TALLADEGA, Ala. — Donald Trump is beloved in Alabama: It’s the state that hosted his first major political rally as a presidential candidate, then voted for him by a nearly 30-point margin.
But the state’s freshman Democratic senator, Doug Jones, couldn’t seem to care less. Easily the most vulnerable Senate incumbent on the ballot next year, Jones is talking and voting as if he’s totally unburdened by the fact he represents one of the most conservative states in the nation.
Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court? Jones said Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford was “credible and courageous” and voted against the judge. The president’s border wall? Jones is “happy to defend” voting against Trump’s national emergency using military funds to build it. As for impeachment? The senator is plainly troubled by the president’s conduct and sounds open to the possibility of voting to oust him.
“It is hard to argue that the president is doing anything at this point other than leveraging his office as the commander in chief of the greatest nation on earth with a lesser country to try to extract a promise from them to do something that’s going to help his political campaign,” Jones told POLITICO in an interview, when asked about Democrats’ ongoing impeachment investigation.
Jones acknowledges he’s an underdog to win a full term, but he rejects the conventional wisdom that Alabama’s conservative tilt and his record of siding with his party on the biggest votes make him a dead man walking in 2020. He chafes at the implication he doesn’t represent Alabama values because he’s an unabashed Democrat.
Republicans are digging deep into donor pockets as they fight to protect their endangered Senate majority, with the price tag for two Georgia runoffs already eclipsing $300 million, putting them among the most expensive elections ever.
Party officials have tapped into the full national network of Republican donors with an aggressive schedule of fundraising events, in-person and conducted over Zoom, that have already yielded tens of millions of dollars. Significantly more money is expected in the coming weeks as the GOP ups its fundraising goal, according to internal party memos and event schedules obtained by POLITICO.
The Georgia Battleground Fund — the joint fundraising committee fueling the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the campaigns of Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — has already deposited $31 million after three weeks of activity, according to a memo this week from Karl Rove, the veteran GOP operative leading the effort. The effort is sending Loeffler and Perdue as much money in weeks as some GOP senators raise in months — a necessary boost for their campaigns as Democrats outspend them in Georgia.
In 2016, Democrats were poised to recapture the Senate in a triumphant return to power — until they crashed on Election Night along with Hillary Clinton. In 2018, the party lost again, hamstrung by a challenging map even as Democrats routed the GOP to retake the House.
Now, once again, Democrats are ending the summer optimistic about their chances of winning the upper chamber of Congress. They believe 2020 will be different — in part because they’ve adapted their strategy, but mostly because Donald Trump at the top of the ticket tilted the environment in their favor with a winnable array of states where the party has seen gains in the past four years.
The party’s game plan over the final 10 weeks of the campaign — a targeted assault on a core battlefield of the most vulnerable Republican seats that would constitute a majority for Democrats — is informed by the disappointments of the past two election cycles.
“You’re not likely to talk to cocky Democrats who went through 2016. The way the environment moved back [to Republicans] is still a fresh wound,” said J.B. Poersch, president of Senate Majority PAC, the leading Democratic Senate super PAC.
ATLANTA — Three days after he finished behind Republican Sen. David Perdue in Georgia’s November election, Jon Ossoff and his top campaign staff gathered on a call to study their near-defeat — and figure out a way to reverse it in just two months.
Perdue had outpaced him by two percentage points, and Ossoff had ground to make up. But the conversation wasn’t about flipping Perdue’s voters to his side. Instead, Ossoff told staffers the campaign needed to focus on outreach to Black and young voters and bet the Senate majority on mobilizing the Democratic base.
“If every Black voter who voted in November turns out, we will win,” Ossoff said, according to multiple people familiar with the conversation.
The other Democratic Senate candidate, Rev. Raphael Warnock, was making a bet of his own. He had skated through the fall without facing many attacks as Republicans battled among themselves, but the Black preacher-turned-politician could foresee attacks painting him as a radical. In late October, two weeks before those attacks started and before he even knew the identity of his GOP opponent, Warnock readied a humanizing TV commercial to deflect the attacks, featuring a barking beagle and a narrator deadpanning that the Democrat “hates puppies.”
Both bets paid off in full two months later, as Warnock and Ossoff mobilized massive turnout among Black voters and other reliably Democratic groups and won enough white suburbanites to flip both of Georgia’s Senate seats this week, giving Democrats control of the Senate by the narrowest of margins — a 50-50
The road to winning – or retaining — the House majority likely runs through competitive districts in California, and the top-two “jungle” primary in June is causing headaches for Republicans and Democrats, who see its potential to tilt the playing field.
In the Golden State, the top two primary vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of party. And in several targeted Republican House districts, Democrats have enough viable candidates to risk fracturing the vote and allowing two Republicans to advance to the general election, losing any opportunity to flip critical seats.
