Amid Immigration Woes, Republicans Still On Track For Senate Gains

The Briefing: Vol. VI, Issue 26 – This week:

  • More data: Scott’s up over Nelson
  • North Dakota Dem Party in even worse shape than usual
  • Another rough week of news for McCaskill


Immigration: The family-separation issue has definitely been a net negative for Trump. When  polled, people really, really hate the policy.

But the electoral  implications demonstrate the limits of what issues can do to political outcomes. None of the data point yet to this extremely unpopular policy being an election-killer. In fact, Trump’s approval rating continues to be unusually strong, and the generic ballot numbers point to the same kind of high single-digit Democratic lead as at any point in the last four weeks.

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to poll well in nearly all of the important Senate races. Once again, the lopsided Senate map, shaped by poor Republican performances every six years since 1994, works heavily the party’s favor.

House Republicans’ failure on immigration reform last week prompted President Trump to urge them to give it up and wait until after the coming election. But his administration has another message. After the bill Trump supports got a surprisingly high 193 House votes, the White House is telling leaders in Congress to keep trying.

It’s a lot easier to get from 193 to 218, than to do it from scratch after an election where Democrats are likely to gain, not lose, House seats. There may be enough tweaks out there to push something through, and Republicans definitely want to pass something.

The most sought-after provision, from Trump’s perspective, is the $23 billion that is supposed to go toward construction of his promised wall. The bill would also offer a legal solution for DACA recipients.

If Republicans can’t get anything with these provisions through, they will try to do more damage control with a simple bill designed to prevent (by statute) separation of family units after apprehension at the border.

Senate 2018

Florida: Democrats’ fears about this race continue to be validated by one new piece of evidence after another. Out Sunday is yet another poll showing Republican Gov. Rick Scott with a convincing lead (46 to 41 percent) over incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

The poll also shows that President Trump is surprisingly popular in Florida (52 percent approval), given the state’s relatively even political composition.

That Republicans managed to put this once-safe race into contention at all remains, at this point, the greatest coup of the 2018 election cycle.

Missouri: Ever since the resignation of disgraced Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, there has been precious little good news for Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Lacking Greitens as a foil, she has begun suffering from local news stories that are seem to originate with Republican opposition research attempts.

McCaskill’s airplane-RV tour story was a uniquely bad piece of press for McCaskill, hammering an old theme about her wealth and hitting her for being out of touch at the same time. The new story is arguably worse: McCaskill and her husband have a large investment in a Cayman Islands hedge fund. This is always a challenge, because the Caymans are known as a tax shelter. But it becomes worse because her response to the story was that she has co-sponsored a bill to crack down on such tax shelters — except that she stopped being a co-sponsor of that bill when her husband made the investment.

What does it all mean? Probably nothing. Such investments are perfectly legal, but they don’t look good if you’re in public life. That goes double in the Trump era, when populism is strong on the Right as well as the Left. Republicans understand that as long as McCaskill is defending her private plane and her Cayman Islands investments, she’s losing voters.

North Dakota: Rep. Kevin Cramer, R, is running ads tying incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to Hillary Clinton — no big surprise there.

Cramer has tried to get President Trump to criticize Heitkamp instead of flattering her, with some recent success. And for the first time, Cramer leads in an actual (Mason-Dixon) poll of the race, which is the first poll taken since the winter. He leads 48 to 44 percent — a pretty good lead for a challenger, and importantly it puts Cramer perilously close to 50 percent.

The same poll shows Democrats losing pretty much every statewide race — not too unusual in North Dakota, but still cause for some alarm. This could be construed as a contributing factor in state Democratic chairwoman Kylie Oversen’s decision to step down from her position over the weekend. This change in party leadership comes a year and a half after Democrats were not only swept statewide but also lost more of the few seats they held in the state legislature than anyone had thought possible (including Oversen’s seat).

Not that she was doing a particularly good job, but her exit at this moment is probably a symptom of continued dysfunction that cannot be fixed in time to help Heitkamp much. She’s on her own.

Wisconsin: The newest Marquette poll shows that the Republican primary between Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson is a single-digit affair, slight advantage Nicholson. But it also shows that either candidate will have an uphill battle against incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D. Both trail Baldwin by about ten points, and Baldwin is right near the 50 percent threshold against either one.

For now, this race doesn’t really look like it’s on the table for the GOP, although that doesn’t mean it can’t become competitive by this November.