Democrats' Senate math problem

Story highlights

  • Democrats are defending a whopping 25 seats as compared to just eight for Republicans
  • Of their 25 seats, 10 of them are in states that Donald Trump won in the 2016 presidential election

Washington (CNN)Chuck Schumer is not only the leader of Democrats in the Senate. He's also the smartest political mind of that group. Which makes what the New York Senator told MSNBC on Friday sort of perplexing.

"If the President continues this way, there is a chance we could take back the Senate," Schumer said.
I'm assuming that Schumer was referring to the 2018 midterms. And if he was, then man oh man was he being optimistic. Wildly so, even.
    Start here: Republicans control 52 seats to 48 for Democrats and Democratic-caucusing independents Angus King (Maine) and Bernie Sanders (Vermont). To retake the majority, they need a net gain of three seats.
    Sounds doable right? That's until you look at a map of the Senate seats up in 2018. And I happen to have just that map:
    A quick count produces this: Democrats are defending a whopping 25 seats as compared to just eight for Republicans. But it gets worse -- much worse -- for Democrats.
    Of their 25 seats, 10 of them are in states that Donald Trump won in the 2016 presidential election. Five of those 10 -- North Dakota, Missouri, Montana, West Virginia and Indiana -- are states Trump carried by double digits. By contrast, only one Republican -- Dean Heller of Nevada -- represents a state that Hillary Clinton won last November. Only one other Republican-held state -- Arizona -- was even marginally competitive in the presidential contest.
    The lopsidedness of the 2018 playing field makes the relatively modest three-seat gain Democrats need to win back Senate control seem far more daunting. Even if all goes right for the party and they win Arizona and Nevada next November, they would have to find a way to win one more seat from these states: Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. Not exactly friendly territory.
    The history of midterm elections in a president's first term is the lone bright spot for Democrats. Barack Obama watched as his party lost six Senate seats in the 2010 midterms. George W. Bush bucked the midterm trend due in large part to the cataclysm of Sept. 11, 2001, which rallied the country behind him and helped Republicans actually gain two seats in 2002. Bill Clinton lost eight Senate seats in 1994. George H.W. Bush lost one.
    And, with Trump already at historic lows in terms of job approval at this point in a presidential term, it's possible that if his unpopularity continues it could make Republicans' re-election races more difficult. In new CNN/ORC polling, 55% said they would be more likely to vote for a House candidate who opposed Trump while 41% said they'd be more inclined to vote for a Trump supporter.
    Still, the seats up in 2018 are tilted as heavily toward Republicans as any time in recent memory. The real goal for Democrats should be to minimize their losses in 2018 and keep the majority within shouting distance for 2020 when 22 Republicans and just 11 Democrats are up.
    Schumer knows all of this, of course. Some of what he's doing in that quote is cheerleading in hopes that his happy talk helps shake loose some major donor money and maybe helps recruit a candidate or two. Which is, after all, his job.
    But take Schumer's quote with a MAJOR grain of salt.