After the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday night, the fight for the Senate has reemerged as a key to this fall. Democrats are clearly taking the battle seriously, having raised $160M for various campaigns through Act Blue, their fundraising/donations service for campaigns and committees in the 72 hours since the news of the passing was made public. For the GOP, the politics of holding the Senate while pushing through a nominee are hard, but it seems like the GOP are determined to get a nominee.
With polls showing a majority of Americans support holding the vacancy for the President elected on November 3rd, and the Senate map being much more favorable for the Democrats than 2018, this isn’t the case of Brett Kavanaugh, where the GOP had a clear path to how securing that nomination would boost their candidates. In 2018, the states they needed to flip were deep red states, like North Dakota, Indiana, and Missouri, and even the seats they were defending weren’t super Democratic – Arizona had voted for Donald Trump, Nevada had barely voted for Hillary Clinton, and despite how that race shifted in the final month, there was real concern that Tennessee would be in play because of Phil Bredesen’s singular appeal as a conservative Democrat. Across the map, getting Republican voters away from moderate Democrats was imperative to win the Senate, but now, the GOP have to defend much more friendly Democratic terrain – including a state where Joe Biden is up double digits, in Maine.
Democrats need to win three seats net, and the Presidency, for Senate control. Trade out Colorado and Arizona for Alabama – the low hanging fruit of this Senate map – and Democrats still need 2 of Maine, North Carolina, Iowa, and Montana to go their way – or, one of those and then a next tier target like Alaska, South Carolina, or Texas to flip. The problem for the GOP is that their prospects in those states are hurt by the court battle. Maine is an obvious one, a Democratic leaning state which Joe Biden will easily win by 10%+ given the current polling, and where Susan Collins is struggling. Having the President attacking you openly will hurt her ability to rally Republicans behind her even while not getting enough crossover voters to make that gap up. North Carolina is the rare case where the Court battle may help the GOP, but even there the state is not full of evangelicals in the way that many deep red states are, and if abortion becomes an issue – always a live risk with Court battles – the GOP’s problems with white, pro-choice suburbanites might get even worse, erasing any gains with Trump voters Thom Tillis may hope to make.
Get deeper into the Senate map and you see the deep problems for Republicans. Iowa faces the prospect of going blue at the Senate level, at least if you believe Ann Selzer’s D+3 weekend poll of Iowa Senate, and Theresa Greenfield is in position to get a lot of donations out of this weekend’s surge of cash (exact figures yet unavailable by campaign). Even if Joni Ernst can consolidate her right flank with a yes vote on the eventual nominee, Greenfield got more than enough money to blitz the degree-holding middle with ads touting her pro-choice views that she will inevitably claim is under attack from this new nominee.
Steve Bullock in Montana is in a red state, yes, but not one where Evangelical politics are particularly in vogue. This isn’t Phil Bredesen redux, where a fight about abortion and the Court helps the GOP – a 2014 Pew poll showed a majority of Montana as being pro-choice. That huge fundraising haul will also go a long way in famously cheap-to-advertise-in Montana, so he is in a stronger position now. And, of course, Lindsey Graham exists. He was so concerned about the fundraising disparity, he went on Sean Hannity to say he’s being outraised 3:1 and outspent 4:1 by Jaime Harrison.
Between the unpopularity of seating a nominee this close to an election, the Democratic money surge underway, and the nature of the Senate map, the Republicans are in trouble. Over at LeanTossup, we’ve never had the Senate as being particularly competitive given the wide board the GOP have to defend, and these huge money edges that Democrats hold will make that even harder for the GOP to hold the Senate. McConnell may be able to do both, but the choice of filling a Supreme Court makes holding the Senate harder. Whether that trade off is worth it is a separate discussion, but it seems pretty clear that the tragic news Friday night has complicated the GOP’s path to continued majority in the Senate.
Evan Scrimshaw (@EScrimshaw) is Managing Editor and Head Of Content at LeanTossup.ca and a contributor to Decision Desk HQ.