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President Donald Trump speaks to a crowd at Eastern Kentucky University on Saturday in Richmond, Ky.(Photo: Timothy D. Easley, AP)
WASHINGTON – In a midterm election that is rallying Democrats across the nation, the bitterly fought battle for control of the Senate may be President Donald Trump's best hope for a bright spot when voters head to the polls.
After months of Trump rallies and millions raised and spent, the fundamentals have not changed: Democrats are counting on a fired-up base still seething over the 2016 election to push their candidates over the edge. Republicans note that Democrats are playing defense, with 10 incumbents fighting to survive in states Trump won big.
"All things considered, not that much has changed," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "This is one of the worst maps, if not the worse map, that Democrats have ever faced since the beginning of popular elections."
The humming economy, the visceral debate over Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation and the country's lingering challenges in immigration and health care will play into the 35 Senate races on the ballot. Overriding all of that is Trump himself, a president who calls attention to – and critics say exacerbates – partisan divisions.Hello! We’ve got complete midterm election coverage right here. Let’s begin!
Unlike in the House, Republicans are favored to hold the Senate. Despite the GOP's thin 51-49-seat margin, the map and the math have long looked tough for Democrats.
Democrats like North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly are strong campaigners who have eschewed the party label and portrayed themselves as populists. But their states have also become increasingly Republican and both face strong, well-funded candidates.
Here's a race-by-race look at the nation's key Senate contests, with ratings from Inside Elections, which provides nonpartisan analysis.
Incumbent: Democrat Jon Tester
Inside Elections rating: Tilt Democratic
2016 presidential election results: Trump: 56%, Clinton: 36%img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/8d2ac6a0305c5653dcff5b5dc55f9c3942964cd8/c=120-0-6485-4786/local/-/media/2017/07/11/USATODAY/USATODAY/636353782813068210-XXX-Capital-Download-with-Sen.-Jon-Tester.-jmg-30219.JPG?width=540&height=405&fit=crop" alt="Montana Sen. Jon Tester is among the Democratic incumbents" width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
Montana Sen. Jon Tester is among the Democratic incumbents raising big sums for the 2018 election. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)
When Trump scheduled his first rally in Montana in July, incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester “welcomed” him with a full-page ad in the state’s newspapers. Trump, the ad noted, had signed more than a dozen bills Tester supported in the Senate.
“Thank you President Trump,” the ad read.
Given the president’s 20-point margin of victory in the Treasure State in 2016, it made sense for Tester to cozy up. It was also doomed from the start.
Even before the midterm election season was in full swing, Tester drew barbed and personal attacks from Trump because of the controversy surrounding Ronny Jackson, the White House physician whose nomination to head the Department of Veterans Affairs was withdrawn over allegations of the freewheeling prescriptions and other misconduct. It was Tester, the 62-year-old ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, who aired many of those allegations.
Trump warned Tester would “have a big price to pay” over the controversy.
Now Tester is running for a third term with a razor-thin polling lead over Republican Matt Rosendale, the 58-year-old state auditor. Rosendale, who initially supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for president, has embraced Trump enthusiastically.
Trump is a factor in every state this year, but analysts say his influence in Montana has been especially pronounced.
“The Republican base remains very committed to Trump,” said Jeremy Johnson, a political scientist at Carroll College. “And Rosendale has closely associated himself with that.”
Incumbent: Republican Dean Heller
Inside Elections rating: Toss-up
2016 presidential election results: Trump: 46%, Clinton: 48%img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/8ee8f8fde0744b151dc4d2d3b4b34218e479651b/c=0-127-3368-2659/local/-/media/2018/04/15/Springfield/Springfield/636594070847755117-AP18103767485649.jpg?width=540&height=405&fit=crop" alt="FILE - In this Aug. 17, 2017, file photo, Democratic" width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
FILE - In this Aug. 17, 2017, file photo, Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, left, talks with Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley in Sedalia, Mo. Missouri Democrats are using Republican Gov. Eric Greitens' political and legal woes to try to attack Hawley, the top GOP candidate in a hotly contested U.S. Senate race. Democrats are seeking to tie Hawley to Greitens while Hawley is vying for Sen. Claire McCaskill's seat. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File) (Photo: Charlie Riedel, AP)
Trump’s 18-point win in Missouri helped Republicans sweep every statewide office on the ballot in 2016, leaving Sen. Claire McCaskill the only Democrat still standing.
