washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Senate Democrats Need to Play Error-Free Ball

Figured it was time for another look at the difficult Senate landscape, and did so at New York:

There are still a few Democratic Senate primaries to go, but most are in non-competitive states or in contests where the likely Democratic winner is all but certain. So Angela Alsobrooks’s decisive win in Maryland over Congressman David Trone on May 14 pretty much set in place the Democratic candidate team that will face the daunting task of maintaining control of the Senate in November.

Alsobrooks is bidding to become the third or fourth Black woman ever to serve in the Senate (depending on whether Delaware congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester wins her Senate race as well). Alsobrooks, who is county executive in Prince George’s County, showed her political chops by dispatching the self-financed Trone, beating him soundly in both the D.C. suburbs and in the Baltimore area. The latest poll of Maryland, from The Hill/Emerson, gives Alsobrooks a ten-point lead over her Republican opponent, former governor Larry Hogan. But this is a seat Democrats totally took for granted until Hogan’s surprise announcement in February that he was running for it. And some national Democrats not-so-secretly hoped Trone would beat Alsobrooks so that his vast wealth would take care of Maryland without potentially draining resources needed in other contests. Instead, some money best spent elsewhere may be necessary to croak Hogan’s candidacy, particularly since the Alsobrooks-Trone primary got a bit nasty and left some scars that need healing.

Anxieties over Maryland illustrate the extent to which Democrats cannot afford any mistakes in fighting to maintain control of the Senate. They currently hold a one-seat majority but are defending 23 of the 34 seats at stake in November, including three in states carried twice by Donald Trump. One of those, West Virginia’s, is almost certain to flip to Republican governor Jim Justice (also nominated on May 14) after Joe Manchin’s decision to retire. If Trump wins in November and his yet-to-be-named VP takes away Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, Democrats could win every competitive Senate race and still lose control. As it is, they need to battle to save red-state incumbents Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana while sweeping tough battleground-state races in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; or hope that Biden is reelected, giving them a mulligan in one close Senate race. It’s a tall order.

Yes, Democrats currently, and almost incredibly, have modest polling leads in all of the above-mentioned Senate contests. But in some cases (particularly Pennsylvania with Bob Casey Jr. and Wisconsin with Tammy Baldwin), they have well-known incumbents facing little-known Republican challengers with very deep pockets who will inevitably cut into their leads. In an intensely polarized atmosphere with a very close presidential race, Senate Democrats cannot count on much ticket-splitting in their favor. Yes, the Democratic Party will put up spirited challenges against well-financed Republican incumbents in Texas (where Colin Allred is challenging Ted Cruz) and Florida (where Muscarel-Powell is taking on Rick Scott), but the pickings are slim. One stumble anywhere and Chuck Schumer is minority leader, which would be a real problem for a reelected Joe Biden and a big advantage for a President Trump.

So you can expect national Democrats to watch every penny that goes into Senate races in order to avoid wastage, and individual Democratic Senate candidates to keep a healthy distance from the national party, which could have a subtly corrosive effect on coordinated campaigns and straight-ticket discipline. It will be a white-knuckle experience for all concerned.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.