WASHINGTON (AP) — As the prospect of a red wave grows, a series of Republican missteps, including recruiting stumbles, weak fundraising and intense infighting, threaten the GOP’s path to a majority in the Senate.
Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey dealt his party its latest setback late last week when he announced he would not challenge Democratic Senator Mark Kelly this fall. His decision, which leaves no clear favorite in a crowded Republican primary, disappointed Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies who had spent months privately encouraging Ducey to run.
But the GOP’s shortcomings extend far beyond Arizona.
Republican candidates in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada are struggling to keep pace with Democratic fundraising. Recruitment failures have dashed GOP hopes in states like Maryland and threaten a great pickup opportunity in New Hampshire. And a recent plan that would raise taxes on low-income Americans and seniors, released by Republican Senate midterm leader Florida Sen. Rick Scott, puts GOP candidates in a difficult position in states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.
The challenges are an early warning sign for Republicans less than two months before the 2022 election season Senate primaries open. As Democrats face historic headwinds and the weight of an unpopular president , a Republican majority in the Senate is easily within reach. But, sensing divisiveness within the GOP, Democrats are suddenly optimistic that they might have a path to retaining — or even expanding — their majority.
Representative Val Demings, the leading Democrat in the race to unseat Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, acknowledged her party has struggled to highlight its achievements – including wide-ranging pandemic relief and a massive infrastructure package — in the face of President Joe Biden’s political woes. But she seized on Scott’s plan as a stark contrast to how Democrats and Republicans would govern differently.
“This plan is toxic. It would hurt working families. It would harm the elderly. And Rubio is going to own it,” Demings said in an interview.
Rubio’s campaign declined to specifically say whether he supported Scott’s plan when asked, instead releasing a statement that called Demings “a do-nothing congressman who never even passed a lawsuit.” real law, much less a tax cut”.
Eight months from election day, the political landscape remains in flux. The health of the economy, a Supreme Court decision on abortion and the war in Eastern Europe remain major variables. But history suggests that Democrats would be lucky to preserve their fragile Senate majority in November.
In a 50-50 Senate, Democrats would lose control of the upper house of Congress if they lost a single seat. And without a majority, they lose hope of implementing Biden’s plans to bolster child care, education, family leave and environmental protections while protecting the right to vote.
The best GOP pickup opportunities are in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, according to Steven Law, a McConnell ally who leads the most powerful Republican-aligned Senate super PAC. He said he’s growing optimistic about the state seen as the Democrats’ best pick-up opportunity, Pennsylvania, and sees competitive races in Republican-held states like North Carolina, Florida and Missouri which are heading in the right direction.
Given historical trends against which party occupies the White House, Law predicted that a state like Colorado or Washington could also become more competitive than expected this fall.
“The fundamentals for this election cycle are still very, very good,” Law said. “I don’t think recent challenges or setbacks or issues are going to define him at all. There are going to be bumps in the road. But ultimately, this election will be about the historic unpopularity of Joe Biden and his platform, which virtually every Democrat has blindly supported.
A February AP-NORC poll found more people disapproving than approving of Biden’s handling of his job, 55% to 44%, while just 29% of Americans thought the nation was on the right track.
Democratic strategists recognize their party’s growing odds in the months ahead. But on paper, at least, the current Senate landscape gives them an inherent advantage.
“Frankly, the Democrats just have to take seats in the states that Biden won,” said Jessica Floyd, chairwoman of pro-Democratic super PAC American Bridge, which has launched a $5 million paid ad campaign. at the end of last week in four states: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania. “The card matters.”
While Biden won all four American Bridge target states, the Democratic president won three by 1 percentage point or less and the other by just 2 percentage points. Those margins should give Democrats little comfort.
Republican Glenn Youngkin narrowly beat former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s high-profile gubernatorial race last fall, even though Biden had lifted the state by 10 percentage points a year earlier. Longer-term historical trends are no less daunting for Democrats: In the past 40 years, the party that holds the White House has won Senate seats in just two midterm elections.
Meanwhile, escalating tensions among Republican leaders at the highest level threaten to undermine the party’s ambitions. McConnell and former President Donald Trump have long fought over Republican messaging and candidate endorsements. In some states, Trump favors far-right candidates who struggle in the statewide general election.
But for now, a simmering feud between McConnell and Scott took center stage.
Scott, the leaders of the GOP’s midterm efforts in the Senate, released an 11-point plan late last month that would impose a modest tax hike on the most lowest-paid Americans, while opening up the leads to the reduction of social security and health insurance. The political arm of the Senate Democrats ran a radio ad within 24 hours stating, “If Senate Republicans win, we pay the price.
Scott’s Senate committee staffers went into triage mode almost immediately, reaching out to Republican campaigns across the country to gauge their frustration while offering messaging assistance, according to seasoned Republican strategists with first-hand knowledge of the situation.
The strategists, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations, said many Senate Republicans were willing to ignore what they saw as Scott’s presidential ambitions over the past year. But that changed when the Florida senator released his latest proposal, which they considered a “direct error” that sparked a wave of anger across the party.
McConnell couldn’t keep quiet as he clashed with reporters last week on Capitol Hill.
The Republican Senate leader forcefully rebuked Scott’s plan at the weekly Republican leadership press conference, which Scott was a part of.
“Let me tell you what wouldn’t be on our schedule,” McConnell said moments after Scott walked away from the event. “We will not have on our agenda a bill that raises taxes for half the American people and cuts Social Security and Medicare within five years.”
Scott declined to answer Sunday when asked about McConnell’s comments during an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures,” instead offering a defiant defense of his larger plan.
“Those are my ideas,” Scott said. “There are going to be other ideas.”
Amid these Republican infighting, Democrats are pushing their on-court cash advantage in key states, even as GOP campaign committees in Washington report record fundraising.
In Nevada, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, one of the nation’s most threatened Democrats, declared $10.5 million in cash at the end of last year, compared to $1.7 million for the former Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt.
Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock ended the year with $22.9 million in the bank, while likely Republican challenger Herschel Walker, the former soccer star who was endorsed by Trump, brought in $5.4 million. of dollars.
And Arizona Democrat Kelly, a former astronaut who won a special election in 2020 to serve the last two years of the late Sen. John McCain’s term, brought in $18.6 million in the bank. Arizona Republican State Attorney General Mark Brnovich, the best-known Republican in a crowded primary field, said less than $800,000 in the bank.
Warnock and Kelly have made the case for their financial advantages by launching an initial round of television ads in recent weeks as Republican candidates in both states focus on the fight. It’s much the same in New Hampshire, where Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan has placed $13 million in initial TV and radio advertising bookings for the fall, largely in Boston’s pricey media market. , while two Republicans will be locked in a primary until mid-September.
Back in Washington, Scott appeared to be in good spirits as he described Biden and his agenda as “extremely unpopular.”
“The Democrats are just failing American families and voters are ready to kick them in the ass in November,” Scott told AP.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Demings offered a window into the Democrats’ challenge by declining to say whether she wanted Biden campaigning in the state on her behalf when asked.
“I grew up poor, black, and female in the South,” Demings told The Associated Press. “I have never depended on someone else to do the job for me or someone to give me a pass or come and rescue me.”
“I’m thrilled to know where we are in this race,” she said.
People reported from New York. Associated Press writer Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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