Now the White House is trying to finish the job.
Vice President Mike Pence helped convince Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley to run and he and Trump have hosted fundraisers and rallies for Hawley, cut ads and offered advice.
There’s a lot of overlap between Missouri voters and the Trump coalition, including rural residents, blue-collar Democrats and a higher-than-average evangelical population.
Like the other red state Democrats, McCaskill has emphasized health care as an issue that energizes the base but also has appeal to other voters. She’s helped by the fact that Hawley is among the GOP attorney generals trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act in a lawsuit.
While Hawley has been forced to go on the defense on health care, Republicans have sought to portray McCaskill as an elitist. One opening she gave them was using her private plane during a three-day tour of the state.
Republicans are counting on the Supreme Court fight over Justice Brett Kavanaugh to goose their turnout. Democrats are trying to increase participation from African-Americans and suburban women
Ballot initiatives, including proposals to legalize medical marijuana and raise the minimum wage, may also influence the outcome.
“Turnout is going to be a function of a whole bunch of stuff,” said Dave Robertson, a University of Missouri political scientist, “including unpredictable impacts of some initiatives that are on the ballot that could pull out all kinds of voters.”
Incumbent: Democrat Heidi Heitkamp
Inside Elections rating: Tilt Republican
2016 presidential election results: Trump: 63%, Clinton: 27%img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/922d2fd071950ea2901468c406190079bc0c5a1f/c=90-0-3261-2384/local/-/media/2018/07/03/USATODAY/USATODAY/636662379609349232-AP-AP-Fact-Check-North-Dakota-Heitkamp-100776415.JPG?width=540&height=405&fit=crop" alt="In this March 17, 2018, file photo, Democratic Sen." width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
In this March 17, 2018, file photo, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp arrives for the state Democratic party convention in Grand Forks, N.D. Heitkamp is one of a group of Democrats facing tough re-elections who could vote for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee. (Photo: James MacPherson, AP)
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., had been touting how often she’s worked with Trump as she seeks re-election in a state the president carried by 36 percentage points.
Then came Brett Kavanaugh.
Although she was one of only three Democrats who backed Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, Heitkamp opposed Kavanaugh. She did so despite polls showing she was already running behind GOP challenger Kevin Cramer.
She aired a one-minute ad explaining her vote and criticized comments Cramer made about sexual misconduct victims. But Heitkamp had to apologize for an ad that incorrectly identified victims of sexual abuse.
Heitkamp has called herself a “unicorn” as a “middle-aged red-headed Democrat” who pulled out a victory in one of the country’s most conservative states in 2012. That victory was one of the year’s biggest upsets and she began this year as the top GOP target.
Still, she’s had some advantages. The effect of Trump’s trade policies on North Dakota has been hard for Cramer to defend to the state’s farmers.
Heitkamp stood next to Trump in the Oval Office in May when he signed legislation that she supported to ease banking regulations.
But Kyle Kondick, managing editor of the University of Virginia's electoral analysis website, said the Supreme Court battle may have reminded too many North Dakotans that Heitkamp – while likable – is still a Democrat.
“Heitkamp’s personal numbers are quite good,” he said. “She’s just in a tough spot in this very Republican state.”
Incumbent: Democrat Joe Donnelly
Inside Elections rating: Toss-up
2016 presidential election results: Trump: 57%, Clinton: 38%img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2018/10/09/PIND/d5c543ef-cb7e-4263-b577-d41cbdcea210-AP18282002746871.jpg?width=540&height=405&fit=bounds&auto=webp" alt="Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly (left) wraps up a debate Monday with Republican Mike Braun in Westville." width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly (left) wraps up a debate Monday with Republican Mike Braun in Westville. (Photo: Darron Cummings/AP)
Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly has managed to keep his re-election bid alive in conservative Indiana by courting both the business community and labor, playing up his support for parts of Trump’s agenda while accusing his opponent of being a “copy machine,” and bringing in former Vice President Joe Biden while distancing himself from liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Denouncing the “radical left” in a recent ad that manages to name drop both Trump and former president Ronald Reagan, Donnelly boasts that a government takeover of health care will only happen “over my dead body.”
