In another positive sign for Republicans, the Cook Political Report has shifted three tossup Senate races toward Republicans. The shift may stem from increased Republican engagement in the fight to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as well as a response to the over-the-top tactics of the Democrats.
In the recent update, Cook moved three races in the Republican direction. Two of the races are seats defended by Democrat incumbents, while the third is a Republican seat defended by an incumbent.
In Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D) is in a tight race with Matt Rosendale, Montana’s state auditor. Tester, who has announced that he will vote against Kavanaugh, is a Democrat in a state that Donald Trump carried by 20 points. Cook moved the race from “lean Democratic” to “tossup” reflecting several recent polls that show Tester leading by an average of three points, making the state a chance for a Republican pickup.
In deep blue New Jersey, Sen. Bob Menendez (D) is facing Bob Hugin, the CEO of a biotech company. Menendez was charged with corruption, but the DOJ dropped the charges after the trial ended in a mistrial last year. Polling shows Menendez with a single-digit lead. Cook downgraded the race from “likely Democratic” to “lean Democratic.”
The final race is in Nebraska where Republican Deb Fischer is attempting to fend off a challenge from Jane Raybould, an executive for a grocery store chain owned by her family. Previously considered a “likely Republican” win, Cook moved the race to “solid Republican” reflecting Fischer’s almost-certain chances of retaining her seat.
The shift toward the GOP reflects a change in momentum over the last month. In September, The Resurgent reported that momentum since the beginning of the year had favored Democrats. The Democrats started the year with the structural disadvantage of defending more than twice as many Senate seats as Republicans, but several Republican seats once considered safe had become tossups.
Now it appears that trend is possibly reversing. Yesterday, The Resurgent discussed how a new poll showed that Republicans had closed the enthusiasm gap with Democrats and now we find that Republicans are closing the gap in a number of key Senate races.
Where it once appeared that Democrats might pull off an upset and win a Senate majority, it now appears increasingly likely that the Republicans will retain control of the Senate and possibly even expand their majority. In addition to Montana, Democrat seats in Florida, Indiana and Missouri are rated as tossups. Republican Kevin Cramer was leading incumbent Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) in recent polls even before Heitkamp announced her opposition to Brett Kavanaugh in the pro-Trump state. Claire McCaskill’s race in Missouri is too close to call, but Joe Donnelly has a slight edge in Indiana polling.
For their part, at least three Republican seats are also tossups. The seat of the retiring Jeff Flake in Arizona is rated tossup, but Democrat Kyrsten Sinema leads Republican Martha McSally in polls there. Likewise, Dean Heller’s Democratic challenger holds a slight lead in the race for Heller’s Nevada seat. A third race for the seat of the retiring Bob Corker in Tennessee is also too close to call. The Texas race for Sen. Ted Cruz’s race has also been considered a tossup, but Cruz seems to be pulling away in recent polls.
While forecasts still favor a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives, the shifting Senate battleground is good news for Republicans. For the GOP and for President Trump, preserving control of the Senate is important for having any chance of advancing their agenda and preserving gains made since 2016. Retaining control of the Senate would also reduce the chances that Democrats would initiate impeachment against President Trump.