The Senate map is absolutely brutal for Democrats this year and no blue wave or enthusiasm gap can change this simple fact. Indeed, a new survey taken mere days before the PA-18 shocker shows just how bad things are for the party. Democrats in Montana, West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri (all states Trump won by 18 points) trail either named challengers or generic Republicans by varying degrees.
Now, of course the traditional caveats apply; this is one survey with small sample sizes and it pits generic Republicans against named Democrats. Personally, I am not a fan of generic party candidates facing a named opponent as partisan allegiances vs. the individual strengths of candidate shine through. But, that said, Claire McCaskill does trail a named challenger by eight points. After that every other named Republican opponent loses by varying degrees.
The survey underscores what Senate Democrats face. Even in a midterm environment favorable to their party they have a number of endangered incumbents running in ruby red states where running statewide is worse than running in a single district. Consider that much of the Democrats strength is in suburbs. This explains why in the survey Brown, Casey and Nelson are doing so well (though other polls have the Florida race much closer). But, in West Virginia, Montana, etc. there just are not that many large suburbs. Rural and blue-collar voters increasingly favor the GOP. In this environment that favors Republicans.
There are large suburbs in Missouri, Indiana and Texas (Ted Cruz). But, these suburbs have a long, long history of voting Republican down-ballot and that poses a problem for Democrats. Even in the affluent suburbs that are turning against Trump these red-state Senators have to convince voters with no history of voting Democratic why they should. Plus, Trump is not running in 2018. This might not matter to angry Independents and Democrats but it does to wayward suburban Republicans who could be drawn to individual Republican candidates on the merits of the issues.
Individual brands can only go so far. It is amazing Heidikamp is only behind by two points against a generic Republican. Meanwhile, it is interesting Tammy Baldwin only leads by three points (perhaps to progressive for the state). Interestingly, Trump is much stronger in each of these states than national polls suggest leading to the real possibility his numbers on the coasts are dragging down his overall approval. Obviously, Republicans are not going to win California but it does give the party a better shot in Senate races elsewhere than initially thought.
Democrats best chances for victory remain Nevada and Arizona. Both states are changing demographically and politically Tennessee is a long-shot. Texas is looking more like a pipe-dream after March 6th’s primary. This leaves the party few chances to off-set its losses elsewhere. If anything, the Democrats Senate fortunes lie with individual candidates pitching their brands to voters. Whether it works or not is an open question. In West Virginia or North Dakota talking about working with the President might be a boon. But in Missouri, Indiana and Montana, liberals are a sizable constituency and they might be put off with Jon Tester saying how he supports Trump on this and that.
Ironically, the survey shows just how little has changed after PA-18. Republicans in the House are likely to lose their majority while Senate Republicans look likely to add to theirs. You don’t need a fancy political analysis degree to see why. The territory is simply atrocious to Democrats and Republicans are not running Roy Moores in each of these states. True, Trump’s approval is probably going to lead to the party having little shot in a Michigan or Pennsylvania, but with so many better opportunities to target, the Senate GOP can probably live with that trade-off. Certainly Mitch McConnell and his hopes for a conservative led Supreme Court can.