It was supposed to be a blockbuster year for Democrats as they marched to retake the Senate, but the Democrats' are finding their job a little tougher than first expected.
In Florida, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL) has faced attacks for embellishing his resume and then, making matters worse, the incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) jumped back in the race. In Ohio, former Gov. Ted Strickland has struggled to make up a fundraising gap against incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and in Pennsylvania, Democrats ended up spending valuable resources –more than $1 million– boosting Katie McGinty in a primary against former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA).
If Democrats are having a harder time than expected in a few marquee races in 2016, none of it may matter in the time of Donald Trump.
This week, polls showed the Republican presidential candidate's campaign in free fall –high single-digit and sometimes double-digit deficits– that even the strongest senatorial candidates likely won't be able to weather.
In Pennsylvania, a Franklin and Marshall College poll found Clinton had an 11 point lead. In Florida, a Suffolk University poll found Clinton was up 6 points in a head-to-head match-up with Trump. In New Hampshire –where Democrats recruited a popular two-term sitting governor to run for the Senate– Clinton was up 15 points against Trump.
Those are margins that get very difficult for Republican senators to outrun, experts say.
"You cannot just withstand a blowout," said Rob Jesmer, a former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "I could see a scenario where we lose the White House and hold the Senate, but if Trump is just getting destroyed even if our guys can outperform the ballot at three to four or even five points, it is very problematic."
Democrats need five states to win the Senate majority back in November and four to tie it. They are most bullish on states like Wisconsin and Illinois, which seem to be trending blue. Their next best hope seems to be in New Hampshire and in Indiana, where the last-minute recruiting of Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) could be enough to bring Democrats to a tie in the Senate. If Clinton wins the White House, four seats will be enough to give them the majority on tie votes.
From there, however, the road to the majority relies heavily on hard races against incumbents in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania where the saving grace for Democrats may be that the presidential campaign will dominate the airwaves.
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