Ever since the 2012 elections, Democrats had looked to the 2018 Senate map with a sense of dread.
The numbers are singularly daunting: 25 Democratic seats up as compared to just nine Republican seats. Of those 25 Democratic seats, 10 are in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016. Half of those are in states Trump won by 10 points or more.
The 2018 election, in short, should be a disaster for Senate Democrats. Things looked so bad for Democrats at the end of 2016 that Republicans were beginning to whisper about the real possibility of winning 60 seats – a filibuster-proof majority – going into 2019.
And yet, just more than a year removed from the 2018 election, it is Democrats who appear to be on the march – fueled by a base super-charged by its distaste for Trump and a political environment that suggests the possibility of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
“If the national political environment further deteriorates for Republicans to the point that a wave along the lines of 2014 begins to develop, or they nominate a train wreck or two, Democrats could have a shot at winning the narrowest of majorities,” wrote Cook Political Report Senate editor Jennifer Duffy earlier this week.
- Former White House political strategist Steve Bannon has declared “war” on the Senate GOP establishment – announcing plans to target eight of the nine incumbents up in 2018. Bannon was in attendance at a fundraiser Tuesday night to support Kelli Ward, the main challenger to Sen. Jeff Flake (R) in Arizona. He is also actively recruiting challengers to Sen. Roger Wicker in Mississippi, John Barrasso in Wyoming and Deb Fischer in Nebraska. If any or all of those challenges materialize, it could well make it harder for Republicans to hold the seat next November.
- In Alabama, a new Fox News poll shows former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), a candidate backed by Bannon, and former prosecutor Doug Jones (D) tied at 42% in advance of the December 12 special election. That’s a stunning result – particularly given that Trump carried the Yellowhammer State by 28 points in 2016. Democrats have NO business being within shouting distance of winning in Alabama. That they are is almost entirely attributable to Moore, a very controversial figure in both Alabama and nationally. Regardless of the reasons, however, the Fox News poll suggests Democrats have a pulse in Alabama.
- Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) released a statement Monday reversing his previous “no” on whether he might run for the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R). “In the days ahead, I’m going to do some research, talk with people and carefully think this through,” Bredesen said. That’s a BIG deal. Bredesen is a two-term governor in Tennessee and, without question, the strongest possible Democratic nominee. And, there’s no doubt that his decision to reconsider the race is based on looking at the political landscape and believing that a win in Republican friendly Tennessee is actually possible. If Bredesen runs, this will be a real race where there was no hope of one just two weeks ago.
- Recruiting in Montana and North Dakota – states that Trump won by 20 and 36 points, respectively, in 2016 – isn’t going as quickly or as well as Republicans might have hoped. There’s still time for solid candidates to emerge – or for the candidates that have announced to show their mettle – but that they haven’t done so yet is somewhat surprising given the heavily GOP nature of those states.
The math is still very much in Republicans’ favor. Despite everything I wrote above, you’d still rather be the side defending nine seats rather than the side defending 25 seats. And you’d still rather have a two-seat majority than be in the minority by two seats.
But, what’s clear is that the dream scenarios being cooked up by Republicans when they first saw the 2018 map are simply not coming to fruition. That’s a big deal because opportunities like the 2018 Senate map very rarely come around for either party – and when they do, you have to take full advantage of them.