Democrats are hoping for a ‘blue wave’ in the midterm elections, but they are defending more seats than they are challenging. Will they lose seats?
WASHINGTON – Democrats’ hopes of taking the Senate all but collapsed Tuesday with major losses projected in Indiana, Tennessee, North Dakota and Texas.
Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, who had sold himself as an independent thinker in a state easily won by President Donald Trump, lost to GOP challenger Mike Braun, according to Associated Press projections.
In Tennessee, Republican Marsha Blackburn captured the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., in what was supposed to be a potential pickup for Democrats, the AP forecast.
Meanwhile, ABC, NBC and Fox News projected that Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer would beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
Democrats would have needed to hold onto seats with endangered Democrats such as Donnelly and Heitkamp and also score upset wins in order to flip control of the Senate where Republicans have a 51-49 majority.
But Fox, ABC and NBC projected Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will survive a challenge from Democrat Beto O’Rourke.
And in Florida, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson was narrowly behind GOP Gov. Rick Scott with a significant share of precincts reporting.
Donnelly, one of five Democrats who struggled to survive in states Trump easily carried, was the first incumbent of any party to fall. He lost to Braun after Trump visited Indiana three times in the final two weeks to generate support for the Republican candidate.
“What we need to take to Washington is what works in the real world,” Braun told supporters at this victory rally. The businessman and former state House member had cast himself as a political outsider in the mold of Trump.
Trump had dubbed Donnelly “Sleepin’ Joe.”
Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Joyce bragged Tuesday that the party has a new nickname for Donnelly that “we think will really stick this time: former Senator Donnelly.”
Although House Democrats headed into Tuesday with the wind at their backs, Senate Republicans had hopes of adding to their slim 51-49 majority.
The reason? Democrats are defending 26 of the 35 seats on the ballot, including 10 in states won by Donald Trump.
“It’s the worst map for one party I have ever seen,” wrote veteran political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg.
Besides Donnelly and Heitkamp, the other Democrats running in top Trump states are Jon Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who survived his challenge.
The last time they were on the ballot, the nation wasn’t as divided along partisan lines and voters were more willing to split their tickets.
“People are voting in a more parliamentary way,” said Charlie Cook, head of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
The incumbents focused on nonpartisan local issues – such as helping veterans – while heavily emphasizing health care, an issue with a lot of crossover appeal, particularly for female voters. They’ve promised to be with Trump when they agree with him and stand up to him when they don’t.
Red-state Democrats have had the difficult task of keeping their base enthused about their re-election bids while attracting enough of the Republicans they need to carry their states.
After Manchin voted for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the liberal group MoveOn.org did not include West Virginia in its voter mobilization campaign.
“We just felt like we couldn’t in good faith spend our members’ money on a race where the Democratic candidate was so far from where our members are on such an important issue,” said MoveOn’s Nick Berning.
Trump focused his final campaign blitz on turning out the Republican vote in states with close Senate contests.
“I think I’ve made a big difference,” the president said outside the White House on Sunday before flying to more states. “I think I’ve made a difference of five or six or seven.”
His campaign stops did not include Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or Michigan – states Trump narrowly carried but where the Democratic incumbents have had easier re-election campaigns than expected.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, called them “snap-back” states. Trump’s small 2016 margin means there are many voters “who have a party ID not aligned with the president.”
“Given the first opportunity, they reassert their old selves,” he said.
Conversely, the long-standing partisan leanings of red Texas are challenged by O’Rourke’s social media-fueled campaign against Cruz. In heavily blue New Jersey, Democrats had to pour millions of dollars into last-minute advertising to help Sen. Bob Menendez, who survived a trial on bribery and other corruption charges last fall, then was admonished by the bipartisan Senate ethics committee.
Democrats hoped to offset any losses with pickups in Tennessee and Arizona, states where the Republican incumbent chose not to seek re-election after being publicly critical of Trump.
In Nevada, where Sen. Dean Heller is the only Republican senator facing re-election in a state Trump lost, Heller has both embraced Trump and tried to create some distance.
Heller said 80 percent of what the president’s done has been “very, very good” while the rest has been a “reality TV show.”
Conceding that Democrats’ path to winning the Senate on Tuesday is a narrow one, Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, head of the campaign arm of Senate Democrats, emphasized that his party is in a lot better shape than anyone would’ve predicted 18 months ago when Republicans thought they could win enough seats to have a filibuster-proof majority.
“No one’s talking about that right now,” Van Hollen said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Cook, the nonpartisan handicapper, said it’s possible for Democrats to pick up a Senate seat or two. But the most likely outcome, he predicted on the Friday before the election, is that Republicans at least hold steady, if not gain one or two Senate seats, while losing the House.
The Senate does not always move in the same direction as the House in an election. In 1970, for example, Republicans gave up 10 seats in the House while gaining one in the Senate.
But a party has never lost complete control of the House while increasing power in the Senate, according to Eric Ostermeier, author of the Smart Politics blog run by the University of Minnesota.
“This is unusual because the odds are so heavily stacked in favor of the party that is actually the less popular party,” Sabato said. “The Democrats pretty much were behind the eight ball in the Senate from the beginning.”
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