The ad prompted howls from liberals who had recently cheered Donnelly for voting against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The moderate Democrat has the difficult task of keeping Democrats galvanized behind his re-election while not turning off enough of the Republicans he’ll need in this GOP state that Trump carried by 19 points.
Republican challenger Mike Braun, a businessman and former state lawmaker, won a caustic primary against two House members by portraying himself as the outsider in the mold of Trump who wants to drain the swamp.
Donnelly counterpunched a visit for Braun by Vice President Mike Pence with a dueling appearance by his predecessor, using Biden to draw out more than 2,000 people in the heavily Democratic northwestern corner of the state where Donnelly will need to rack up the vote.
Donnelly also needs a big turnout in liberal Bloomington, where Sanders recently campaigned for a Democratic House challenger who supports “Medicare for all.”
Donnelly prefers to talk about the “right-to-try” legislation he worked on that Trump signed into law – granting terminally ill patients easier access to experimental drugs – and the high deductibles Braun’s employees pay for their own health insurance.
Incumbent: Democrat Joe Manchin
Inside Elections rating: Tilt Democratic
2016 presidential election results: Trump: 68%, Clinton: 26%img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/fd2095f79de6a96352c988fc51d9e324bd96c583/c=159-0-3007-2141/local/-/media/2018/02/06/USATODAY/USATODAY/636535188051800276-AFP-AFP-YD9AN-97042526.JPG?width=540&height=405&fit=crop" alt="President Trump embraces Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.," width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
President Trump embraces Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., after speaking during the State of the Union address before Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 30, 2018. (Photo: Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images)
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin should have been an easy target.
Once considered among the most vulnerable incumbents, the 71-year-old first-term senator represents a state Trump won by an astounding 42 points, his second-largest margin behind only Wyoming.
But polls show Manchin with a steady, slim lead over the state’s Republican attorney general, Patrick Morrisey. And recent campaign finance reports show Manchin has nearly three times as much money as Morrissey in the final weeks of the race.
The former governor drew derision from all sides this month when he became the only Democrat to support Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Donald Trump Jr. mocked Manchin as “a real profile in courage” for not announcing his position until it was clear Kavanaugh already had the votes he needed.
“I bet he had another press release ready to go if Collins went the other way,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
But Manchin, among the most conservative Democrats in Washington, frequently breaks with his party to back Trump. He was the only Democrat this year to oppose guidance intended to stop auto lenders from charging more based on race. He was one of six Democrats to support Gina Haspel to head the CIA.
Supporters say the approach has earned him support from some independents and Republicans in the state, and they predict it has cost him few Democrats.
“Joe Manchin’s been around forever,” said Mike Plante, a consultant who once worked for the senator. “Once they elect a senator, West Virginians feel like they know them and they’re invested.”
Incumbent: Republican Sen. Bob Corker (retiring)
Inside Elections rating: Lean Republican
2016 presidential election results: Trump: 61%, Clinton: 35%img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2018/10/17/USAT/31d4a102-7b25-4b81-8ded-60857f03f07f-AP_Election_2018_Senate_Debate.JPG?width=540&height=405&fit=bounds&auto=webp" alt="Democratic candidate and former Gov. Phil Bredesen and Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn take part in the 2018 Tennessee U.S. Senate Debate at The University of Tennessee Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) ORG XMIT: TNMH1" width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
Democratic candidate and former Gov. Phil Bredesen and Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn take part in the 2018 Tennessee U.S. Senate Debate at The University of Tennessee Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) ORG XMIT: TNMH1 (Photo: Mark Humphrey, AP)
Eight-term Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn is keen to remind voters of a point that sometimes gets lost in this heated Senate battle in the heart of Trump country: Her opponent, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, is a Democrat.
A former mayor of Nashville, Bredesen has often distanced himself from his own party, vowing to oppose Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and touting the "A" rating he once received from the National Rifle Association.
He broke with most red-state Democrats by supporting Kavanaugh.
“He’s making inroads among Republicans and if that holds he can win,” said John G. Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt and a co-director of the Vanderbilt Poll. “But if they come back to the party, he’s in trouble.”
That’s a big part of the reason why the 66-year-old Blackburn, who represents a district west of Nashville, went after Bredesen hard in a recent debate for opposing Trump’s border wall. Blackburn has sought to tie Bredesen to Schumer and former President Barack Obama.
