WXXI AM News

The Political Landscape For The Senate

May 5, 2018
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There are primary elections Tuesday in North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. Those last three states are where Democratic senators are up for re-election on turf President Trump won in 2016. That's left Republicans optimistic about holding onto the Senate, while Democrats are convinced they can win the House this fall. But NPR political reporter Jessica Taylor's been looking into whether control of the Senate could also be in question. Jessica, thanks so much for being with us.

JESSICA TAYLOR, BYLINE: Thank you.

SIMON: It does, nevertheless, look to be a daunting task for the Democrats in the Senate, doesn't it?

TAYLOR: Well, just when you look at the pure numbers of the map that they started with. So Democrats are defending 26 seats this year, 10 of which come in states that Trump carried in 2016. Republicans, however, are defending only nine. And only one of those, Nevada, is in a state that Clinton won.

But even with that sort of gift of a map that they got, just because of the headwinds that they're expected to face, Republicans are becoming a little bit increasingly pessimistic. I think a good night for them would just be holding onto their two-seat Senate majority. But it's no longer out of the realm of possibility that if sort of everything goes right for Democrats, that they could flip the Senate.

SIMON: What are you hearing from campaign people, in and out of those states, about how this could be a real fight?

TAYLOR: Well, I think it's just the enthusiasm gap that worries Republicans so much. Democrats are raising a ton of money. Some of their candidates are - Republican candidates are not hanging with sort of with the incumbents in fundraising. And, you know, we've seen heavy turnout in primaries already, so I think these coming-up primaries is going to be a real crucial test.

They have competitive primaries in two of those states where you have incumbents in states that Trump carried by more than 20 points. Indiana, where Joe Donnelly is up for re-election and West Virginia, where Joe Manchin is. They've had bitter primary fights there. The good news for Republicans is that they will settle on a nominee. They can kind of move past that. It's a long way until November. But people like Manchin especially. They believe that their brand is - can even overcome the way that Trump was able to win the state.

SIMON: His personal brand as a Democrat in Republican territory?

TAYLOR: Exactly, and it's even other places - in North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp, in Montana, Jon Tester. They sort of have this independent, more pragmatic brand that even Republicans are saying, it's not going to be as easy to take them out this year.

SIMON: You are proudly from Tennessee.

TAYLOR: Indeed.

SIMON: That's a big race - Bob Corker retiring. What's on the table there?

TAYLOR: So this could really sort of tip the balance of power in the Senate if Democrats are able to flip seats in Nevada and Arizona. Those are Republican-held ones that are very competitive. And maybe they lose one of their Democratic incumbents in states like Missouri or Indiana, who are probably the two most endangered. Then, it really could come down to this.

Democrats were able to convince former Governor Phil Bredesen to run there. He was a very popular former governor. When he was re-elected in 2006, he carried all of the state's 95 counties. And then you have Republican Marsha Blackburn, who is the likely Republican nominee there. Congresswoman very proudly, very conservative - proud of it. She says she's proudly pro-Trump.

Trump carried the state very easily, but statewide in their lawmakers, they have more of a tradition of electing sort of those pragmatists like Corker, like Lamar Alexander, Bill Haslam. So I think it's a real test of how far the state has moved if they're - if they choose Blackburn, which the message that they're hammering home is, this could really come down to control of the Senate. Do you want Mitch McConnell or another Republican in power, or do you want Chuck Schumer, which could endanger judicial nominations?

SIMON: NPR's Jessica Taylor talking about the battle for the Senate. Thanks so much.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.