Late Wednesday night, a University of Montana poll came out with results for the three federal offices and the open Governorship, and while Republicans will be happy to be favorites to win both the House seat and the Governorship on the basis of the poll, they are in danger in the Senate. By a 47-43 margin, incumbent Republican Senator Steve Daines is losing to incumbent Democratic Governor Steve Bullock. And the main sensation that having Montana close creates for the Republicans is it adds to their Senate problems – and, increasingly, the way the Senate map looks like a game of Whack-A-Mole for them.
Remember, because Doug Jones will almost certainly lose his seat in November, Democrats need four gains, plus the Vice-Presidency, to win the Senate. If the Democrats don’t win the Presidency they aren’t winning the Senate, so four is the goal. Arizona, where Mark Kelly is ahead by either high single digits or low double digits, and Colorado, where John Hickenlooper is up 11% as of a poll today, are seats 47 and 48. If Democrats fail to win those two, the rest of this becomes academic. The Dems would need two more of the following group of states – Montana, Maine, North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia (Perdue-Ossoff, not the Doug Collins-Kelly Loeffler race), and Kansas (if the GOP decide to put the seat at risk and run Kris Kobach). The problem for the GOP is that seemingly every week a new trouble spot in that group pops up.
In recent weeks, we’ve had a PPP poll of Georgia showing Joe Biden up 4%, a bad sign for David Perdue’s chances of holding the seat – although, no Perdue-Ossoff question was released, so that is some conjecture. Cal Cunningham is either outrunning Joe Biden by a few points, if you believe Change Research today, or underperforming while being in a race with nearly 20% undecided, if you believe the NYT/Siena poll from last week, but either way North Carolina is going to need a lot of money and time in the fall. The Maine polling that we’ve seen has been dueling internals, with a Republican one just released from April having Susan Collins up 1% and a Democratic one from May having Sara Gideon up 9%, so that’s a trouble area for Collins in a blue state at the Presidential level. The most recent data out of Kansas is that the NRSC found Kobach only up 1% against Democrat Barbara Bollier, if he’s the candidate, so Kansas is still on the fringes of being in play. Two weeks ago, Ann Selzer found GOP Senator in Iowa down 3% and underperforming Trump by 4%, and now we have this Montana polling.
Every time the GOP get some good news – that Texas seems to be fine for them at a Senate level, that Doug Collins will be the Senator after the January Georgia runoff, that Cal Cunningham is only up 2% per the Times – there’s some bad news. The GOP have so many seats they are actively defending that they have to run from one fire to another, waiting to see which of their potential weak points are going to pop off for them at any given time. As soon as some seem to be staying under, another ignites – in this case, Montana – to remind everyone that the problems still exist. The top of the ticket problem is also their problem, given the fact that 50 Democratic seats is very much in play. The fact that President Trump’s chances have fallen do lower the probability of 50 seats being enough for the GOP to hold the Senate, as does the nature of how a more Democratic leaning environment makes the states likelier to vote for Democrats.
The Senate GOP is playing Whack-A-Mole, except that the stakes, far from being your carnival teddy bear, are whether Joe Biden can appoint a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsberg who will bear any ideological commonality with their predecessor or pass a sweeping expansion of Obamacare. The domain of the frivolous and fun, the combination of the GOP’s horrible map this year, the unpopularity of their nominee, and some good Democratic luck – getting Bullock to run, avoiding runoffs in Iowa, North Carolina, and Georgia, to name some of it – has meant the GOP have to play this game with a near-flawless precision between now and November to keep the Senate.
Evan Scrimshaw (@EScrimshaw) is Managing Editor and Head Of Content at LeanTossup.ca and a contributor to Decision Desk HQ.