Senate Republicans are feeling increasingly bullish about expanding their majority next month.
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who chairs the GOP’s campaign arm, told national donors on a conference call this week that believes his party will win the vast majority of competitive Senate races according to a person who was on the call. Gardner’s sunny outlook envisions a Republican majority as brawny as 55 seats, a number that could put the GOP in the majority for years to come. Republicans currently control 51 seats.
With so many competitive races coming down to the wire in red states won handily by President Donald Trump, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman predicted GOP challengers would oust Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Bill Nelson in Florida and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, as well as protect vulnerable GOP Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada and open seats in Arizona and Tennessee. All those races are tight according to the polls, save GOP-leaning North Dakota.
Gardner also said that GOP attempts to oust Montana Democrat Jon Tester and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin are difficult but still winnable. Both those senators are narrowly favored for reelection. He said GOP candidates are in strong financial shape over the closing stretch, though he did say Martha McSally in Arizona and Heller in Nevada could both use financial help.
The comments from the perpetually upbeat Gardner indicate growing confidence that even with the GOP House majority looking increasingly perilous, Republicans believe they will gain ground in the Senate in November. Long concentrating merely on preserving their narrow majority, Republicans now think they may be able to do even better given Democrats’ fading chances of taking back Senate control.
Heller is the only GOP incumbent who appears endangered, and Democrats would have to beat him and win in either Tennessee or Arizona and protect all their incumbents to take back the majority.
But there are still more than two weeks until Election Day, and Democrats say close elections will turn on health care and protecting entitlement programs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told media outlets this week that Republicans could try again to repeal Obamacare depending on the election results, which Democrats believe will be a boon to their campaign strategy of attacking GOP support for a lawsuit to scrap Obamacare and its protections for pre-existing conditions.
“While the NRSC chair was making bold proclamations about his lackluster candidates, the majority leader was blowing their cover on the top issue of the election: Protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions,” said Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Gardner himself will be among Democrats’ top targets in 2020, but if he and McConnell can pick up a handful of seats this cycle it will make it much more difficult for Democrats to take back the majority in that cycle. Republicans took over seats in Alaska, West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, Louisiana and Arkansas in 2014 that will be difficult if not impossible for Democrats to wrest back, leaving them to concentrate on defeating senators in purple states like Gardner and GOP Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Susan Collins of Maine.
Just one Democratic senator appears in serious peril in 2020: Doug Jones of Alabama.