At the same time, however, some Republicans concede they are unlikely to field a candidate for U.S. Senate and are in danger of missing the gubernatorial general election ballot as well, which would leave both races at the top of the ballot entirely Democratic, thus potentially diminishing Republican voter turnout in the fall.
CANONSBURG, Pa. – Democrats outperformed expectations in a string of House special elections in 2017, making GOP stronghold districts competitive and pointing to narrow losses in heavily Republican areas as signs of a potential wave election this fall. But each time, they failed to actually turn the seat blue.
Conor Lamb may have changed that.
ELIZABETH, Pa. – Donald Trump Jr. had a simple message for voters at a local volunteer fire department here the day before a special House election: His father may not be on the ballot Tuesday, but the stakes for President Trump couldn’t be higher.
“Just because DJT isn’t on this ticket, just because it’s a special election, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter,” Trump Jr. told the crowded hall, using the president’s initials. He later repeated himself for emphasis.
Democrats credited turnout and engagement from diverse coalitions for statewide election wins this year, but chief among these reasons was the increased participation and a large shift in support from a demographic that bedeviled the party last year: millennials.
Though Hillary Clinton won more young voters than President Trump, she underperformed with the group compared to President Obama’s elections, including lower-than-expected support in key swing states that helped Trump win. A year later, in a large part in response to Trump’s victory, surging youth turnout helped Democrats win key statewide races, and the party is counting on similar results in next year’s midterms.
Though Republicans hailed Wednesday’s tax bill passage as their key legislative achievement this year, the Senate GOP has consistently succeeded in a much more low-profile — but consequential — arena: confirming judges.
And while Democrats rallied grassroots activists in Washington and around the country against the tax vote and the Obamacare repeal effort before it, the judicial success of the Republican Senate has drawn comparative silence from progressive opposition to President Trump.
WILMINGTON, Ohio — Steve Stivers may have one of the most difficult jobs in politics.
The Ohio congressman, chairman of House Republicans’ campaign committee, is tasked with leading his colleagues through a volatile midterm election under a president with historically low approval ratings while facing a frustrated but energized Democratic opposition. What’s more, they’re up against an ominous historical trend of the party in power suffering major losses two years into new administrations.
The hard-charging Ohioan, a four-term member who was recently promoted to brigadier general of the state National Guard, is trying to equal the opposition’s energy with his own enthusiasm. In an interview here in his district last week, Stivers praised the success of his predecessor, Rep. Greg Walden, who helped Republicans expand their majority to its largest size since the Great Depression.
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Donald Trump campaigned at a packed and raucous arena here Monday night, rallying the same supporters who gave him his first political victory in the primary nine months ago, setting him on the path that ends Tuesday night with either a come-from-behind victory, or a third consecutive Republican presidential defeat that would leave the party’s future in question.
Senate Republicans are bullish about the 2018 midterms as they target Democrats running for re-election in states carried by President Trump. But facing a turbulent political environment and seasoned Democrats who have won tough races before, some Republicans are growing concerned about their recruitment progress, anxious that potential GOP challengers aren’t stepping up to run in top-tier races.
Most Republicans caution patience, arguing it’s still early in the cycle and pointing out they have potential candidates in most of the races expected to be focal points next year. But others say that unless those potential candidates make their bids official soon, their prospects might not be as rosy as most believe.
Democrats are poised to gain seats in the House of Representatives this year, but with well over a dozen competitive races still viewed as tossups just one week before Election Day, the extent of that gain — and whether Republicans can stem the bleeding and keep a strong grip on their majority — remains uncertain.
Democrats for months have hoped to nationalize races, tying Republicans down the ballot to Donald Trump and hoping a big loss by Trump could flip a significant number of seats. They saw gains early in October when Republican polling in swing districts fell after the release of the “Access Hollywood” recording in which Trump boasted about making unwanted sexual advances on women — something that prompted more than a dozen Republicans to withdraw their support for the party’s nominee.
PHILADELPHIA – Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two progressive senators who are among the most popular and well-regarded figures in the Democratic Party, are making their much-anticipated debuts on the campaign trail for Senate candidates by stumping for Katie McGinty, who is challenging incumbent Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.
The appearance of the two most popular Democratic figures outside of President Obama and Vice President Biden is a sign of how critical Pennsylvania will be in determining which party controls the Senate in 2017. But it’s also a sign that of all the Democrats challenging incumbent GOP senators this year, McGinty might need the most help.
Meanwhile, Portman has opened up a sizable lead in the Senate race over the last month and is outpacing Trump by double digits in the state.
Republicans point to Portman’s campaign as an exemplar of how to run a down-ballot race in 2016 and think he’s positioned himself to win whether or not Clinton carries the state.
Democrats counter that Portman’s numbers are inflated and the race will tighten in the coming weeks. With Republicans holding a slim four-seat majority in the Senate and defending a number of toss-up races, Ohio could prove critical in deciding which party has the majority in the upper chamber next year.