Trump Republicans Invigorate, and Complicate, Party’s Fight for Senate

“The party needs to be extremely careful,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist in Kentucky who is close to Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader. He warned that if Congress switched hands, Democrats would move to impeach Mr. Trump. “You do not want to put yourself in a situation to give the Democrats an opening to ruin this presidency,” he said.

Thirty-four senators — 25 aligned with the Democrats and nine Republicans — are up for re-election next year. While Democrats are defending 10 seats in states won by Mr. Trump, only one Republican — Senator Dean Heller of Nevada — is seeking re-election in a state carried by the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Heller has drawn a primary contest from Danny Tarkanian, a lawyer and the son of a well-known basketball coach; Mr. Tarkanian, a perennial candidate, has been described as a cheerleader for the Trump White House. In Arizona, Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican who has been harshly critical of Mr. Trump, is being challenged by Kelli Ward, a strongly conservative former state senator and osteopathic physician. Mr. Trump has made no secret that he favors Dr. Ward.

“Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!” the president wrote on Twitter this month.

In his first seven months as president, Mr. Trump has generally drawn high job approval ratings among Republicans. But a national survey made public Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that nearly a third of Republicans said they agreed with the president on only a few or no issues, and a majority expressed mixed or negative feelings about his conduct as president.

At the same time, the party in power typically loses electoral seats during a midterm election. And while Republicans feel bullish about the prospect of unseating Democrats in red states like Missouri and Indiana, the rise of a divisive corps of Trump Republicans may complicate that task, said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

In Maine, for instance, Gov. Paul R. LePage, an erratic and irascible Republican in the mold of Mr. Trump, is considering a possible challenge to Senator Angus King, a popular independent who votes with Democrats. In Virginia, Corey Stewart — a close ally of Mr. Trump who lost a Republican primary for governor — is running against Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat who ran for vice president alongside Mrs. Clinton. If no other Republican emerges, that could tip the race strongly in Mr. Kaine’s favor.

“The map is very favorable to Republicans, yet some of these Trump Republicans are putting Republicans’ own seats at risk, and that shouldn’t be,” Ms. Duffy said.

Ms. Duffy characterized Republican recruiting efforts for 2018 as “a mixed bag.” In Indiana, where Senator Joe Donnelly is among the most vulnerable Democrats in the nation, Republicans have two strong candidates: Representatives Todd Rokita and Luke Messer. Mr. Rokita has strongly embraced Mr. Trump; Mr. Messer is running as more of an establishment candidate.

But in Wisconsin, where Senator Tammy Baldwin, the Democratic incumbent, could be vulnerable, no credible challenger has emerged from a crowded Republican field. Perhaps the leading Republican is Kevin Nicholson, a Marine Corps veteran who must explain away his Democratic past.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans think they have a strong candidate in Mr. Barletta, a onetime mayor of the small city of Hazleton. But both Ms. Duffy and G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College who is a longtime observer of politics in Pennsylvania, say Mr. Casey will be tough to beat.

While Pennsylvania helped deliver Mr. Trump the presidency, it remains a swing state. A recent NBC/Marist poll found that Pennsylvanians are divided on Mr. Trump, while Mr. Casey has positive approval ratings.

“Is Barletta going to be a Trump surrogate?” Mr. Madonna asked. “If so, I don’t know how he pulls away.’’

Continue reading the main storySource: New York Times – Politics



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