CNN Senate Key Races: Democrats try to rebuild the Blue Wall

Posted at 10:07 AM, Oct 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-05 12:17:35-04

Donald Trump busted the Blue Wall in 2016.

Democrats are poised to repair it in 2018.

With 32 days until Election Day, CNN is moving Ohio and Wisconsin from Lean Democratic to Likely Democratic in its Key Race Ratings. They join two other Great Lakes states, Michigan and Pennsylvania, as likely Democratic holds.

Together these represent four of the 10 states Trump won where Democratic incumbent senators are seeking re-election and a promising sign for Democrats hoping to overcome the favorable map Republicans enjoy this cycle.

The President won the Buckeye State by eight points — a cushion of more than 440,000 votes. The other three had razor-thin margins. Trump captured them by fewer than 80,000 votes combined.

None of the four have emerged as competitive contests, a combination of solid campaigns being run by Democratic incumbents and GOP struggles to land top-tier recruits for those races.

Michigan and Pennsylvania have been firmly fixed in the Likely Democratic column for much of the year. In the Wolverine State, Sen. Debbie Stabenow holds a commanding lead in polls against businessman and veteran John James. The same is true for Sen. Bob Casey, who is facing a challenge from GOP Rep. Lou Barletta in the Keystone State.

In Ohio, two-term Sen. Sherrod Brown has developed a strong personal brand in the state, with a majority of likely voters holding a favorable impression of the Democrat according to a recent NBC News/Marist survey. Just 31% said they had an unfavorable opinion of the senator.

Brown and Casey were both first elected in 2006, taking seats from Republicans in a year when Democrats seized control of both the House and the Senate.

In some respects Brown is more aligned with the President than his opponent, GOP Rep. Jim Renacci, on issues such as trade. Brown has been a longtime critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade pacts. Renacci has been supportive of the President’s strategy on trade, but he’s backed agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea in the past.

Brown has spent $8.5 million on television compared with about $500,000 for Renacci, according to data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG. The incumbent has another $4 million budgeted for the final days of the campaign while his challenger does not have any future broadcast reservations.

The polls in Ohio show Brown up double-digits. While the final margin is expected to be closer, Brown’s re-election prospects do not appear to be in any serious jeopardy.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin finds herself in a similar situation in the Badger State.

The first-term senator was the target of millions of dollars in outside spending early in the race, prompting Baldwin to ramp up her fundraising efforts to have the resources necessary to respond to the attacks. The latest Marquette Law School poll found 48% of likely voters in Wisconsin have a favorable view of Baldwin compared with 40% who hold an unfavorable opinion of her.

Baldwin’s opponent, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, won a hotly-contested GOP primary in August that drained valuable resources to compete with Baldwin, who despite the flood of early spending entered the general election with an overwhelming financial advantage.

Vukmir is also running out of time to define herself in the race. More voters in the state hold an unfavorable view of her — 38% — than favorable view — 26%. Another 28% don’t know enough about Vukmir to form an opinion.

Like Brown, Baldwin holds a clear lead in polls, though given the political polarization in Wisconsin the spread should narrow on Election Day.

With Republicans holding a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, Democrats must gain two seats to win control of the chamber.

Even if Democrats are able to sweep the Great Lakes region, the party still must defend six other seats in state Trump won — Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia. North Dakota appears most vulnerable for a GOP takeover, with a Fox News poll released Wednesday showing GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer leading Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp by 12 points. The others are a mix of Toss-Ups and Lean Democratic in CNN’s ratings, but they are all competitive.

Democrats, meanwhile, are targeting four states: Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas. The first three are Toss-Ups races, while Texas leans Republican.

Excluding the Lone Star State, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has described the other nine races as “too close to call and every one of them like a knife fight in an alley.”

While Democrats still hold a narrow path to the majority, based on where things stand today it is more likely than not Republicans will retain control of the Senate when the dust settles from November 6.