Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signals more sharply than ever that Republicans’ performance in the midterm elections may not be as strong as the party had hoped, dampening the GOP’s hopes of a Senate takeover.
During a stop in Kentucky on Thursday, McConnell admitted the House has a better chance of going red than the Senate — a statement that, while in line with election predictions, shows just how concerned Republicans are about races in the upper room. , less than three months before the midterm elections.
“I think there’s probably a greater chance of the House tipping over than the Senate,” McConnell told reporters when asked about his mid-term expectations, according to NBC News.
“Senate races are just different — they’re statewide, the quality of candidates has a lot to do with the outcome,” he added.
McConnell’s comments were a clear reference to candidates backed by former President Trump in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona and Georgia, who are trailing their Democratic opponents in at least some recent polls.
On Thursday, the impartial Cook Political Report changed its rating for the Pennsylvania Senate race from “toss up” to “lean Democrat,” signaling headwinds for Republican Mehmet Oz in his race against Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D).
The shift came amid the crudité controversy in the Keystone State. Oz came under fire after Fetterman’s campaign circulated a video the TV doctor posted in April showing his messages for crudité in an effort to show the effects of inflation.
The Democratic campaign seized on the video, with the candidate writing on Twitter, “In PA, we call this a…veggie tray,” the most recent move in its effort to portray Oz as a New Jersey carpet slump.
Fetterman’s team said it raised more than $500,000 in the 24 hours since the video went viral. The lieutenant governor remains well ahead of Oz in the FiveThirtyEight average, 49.1 percent to 37.7 percent.
Republican concerns in Ohio’s Senate race also became clearer this week when the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the McConnell-aligned Senate leadership fund dumped $28 million into the state for television and radio ads promoting “Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance, the Republican Senate candidate fighting with Rep. Tim Ryan (D Ohio).
The investment represented a big jump from the roughly $5 million National Republicans funneled into the race earlier. Ryan is slightly ahead of Vance, 43.9 percent to 42.7 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight poll average.
In Georgia, GOP nominee Hershel Walker struggles to keep ahead of incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock (D). A former college football Heisman Trophy winner, Walker has been forced into the spotlight due to several falsehoods and amid revelations that he has more children than is commonly known.
In Arizona, Senator Mark Kelly (D) has a poll ahead of Republican Blake Masters, who is backed by Trump. Kelly is up 50.3 percent to 42 percent in the FiveThirtyEight poll average.
McConnell — who in November said he was “optimistic” that the 2022 midterm elections would be “very good” for Republicans — has been tempering expectations for months. In April, he said it was “actually possible” for Republicans to “blow it up” in November, despite a perfect storm brewing for the GOP, including low approval ratings for President Biden and increased inflation.
Earlier this month, he predicted in a television interview that the Senate race would be “very tight” in November.
“I think if the smoke from this Senate race clears, we’ll probably still have a very, very close Senate, with us a little higher or the Democrats a little higher,” he said.
Since then, the prospects for Republicans have deteriorated, with more controversies over candidates and polls plaguing the party.
And McConnell’s latest forecast shows he’s taking note.
“Right now we have a 50-50 Senate and a 50-50 country, but I think when all is said and done this fall, we will probably have an extremely tight-knit Senate, either our side slightly up or their side up.” above slightly,” McConnell said Thursday in Kentucky.
Democrats prefer to win the Senate 64 to 36 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight.
“I think what McConnell said is objectively true, but it has been objectively true,” Scott Jennings, who previously worked for the Kentucky Republican, told The Hill in an interview.
“Going back a few months, it was pretty clear that everyone, including the forecasters, said it would be much easier and expected for Republicans to take over the House,” he added.
The Senate map is making it harder for Republicans in this cycle, despite positive national headwinds.
The handful of states that will eventually determine control of the Senate are mostly contests in places where Biden beat Trump in 2020. Republicans are also defending open seats in Pennsylvania and Ohio as they try to knock out Democratic incumbents in other swing states.
“The Senate map just wasn’t that good,” Jennings said. “The environment is of course good, but the Senate map is just not as welcoming to a takeover as it is in the House of Representatives.”
“The midterms would always be a challenge under the best of circumstances due to the nature of the map and how many of these competitive races took place, purple and blue states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that have historically turned more Democrat than Republican in the last 30 years” , Republican strategist Colin Reed told The Hill.
Strategists also noted that several of these GOP nominees came out of fierce primaries bruised and still reeling from the competition.
“It’s pretty clear in the polls that they’re still hungover from the brutality of these primaries,” Jennings said, pointing to the fierce intra-party races won by Vance and Oz in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Focusing on Oz — who beat former hedge fund CEO David McCormick — Jennings said the primary race “took a real toll on his image.”
“It’s just going to take some time to fix that and get him back to a place where he can operate fundamentally,” he added.
Candidates must also be “tailor-made” [their] message accordingly “according to the GOP primaries, according to Reed. He stressed that Republicans should refrain from re-challenging the 2020 presidential election.
“The people who aren’t able to make that pivot and make those adjustments are the ones who are struggling,” the strategist said.
With just over 80 days until the election, strategists noted that there is plenty of time for GOP candidates to correct their course and gain steam in the polls.
But Republicans are still prepared to put the fate of the Senate on the line.
“It’s very easy to see that the Republican majority in the Senate next year is a coin at best, and far from certain,” Reed said.