Campaign Report — Why Democrats are getting excited about the Senate

·6 min read
Mandela Barnes
Mandela Barnes

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Democrats’ best hope in November? The Senate

If Democrats are going to keep control of just one chamber of Congress this year, the Senate might just be their best bet.

To be sure, they have little, if any, room for error, given that Republicans need to net just one seat to win the Senate majority. But Democrats also have reason for optimism.

  • Recent polling shows Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) clobbering the Republican nominee, celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). 

  • A Marquette Law School survey out this week found Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) with a 7-point lead over Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). 

  • In Florida, a state that’s shifted to the right in recent years, Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), the likely Democratic Senate nominee, appears to be gaining on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), with a recent University of North Florida poll showing her leading by a 4-point margin.

Blame it on the candidates: Part of the problem for Republicans, strategists say, is their lineup of Senate candidates in key battleground states.

Oz, for example, has been mocked relentlessly over everything from his history of pushing dubious – even outright false – medical claims to the fact that he only moved to Pennsylvania from New Jersey shortly before announcing his Senate bid. In one of the latest episodes, Fetterman and his allies ridiculed Oz after a video resurfaced online in which the celebrity doctor complains about the price of “crudité” at a “Wegners” grocery store (it appears Oz meant to reference either the supermarket chains Redner’s or Wegmans). Oz later explained that he was “exhausted” when he shot the video.

Republicans have also expressed concerns about former NFL player Herschel Walker, the Republican Senate nominee in Georgia, who has faced a spate of negative headlines, including revelations that he has three previously undisclosed children despite his history of railing against absentee fathers.

As Republican strategist Doug Heye told us recently: “Republicans have some not awesome candidates who are nominees now.”

There’s also another silver lining for Democrats: fundraising. Overall, Democratic Senate candidates are outpacing their Republican opponents in the money race, and while fundraising isn’t necessarily an indicator of who’s winning and who’s losing, small-dollar donations are typically seen as a sign of momentum among a party’s voters.

The caveat: It’s relatively early and we haven’t yet entered the post-Labor Day campaign sprint. Democrats are still facing a tough political environment, even if they’ve had a good couple of weeks, and a Republican wave in November could still easily wipe out Democrats’ Senate majority. But for now, at least, things may be looking up for the party in power.

Could Mary Peltola make history in Alaska?

Democrat Mary Peltola could make history if she wins a special election in Alaska to fill the remainder of the late Rep. Don Young’s (R-Alaska) seat.

The Yup’ik Eskimo and former state lawmaker would be the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress.

Peltola has made headlines in recent days, performing better than expected in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to its lone congressional district in decades. Peltola is vying for the seat alongside former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and Nick Begich (R), the co-chair of Young’s 2020 reelection campaign.

While the race hasn’t been called yet, election data as of Thursday morning shows Peltola ahead of Palin and Begich. It’s possible the election might not be called for some time given the state’s new voting system, which uses ranked choice voting in the general election.

If she wins, she would also be the first woman to represent the state in the House.

“I think about her as being in many ways a different kind of significant first,” Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, told Julia Manchester. “It’s not just a woman in this seat, but it would be the first Native woman in this seat.”

Peltola will also appear on the ballot in November for a full term in the same House seat. She, Palin and Begich advanced in an all-party primary to the general election, with Peltola receiving the highest number of votes.

POLL WATCH

Wisconsin Democratic Senate nominee Mandela Barnes (D) holds a 7 percentage point lead over Republican Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), according to a Marquette University Law School poll released on Wednesday. The poll found Barnes received 51 percent support while Johnson had 44 percent support among registered voters. The Cook Political Report rates Johnson’s seat as a “toss up” and the new polling is likely to fuel optimism among Democrats in the battleground state.

Meanwhile, a Politico-Morning Consult poll is showing Democrats holding a 4 percentage point lead over Republicans in a generic congressional ballot. The poll, which was released on Wednesday, found that 46 percent of respondents who would choose the Democratic candidate if the election for Congress were held in that district today, compared to 42 percent who said the same for Republicans.

AD WATCH

Crist’s closing ads: Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) is out with two new ads just days before he faces off against Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in the Democratic primary to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Both spots are set to air in key markets across the state through the primary and tout some of Crist’s most notable endorsements: one ad features prominent Florida Democrats touting Crist’s record as “the only candidate in this race to have vetoed anti-abortion legislation,” while the other makes use of his endorsements from the state’s largest newspapers, including the Miami Herland and Tampa Bay Times.

Up on the air: Texas Democratic candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke is making the first TV ad buy of his campaign. The exact content of the ads is unclear, though his campaign says they’ll be geared toward “holding [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott accountable for failing Texas with his extreme agenda.”

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and check out The Hill’s Campaign page for the latest news and coverage. See you next week.

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