"Walls work,” she said during the Oct. 10 debate. “Just ask Israel."
Democrats haven’t won a statewide contest in Tennessee since 2006, when Bredesen, 74, won a second term as governor. Trump carried the state in 2016 by a 26-point margin.
Bredesen, who frequently talks about the need to bridge partisan divides, has countered Blackburn’s criticism by framing her as a partisan.
“If you like Washington the way it is today,” Bredesen said during the debate, gesturing to Blackburn, “you’ve got somebody who’s got a lot of experience.”
Republicans on defense
Incumbent: Republican Dean Heller
Inside Elections rating: Toss-up
2016 presidential election results: Trump: 46%, Clinton: 48%img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/38f287cdb524567757cd04429c93779bc3eea0f2/c=294-0-4890-3456/local/-/media/2017/08/20/USATODAY/USATODAY/636388604818545392-GTY-818905680-92479455.JPG?width=540&height=405&fit=crop" alt="President Donald Trump delivers remarks on health care" width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
President Donald Trump delivers remarks on health care and Republicans' inability thus far to replace or repeal the Affordable Care Act, beside Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a lunch with members of Congress in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Pool, Getty Images)
After Sen. Dean Heller opposed a GOP plan to get rid of the Affordable Care Act last year, President Donald Trump asked incredulously: ”He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?”
Days later, Heller backed an Obamacare replacement that narrowly lost – and Democrats have been pounding him for the change of heart ever since.
Heller, 58, is the only Republican senator facing re-election in a state Trump lost and he’s had a difficult time finding a way to please either camp.
Of Trump himself, Heller has said that 80 percent of what the president’s done has been “very, very good” while the rest has been a “reality TV show.”
But while Democrats say Heller has given them plenty to work with, Republicans note he has kept the race competitive against Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, proving the seat will not be as easy a pickup as Democrats expected.
Rosen, a former systems analyst and software developer, has only one election under her belt. She won her House seat in 2016, flipping from red to blue a district that Trump carried.
Running for the Senate six months later, Rosen, 61, focused in early on Latino voters and other minority groups. She’s getting help motivating female voters from national abortion rights groups. And former first lady Michelle Obama dropped in for a voter registration drive last month.
"My caution for Republicans about Nevada is that Democrats ... are much better about getting their vote out," said Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst for the Cook Political Report. "In a very tight race, you put a little bit of a thumb on scale for Democrats."
Incumbent: Republican Ted Cruz
Inside Elections rating: Likely Republican
2016 presidential election results: Trump: 52%, Clinton: 43%img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2018/10/17/USAT/ad225ad0-b2d2-474e-af62-3692ff9e7151-GTY_1052321742.JPG?width=540&height=405&fit=bounds&auto=webp" alt="Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in San Antonio on Oct. 16, 2018." width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in San Antonio on Oct. 16, 2018. (Photo: Tom reel/Pool/Getty Images)
When Democrats look at Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the 46-year-old congressman challenging Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, they see a hip, Obama-like figure igniting their party in a deeply red state.
Republicans, including Cruz, see Wendy Davis.
Davis, the 2014 Democratic nominee for Texas governor, raised gobs of money – just like O’Rourke is doing now – and became a rallying symbol for Democrats across the nation. But Davis, a former state lawmaker, lost in a landslide.
In a state Trump won in 2016 by nearly 9 points, O’Rourke is forcing Cruz to sweat it. The founder of a tech company who represents the El Paso area, O’Rourke raised a record $38 million in a single quarter this year and has fashioned a folksy image, live-streaming his burger runs and refusing to hire a pollster.
But Republicans say O’Rourke’s campaign underscores a deeper challenge Democrats face reaching voters on immigration, which polls indicate is the No. 1 issue in Texas. O’Rourke has blasted Trump’s proposed border wall while Cruz supports it. The two also differ sharply on “Dreamers,” with O’Rourke supporting citizenship for the immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and Cruz dismissing the idea as “amnesty.”
“When this race was personalities Beto was making up ground,” said Texas-based GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak. “The problem for him is that the race has moved to issues.”
