clinton wins the White House, be­cause vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Sen. Tim Kaine would then be­come the pres­i­dent of the Se­nate and the tie-break­ing vote.

Democrats are count­ing on pick­ups in Illi­nois, where Sen. Mark Kirk trails Rep. Tammy Duck­worth by the high sin­gle dig­its, and Wis­con­sin, where for­mer Demo­cratic Sen. Russ Fein­gold has a good chance of re­claim­ing his seat from Sen. Ron John­son, the Repub­li­can in­cum­bent.

Evan Bayh is also eye­ing his old job. The for­mer Demo­cratic sen­a­tor from Indiana is locked in a tight race with Rep. Todd Young, a Repub­li­can who ap­peared set to re­place re­tir­ing Repub­li­can Sen. Dan Coats be­fore Mr. Bayh en­tered the frame.

In Florida, Sen. Marco Ru­bio’s lead over Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Rep. Pa­trick Mur­phy, has shrunk from 7 points to 4 over the last month, ac­cord­ing to Quin­nip­iac, though he’s led con­sis­tently since re­con­sid­er­ing his de­ci­sion to re­tire af­ter a failed pres­i­den­tial bid.

Mean­while, Repub­li­cans are eye­ing a pickup of their own in Nevada, where Repub­li­can con­gress­man Joe Heck holds a small lead over for­mer state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Cather­ine Cortez Masto.

For months, Democrats’ strat­egy has been to tie vul­ner­a­ble Repub­li­cans to Mr. Trump at ev­ery turn, hop­ing they’ll be swept un­der by the mogul’s crit­i­cal com­ments about women and stri­dent po­si­tions on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

Democrats have shown no signs of aban­don­ing that strat­egy in the weeks lead­ing to Nov. 8, yet polls sug­gest it has pro­duced un­even re­sults so far.

Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, leads Demo­cratic Rep. Ann Kirk­patrick by dou­ble dig­its, even as she crit­i­cizes the vet­eran sen­a­tor of shirk­ing his mav­er­ick role by re­fus­ing to “un-en­dorse” Mr. Trump for a string of per­ceived of­fenses, such as he mogul’s con­tro­ver­sial com­ments about vet­er­ans with post-trau­matic stress or­der.

In Pennsylvania, Ms. McGinty this week high­lighted Mr. Toomey’s re­fusal to dis­avow Mr. Trump af­ter a New York Times re­port that said a $916 mil­lion loss in 1995 might have al­lowed the mogul to avoid fed­eral in­come taxes for 18 years.

Yet Quin­nip­iac said Mr. Toomey’s lead has grown by 7 per­cent­age points since Septem­ber, even as other polls say the race is much tighter.

“The fight for con­trol of the Se­nate is very com­pet­i­tive right now. This sum­mer, the odds of a Demo­cratic takeover were good, but Trump’s Septem­ber come­back has stalled that drive,” said Dar­rell West, di­rec­tor of gov­er­nance stud­ies at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. “The ques­tion at this point is whether Trump’s poor per­for­mance in the first pres­i­den­tial de­bate and pub­lic con­cern over his tax pay­ing will shift state races back in the Demo­cratic di­rec­tion.”

Democrats say Ms. Ay­otte’s de­batenight stum­ble might have been the cat­a­lyst they needed.

The Has­san cam­paign said it saw an im­me­di­ate uptick in do­na­tions and web traf­fic af­ter the de­bate, even if Ms. Ay­otte said she mis­spoke in call­ing Mr. Trump a role model.

“It’s too early to see how it’s moved the elec­torate, but it’s clear that this is a real prob­lem for Kelly Ay­otte,” Has­san spokes­woman Meira Bern­stein said.

“The fight for con­trol of the Se­nate is very com­pet­i­tive right now. This sum­mer, the odds of a Demo­cratic takeover were good, but Trump’s Septem­ber come­back has stalled that drive.” — Dar­rell West, Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion

Repub­li­can Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania (left) and Rob Port­man of Ohio have open large leads in their bids for re-election.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Repub­li­can Sen. Kelly Ay­otte has been un­der heavy fire since a de­bate last Mon­day, when she said she Don­ald Trump was a good role model for chil­dren, though tried to take back her com­ments. Democrats are eye­ing her seat with hopes of flip­ping the Se­nate.

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