CNN  — 

For all the talk of potential for a blue wave in 2018, Senate Democrats are on defense, trying to hold on to multiple seats they hold in states that voted for President Donald Trump.

There are 10 Democratic senators up for re-election in states that voted for Trump in 2016, and, to varying degrees, they’ve had to find ways to simultaneously stay true to the electorate in their states and to the Democratic party.

Of these Trump-state Democrats, CNN rates five of the seats – Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia – as Toss-Ups. Three of them – Montana, Ohio and Wisconsin – are Lean Democratic. Pennsylvania and Michigan are rated Likely Democratic even though incumbents are running in all ten races.

When these incumbents last faced election in 2012, some of them, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, performed extremely well and others, like Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, barely won.

Trump won both West Virginia and North Dakota with more than 60% of the vote in 2016. But some of the other states with tight races were much closer, such as Florida and Wisconsin, where Sens. Bill Nelson and Tammy Baldwin are seeking reelection.

Tracking votes of the eight senators in competitive districts – either Toss-Up or Lean Democratic – demonstrates that their votes have become the deciding factor on key legislation.

The incumbents, most of them more moderate members of the Democratic caucus, have dealt with their precarious position in different ways, either voting regularly with Republicans, as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin has done six times, or only once, like Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Confirmed on May 17, 2018; Final Vote Count: 54-45

Democrats who came out strongly against Haspel’s nomination did so because of her previous involvement with the CIA’s torture programs for terror suspects and their frustrations with the confirmation process. Most Republicans touted Haspel’s nomination, arguing that her 33 years of experience rising through the ranks made her highly qualified to run the agency, and also pointed to the fact that her confirmation would make her the first woman to ever hold the title. Four of the red state Democrats in competitive seats ended up breaking from most of the rest of their Democratic colleagues, guaranteeing her confirmation. There were other exceptions to the party lines. Sen. John McCain did not vote, but expressed skepticism of Haspel. Republicans Jeff Flake and Rand Paul also opposed her. Democrat Mark Warner, who is the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, supported her.

Confirmed on April 26, 2018; Vote Count: 57-42

Democrats were hesitant to vote for Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state for a variety of reasons – everything from his policy positions to questioning whether he would be an independent voice in Trump’s cabinet. The five red state Democrats up for reelection who voted yes helped Republicans secure his nomination.

Tax Cuts

Passed on December 20, 2017; Vote Count: 51-48

The $1.5 trillion tax cut bill has been the signature legislative achievement of the Trump administration so far. The law, which permanently cut corporate tax rates and temporarily cut individual rates, has become somewhat more popular since its passage, but Republicans are still trying to sell it to the American people. Not a single Democrat, including the red state incumbents, voted in support of the bill.

Health Care

On the campaign trail in 2016, President Trump repeatedly said he wanted to repeal and replace Obamacare. Even with controlling majorities in the House and the Senate however, the Republicans were not able to find a repeal bill they could pass. They received no help from Democrats. The procedural vote to bring the bill to the floor only passed because Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote.

In late July of 2017, Republicans put forward three bills: one to repeal and replace the current healthcare law, one to partly repeal it, and one to repeal the mandates requiring individuals to have health insurance and employers to provide health insurance. All three bills failed. Not a single Democrat voted for any of the bills to repeal any part of the Affordable Care act including the eight below.

It is important to note that Republicans were able to erase the penalty for people who don’t have health insurance as part of the 2017 tax overhaul that became law, but the rest of Obamacare remains intact. Health care will continue to be front and center in the 2018 midterms as health insurance premiums are set to increase this fall.


While they were united with their party on health care, the Trump-state senators were almost unified with Republicans in favor of a massive government spending bill.

Passed on March 23, 2018; Vote count: 65-32.

This is the 2,232-page, $1.3 trillion spending to fund the US government. It also ultimately included other measures like Fix NICS, which encourages states and federal agencies to report gun purchases, $1.6 billion for Trump’s promised border wall; $4 billion for tackling opioid issues; $650 million for the controversial gateway project to build infrastructure from New York to New Jersey; and $380 million for election security. What did not end up in the omnibus spending bill was protection for people enrolled in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama-era program which gives temporary relief to certain people brought to the country illegally as children. Unlike all of the other key bills mentioned, the majority of the endangered eight below voted for the passage of the spending bill along with a number of their Democratic colleagues.


In February, four immigration bills made their way to the Senate floor, but all failed.

Failed on February 15, 2018; Vote count: 52-47

Put forward by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons and Republican Sen. John McCain on February 15, 2018, this bill aimed to get bipartisan support. The bill narrowly focused on providing citizenship to the 1.8 million DACA recipients brought to the country illegally as children. However, it did nothing to address Trump’s border wall. Manchin was the only Democratic Senator to vote against the bill and join the 46 Republicans who were solidly against it. The proposal needed 60 votes to advance.

Failed on February 15, 2018; Vote count: 54 - 45

This proposal was drafted by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and was meant to withhold federal funding from any so-called sanctuary city that refused to allow their law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigraiton authorities. It had the backing of Trump and conservatives, but did not gain enough bipartisan support to achieve 60 votes and ultimately failed 54-45. What is important here is that six of the eight endangered Democratic Senators were willing to throw their weight behind the President and the conservative caucus. The proposal needed 60 votes to advance.

Failed on February 15, 2018; Vote count: 54 - 45

Led by moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins, the “Common Sense” plan sought to win over bipartisan support in the Senate. This bill aimed to address both a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and funding for the border wall. Even though the bill’s intention was to find middle ground, President Trump threatened to veto it and the Freedom Caucus would not put endorse it, ultimately leading to the bill’s failure. Despite the actions of President Trump and his loyal followers, these eight senators were unified in their support for it, demonstrating that immigration is an issue all eight are willing to take a moderate approach on, and join the ranks of their own party. The proposal needed 60 votes to advance.

Failed on February 15, 2018; Vote count: 39 - 60

Drafted with President Trump in mind, Grassley’s proposal would have provided citizenship for DACA recipients and funding the southern border wall. It also sought to radically change legal immigration by eliminating the diversity visa lottery program and ending the current policies on reuniting families. Democratic leaders came out strongly against this bill, arguing that it demoralized the livelihood of DACA recipients by using them as a bargaining chip to further a conservative agenda. Even fourteen Republicans came out against the bill, demonstrating that the bill did not even have the full support of Republicans. Only three Democrats voted in favor.