Incumbent: Democrat Bill Nelson
Inside Elections rating: Toss-up
2016 presidential election results: Trump: 49%, Clinton: 48%img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2018/09/05/USAT/22d12b97-689d-4ec0-ba2b-704beb344e41-Scott-Nelson_1.JPG?width=540&height=405&fit=bounds&auto=webp" alt="Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, left, is hoping to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. in November" width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, left, is hoping to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. in November (Photo: Wilfredo Lee (AP)/John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
For Florida Gov. Rick Scott, this election’s “October surprise” came in the form of a hurricane.
Campaigning in one of the nation’s most competitive Senate races has largely stopped as the Florida panhandle recovers from deadly Hurricane Michael, and that has left political prognosticators uncertain of the storm’s impact.
Polls conducted before the storm found the race in a virtual tie between Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in a contest where spending is expected to exceed $100 million.
Analysts note that Panhandle counties most affected by the storm have tended to vote Republican.
Scott, in his second term as governor, recently began airing an ad that shows him assessing damage from the air and distributing aid.
Voters already have plenty of material with which to judge Scott, 65, a fiscal conservative who’s made job creation his top priority during eight years as governor, and Nelson, 75, a champion of the nation’s space program and one of the Senate’s centrists.
Trump narrowly carried the state in 2016, and his approval rating in the Sunshine State has hovered in the mid-40s.
A key demographic to watch are Hispanics, especially Florida’s growing Puerto Rican community, analysts say. Polls suggest Puerto Rican voters generally have a negative view of Trump, especially following the administration’s response to Hurricane Maria last year. Both Scott and Nelson has visited the island several times.
“That is Rick Scott’s strength,” said Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst with the Cook Political Report. But the challenge for Republicans is making sure those recently displaced by Hurricane Michael – who could be "very critical votes" – get to the polls.
Incumbent: Republican Sen. Jeff Flake (retiring)
Inside Elections rating: Toss-up
2016 presidential election results: Trump: 49%, Clinton: 45%img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2018/10/17/USAT/a2fc845a-86f0-4ed9-bae1-58825ffcd03e-AP_Election_2018_Senate_Arizona_Debate.JPG?width=540&height=405&fit=bounds&auto=webp" alt="U.S. Senate candidates, U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., left, and U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., prepare their remarks in a television studio prior to a televised debate, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, in Phoenix. Both ladies are seeking to fill the seat of U.S. Sen. Jake Flake, R-Ariz., who is retiring. (AP Photo/Matt York) ORG XMIT: AZMY106" width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
U.S. Senate candidates, U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., left, and U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., prepare their remarks in a television studio prior to a televised debate, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, in Phoenix. Both ladies are seeking to fill the seat of U.S. Sen. Jake Flake, R-Ariz., who is retiring. (AP Photo/Matt York) ORG XMIT: AZMY106 (Photo: Matt York, AP)
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake cited a lack of civility in politics when he announced his retirement a year ago, giving Democrats an opening in a state where they last won a Senate seat in 1988.
But Flake’s grievance has had little bearing on the heated race to replace him, where forces aligned with Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema accused Republicans of supporting an “age tax” in their zeal to repeal Obamacare and Republican Rep. Martha McSally charged Sinema with “treason.”
“It’s a slugfest right now,” said Mike Noble, chief pollster for Phoenix-based OH Predictive Insights.
Both candidates have had to answer for shifting politics in a state where the wider landscape has also evolved. Sinema, 42, whose district is centered in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, is a former Green Party activist who is now an established centrist. McSally, 52, who once described Trump’s remarks about women as “disgusting,” is now an ardent supporter of the president.
Whoever wins the hard-fought contest will make history: Arizona has never elected a woman to the Senate.
Most polls show Sinema with a slight lead in a state Trump won by 4 points, but leading analysts all rate the race a toss-up.
McSally, a former Air Force combat pilot, has portrayed Sinema as a liberal, using a picture of her in a pink tutu in ads. She leveled the treason charge based on a 2003 interview in which Sinema told a radio host she didn’t care if he wanted to join the Taliban.
Sinema countered by calling McSally an “apologist” for Trump.
Contributing: USA TODAY Network papers, including Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune, Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, Indianapolis Star, The Tennessean, Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal, El Paso Times, The Arizona Republic, Florida Today.
Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2018/10/22/midterms-donald-trump-major-factor-battleground-senate-races/1672907002/17002