Midterm elections ordinarily favor the party that does not control the presidency. That’s especially true in a president’s first term, as was seen during the Republican waves of 1994 and 2010. George W. Bush didn’t suffer similar setbacks in 2002, as the nation still reeled from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But the midterms of 2006 released a pent-up wave of Democratic energy, netting 6 new seats in the Senate and 31 seats in the House. That flipped both chambers and enabled Nancy Pelosi to become the first-ever female Speaker of the House.
So the built-in dynamics — coupled with Joe Biden’s current struggles in approval polls — would seem to favor Republicans. That dynamic was on vivid display last month when an underdog Republican flipped the governorship in purple Virginia and another came close to doing the same in deep-blue New Jersey. Perhaps more striking were the less-heralded races — wins for Republicans in Nassau County on Long Island or the shocking defeat of the State Senate president in New Jersey (by a truck driver who spent $153 on the race).
With the Senate tied 50-50, each race for that chamber could hardly be more consequential. Those candidates perceived as having a chance to win will find themselves awash in campaign cash as each race becomes nationalized. Incumbent Democratic Senators who are defending their seats in this environment have already shown signs of panic.
Still, there are structural reasons for Democrats not to lose hope. Thirty-four of the Senate’s 100 seats are up for election next November. Republicans are defending 20 of those, while Democrats only have to defend 14. None of the Democrats’ 14 defenses will occur in a state won by Donald Trump in 2020, whereas Republicans in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania play defense in states won by Biden.
Against this backdrop, Senate Republicans hungry to return to the majority are launching major efforts to tip the body red.
For example, Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso recently launched “Schumer Democrats,” which is raising money for Republican challengers to five of the 14 Democrats who face the voters next year. The group strives to make a Pelosi-like bogeyman of Charles Schumer (D-NY), the Senate majority leader. “Chuck Schumer has spent two decades in the Senate pushing policies that benefit his mega-donors over the American worker,” claims the website.
Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto comes in for special attention. Her photo is the first of the five targeted incumbents and the site takes her to task for a variety of poll-tested grievances, including “sending cash to illegal immigrants and sanctuary cities” and “sid[ing] with the teachers union.”
If you click the “Defeat Catherine Cortez Masto – Donate Now” button, you’re taken to a fund that is administered by the NRSC, the body charged with electing Republican senators nationwide. With a Republican primary yet to determine who Nevada’s GOP nominee will be, this is not the same as donating to a specific candidate.
However, Sen. Barasso, the backer of this site, just issued a strong endorsement of one of those candidates. Barrasso wrote, “I met with Adam Laxalt in Nevada this week. He has my complete, total endorsement and commitment.”
— John Barrasso (@barrassoforwyo) December 9, 2021
Obviously, money and endorsements don’t tell the whole story—we just saw a truck driver no one had heard of take out the most powerful legislator in New Jersey while spending less than it costs to make 25 yard signs. The Republican voters of Nevada will choose the candidate and all the voters of Nevada will choose who represents them in Washington for the next six years.
But this kind of institutional support from the respected senior senator of a nearby state—Barrasso also chairs the Senate Republican Conference, and these guys usually play it safe during contested primaries—is a strong sign that Republicans are viewing Laxalt as the best chance to flip Nevada’s senate seat from blue to red.
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