Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is signaling more clearly than ever that Republicans’ performance in the midterm elections may not be as strong as the party had hoped, dampening the GOP hopes of a Senate takeover.
During a stop in Kentucky on Thursday, McConnell admitted the House was more likely to go red than the Senate – a statement that, while in line with election predictions, shows how worried Republicans are about the races in the upper house less than three months before the midterm elections.
“I think there’s probably a better chance of the House rocking than the Senate,” McConnell told reporters when asked about his medium-term expectations, according to NBC News.
“Senate races are just different – they’re statewide, the quality of the candidates has a lot to do with the outcome,” he added.
McConnell’s remarks clearly referred to candidates endorsed by former President Trump in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona and Georgia trailing their Democratic opponents in at least some recent polls.
On Thursday, Cook’s nonpartisan political report changed its rating for the Pennsylvania Senate race from “throwing” to “skinny Democrat,” signaling headwinds for Republican Mehmet Oz in his race against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman ( D).
The change came amid controversy over rawness in the Keystone State. Oz came under fire after Fetterman’s campaign recirculated a video the TV doctor released in April showing him shopping for raw vegetables in a bid to show the effects of inflation.
The Democratic campaign has taken to the video, with the candidate writing on Twitter “In PA we call it a… vegetable platter,” the latest move in its attempt to portray Oz as a New Jersey porter.
Fetterman’s team said they raised more than $500,000 within 24 hours after the video went viral. The Lieutenant Governor remains comfortably in front of Oz in Average of FiveThirtyEight average, 49.1% to 37.7%.
Republican concerns in the Ohio Senate race also became clearer this week when the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund was pouring $28 million into the state for TV and radio ads boosting “Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance, the Republican Senate candidate battling Rep. Tim Ryan ( D-Ohio).
The investment marked a big jump from the roughly $5 million National Republicans had previously invested in the race. Ryan has a slight advantage over Vance, 43.9% to 42.7%, according to Average of FiveThirtyEight surveys.
In Georgia, GOP candidate Hershel Walker struggled to edge out incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D). Walker, a former college football Heisman Trophy winner, has come under the spotlight for various lies and amid revelations he has more children than was publicly known.
In Arizona, Sen. Mark Kelly (D) has a poll lead over Republican Blake Masters, who is backed by Trump. Kelly is up 50.3% to 42% in the Average FiveThirtyEight surveys.
McConnell – who said in November he was “optimistic” the 2022 midterm elections would be “very good” for Republicans – has been managing expectations for months. In April, he said it was “definitely possible” for Republicans to “screw up” in November, despite a perfect storm for the GOP, including low approval ratings for President Biden and high inflation.
Earlier this month, he predicted in a television interview that the Senate race in November would be “very tight.”
“I think when this Senate race smoke clears, we’ll probably still have a very, very close Senate, with us up slightly or Democrats up slightly,” he said.
Since then, the outlook has soured for Republicans, with more controversy over the candidates and over the polls plaguing the party.
And McConnell’s latest prediction shows he’s taking notice.
“Right now we have a 50-50 Senate and a 50-50 country, but I think when it’s all said and done this fall, we’ll probably have an extremely close Senate, either slightly on our side or on their side. .slightly,” McConnell said in Kentucky on Thursday.
Democrats are favored to win the Senate 64% to 36%, according to FiveThirtyEight.
“I think what McConnell said is objectively true, but it was objectively true,” Scott Jennings, who previously worked for the Kentucky Republican, told The Hill in an interview.
“Several months ago, it was pretty obvious that everyone, including the forecasters, said it would be a lot easier and expected Republicans to take control of the House,” he added.
The Senate map is making things harder for Republicans in this cycle, despite positive national headwinds.
The handful of states that will ultimately determine Senate control are mostly contests in places where Biden won in 2020 over Trump. Republicans are also defending open seats in Pennsylvania and Ohio, while trying to eliminate Democratic incumbents in other swing states.
“The Senate card just wasn’t as good,” Jennings said. “Obviously the environment is good, but the Senate map is just not as ripe for a takeover as it is in the House.”
“The mid-terms were always going to be tough at the best of times because of the nature of the map and the number of these competitive races that were happening, purple and blue states, like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that historically went Democratic more often than Republicans. over the past 30 years,” Republican strategist Colin Reed told The Hill.
Strategists also noted that a number of these GOP nominees came out of fierce primaries bruised and are still reeling from the competition.
“It’s pretty obvious in the polls that they’re still hungover from the brutality of these primaries,” Jennings said, pointing to the fierce intraparty 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 “had a real impact on his image”.
“It’s just going to take time to fix that and get it back to a place where it can basically work,” he added.
Candidates must also “adapt [their] message accordingly” after the GOP primaries, according to Reed. He underscored the need for Republicans to move away from questioning the 2020 presidential election.
“Those people who are unable to make that pivot and make those adjustments are the ones that are struggling,” the strategist said.
With just over 80 days until the election, strategists noted there was plenty of time for GOP candidates to course-correct and gain traction in the polls.
But the Republicans are always ready for the fate of the Senate to be played out on the wire.
“It’s very easy to see that a Republican majority in the Senate next year is a draw at best and far from a sure thing,” Reed said.