If there’s one thing giving comfort to campaigning Senate candidates in both parties struggling with unpopular nominees this year, it’s the thought that the other side has a similar problem.
Senate Democrats have long crafted fall strategy around the idea that Donald Trump will be an anchor dragging down the GOP ticket. And in some swing and reddish states, Senate Republican operatives are betting that Hillary Clinton will do the same, launching ads tying Senate Democratic candidates to their party’s candidate.
“It would be political malpractice not to tie Democratic candidates to her,” said Andrea Bozek with the National Republican Senatorial Committee. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed a record 56 percent of Americans dislike Clinton, and GOP Senate strategists say they see that number upward of 60 percent in some states with competitive Senate races. Among registered voters, Clinton’s image is on par with Trump’s:
Republicans have taken note. Which is why we’re starting to see ads like this from the NRSC, Senate Republicans’ campaign committee:
Over flashes of the various Senate Democratic candidates trying to oust Republicans, a narrator says: “Like Clinton, some found themselves at the center of their own scandals, wrought with corruption and negligence. Some Democrats are even going out of their way to lie to voters. They’re lying about their qualifications. They’re lying about their past. They’re lying just to get your vote in November. … Wonder who they learned that from?”
Individual GOP Senate campaigns are zeroing in on this strategy, too. Senate Republicans have run ads from Pennsylvania to Ohio to Missouri to Arizona mentioning Clinton and their Democratic opponents.
“Obamacare. Iran. Russia. Emails. Arizona can’t trust Ann Kirkpatrick.” says one Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ad. (McCain, somewhat ironically, is banking on a Clinton win while campaigning on her unpopularity. He’s promising to be “a check” to Clinton in the White House.)
So, Senate Republicans think they can hold up a mirror to Democrats and point out that their nominee is unpopular, too. But will it work?
I’ve seen little to no indication that Senate Democrats’ top candidates are running from Clinton — at least not the way Republicans are running from Trump.
Yes, there have been awkward moments, like when New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), who’s trying to unseat Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), stumbled three times on whether she thinks Clinton is honest and trustworthy. But for the most part, Senate Democrats are willing to campaign with their nominee, while most Senate Republicans wouldn’t be caught dead with theirs.
Plus, Senate Democrats are of the belief that no matter how unpopular Clinton is in these states, Trump is a bigger drag for their opponents. Democrats are running ads in races like Nevada and Arizona highlighting how the Republican candidates have continued to say they’ll support Trump.
Of course, that plan may not be foolproof. As the battle for the White House and for Senate control has tightened in Republicans’ favor, we’re also seeing evidence that Senate Republicans can figure out how to distance themselves from Trump.
On average, Senate Republicans in the eight most competitive races are polling 4 percentage points better than Trump. That means that in a race where Clinton and Trump are tied, a generic Republican Senate candidate leads by four points. In several races — New Hampshire, Florida, Arizona, Ohio — the Republican Senate candidate’s lead is more than double Trump’s.
It’s possible that’s because Senate Republicans are successfully distancing themselves from Trump, despite Democrats’ best efforts. As I wrote earlier this month:
It took some painful contortions of the English language, but Republicans like McCain and [Sen. Kelly] Ayotte (R-N.H.) have done their best to keep Trump at arm’s length. Senate Republicans remain convinced that voters will understand that their candidates are fundamentally different from Trump.
Both sides say it’s still early, and caution they have a lot of work to do to get their message across to voters that the other side’s presidential candidate is the most intolerable.
And both sides are convinced they’re right. I guess that’s what we get when we have an election with the two least-liked major-party candidates in modern history.