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MEMO: One Year Out, GOP Faces “Nightmare Scenario” as Dems Build Momentum

TO: Interested Parties
FR: Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee 
RE: One Year Out, GOP Faces “Nightmare Scenario” as Dems Build Momentum

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Here are the dynamics shaping the Senate map one year from Election Day and why Democrats are increasingly well-positioned to make the “GOP’s nightmare scenario” a reality: 

1. “Red Flags All Over for Senate Republicans,” Sinking Approvals, Lagging Fundraising & Political Baggage in Trump, McConnell

Polling released earlier this year warned “Republican incumbents have seen their popularity decline” and that trend continued as data released last month confirmed “things aren’t getting any better for 2020’s most vulnerable Republicans.” 

  • In Arizona, unelected Senator Martha McSally’s approval is below 40%. Polling has also shown her trailing Mark Kelly. McSally, the first Arizona Republican to lose a Senate race in 30 years, is repeating the mistakes of her last failed campaign. In the last week, she voted to defend “junk” insurance plans that can refuse to cover pre-existing conditions and “won’t say if she’d seek foreign assistance to help her politically.”
  • In Iowa, Senator Joni Ernst “saw a drop of 9 percentage points – the biggest decline in net approval for any Senator” Ernst has blamed Iowans for her “tough reelection” instead of taking responsibility for her unpopular record.
  • In Maine, Susan Collins is now the second most unpopular Senator in the country as her approval has plummeted 18 points since the March. Her constituents are taking out full-page ads in one of the state’s leading newspapers demanding she answer questions and hold her first town hall in 20 years.
  • In Texas, Senator John Cornyn — who has been on the ballot for nearly 40 years and “faces his toughest race yet” — leads a generic Democrat by just 1 point, and 58% of Texas Latino voters say they would vote for the Democratic candidate.

Republicans’ disappointing fundraising is also a cause for “red flags.” Democrats outraised GOP incumbents in key races in Q3, and the DSCC outraised the NRSC for three consecutive months in July, August and September:

National Journal: “fundraising figures show that Mitch McConnell’s hold on the Senate majority is looking awfully precarious. Indeed, the pathway for a narrow Democratic takeover of the upper chamber is looking clearer than ever.” 

Axios: “Scott Reed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior political strategist, tells me that third-quarter fundraising reports showing three Republican senators being out-raised by Democratic challengers (in Arizona, Iowa and Maine) ‘are a three-alarm fire. The party was shaken by that,’ Reed said. ‘We’re all worried.’”

Associated Press: “The trouble for Republicans extends to states where they’re supposed to be on firmer ground… Democrats, meanwhile, are paying close attention to races across the board, including the House, Senate and presidency, fueling them with small-dollar donations that Republicans have struggled to counter.”

Axios: Democratic challengers outpace vulnerable GOP senators in Q3 

Arizona Republic: “Mark Kelly, the Democrat and retired NASA astronaut who is vying to unseat Republican Sen. Martha McSally, outraised her for the third straight quarter”

Colorado Sun: John Hickenlooper posts Colorado fundraising record in his first six weeks as U.S. Senate candidate

The Hill: Iowa Democrat tops Ernst in third-quarter fundraising for Senate race

Portland Press Herald: Challenger Gideon outpaces Sen. Collins with $3.2 million raised in 3rd quarter

Post & Courier: SC Democrat Jaime Harrison raises record $2.1M in bid for Lindsey Graham’s US Senate seat

Montgomery Advertiser: “Doug Jones raised more money this summer than his Republican challengers combined”

MLive: “Peters boasts $6.3 million [in cash on hand]… noting nine out of 10 donations were under $100.”

WMUR: Shaheen raised record $2.27M in third quarter, has $4.3M on hand for reelection bid

Republicans and their allies acknowledge their majority is “in serious jeopardy” and their leadership is among the heaviest baggage: 

Axios: Trump’s net approval rating sinks in every battleground state

The Hill: GOP frets about Trump’s poll numbers

AP: “Republicans seeking reelection have often been barraged with uncomfortable questions about Trump’s conduct”

Washington Post: ‘It feels like a horror movie’: Republicans feel anxious and adrift defending Trump

HuffPost: Mitch McConnell Will Be The Boogeyman Of The 2020 Elections

BONUS: Senate Republicans are facing an “early headache of nightmare primary fights:

  • WSJ: “In the fight for open seats in Alabama and Kansas, national Republicans are actively opposing GOP candidates they see as imperiling the party’s general-election chances even in those deep-red states, while the party is also mobilizing to stifle challengers to incumbents in North Carolina and Arizona.”
  • WSJ: Tillis “faces a conservative challenger in a GOP primary in which rural Trump loyalists hold sway. ‘If I were to take a dipstick check of the state right now, this race is a lot more competitive than a lot of folks in Washington know,’ said Jim Womack, GOP chairman in rural Lee County.”

2. Democratic Candidates Impress, Especially with Early Fundraising

The Democratic field is strong and has already captured grassroots enthusiasm: 

  • In Arizona, combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly raised a whopping $5.5 million in his Q3 — nearly doubling the fundraising haul of his opponent, Senator McSally and growing his COH advantage to almost $4 million. Kelly has been endorsed by members of Arizona’s congressional delegation, state and local elected officials, business leaders, law enforcement officers and veterans.
  • In Colorado, former Governor John Hickenlooper is one of the most popular public officials among voters with 51% approval and has an 11-point lead over Senator Gardner. Among unaffiliated voters, Hickenlooper’s lead is a whopping 25 points. In just six weeks, Hickenlooper raised an impressive $2.1 million with 95% of the contributions $200 or less. 
  • In Kansas, Dr. Barbara Bollier currently serves in the State Senate and has built a reputation as an independent voice focused finding common sense solutions, particularly to improve the quality and cost of health care. She’s earned endorsements from Governor Laura Kelly and former Governor Kathleen Sebelius. 
  • In Maine, State House Speaker Sara Gideon launched her campaign to challenge Collins after a successful “legislative session filled with progressive victories” for Mainers. Gideon quickly earned endorsements from more than 70 Maine leaders, and in Q3 nearly 97% of her donations were under $100.
  • In North Carolina, Cal Cunningham served three active duty tours in the U.S. Army Reserve, including overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cal’s campaign for Senate has been endorsed by 140 leaders across North Carolina. Since Cal entered the race, three consecutive polls have shown him leading Senator Tillis, and Cook Political Report, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections have all shifted the race in Democrats’ direction.
  • In New Mexico, Congressman Ben Ray Luján – who led the fight to take back the House in 2018 – is already building a strong campaign to hold this open Democratic seat and earning key endorsements from New Mexico women and local labor leaders.

3. Health Care Remains the Defining Issues as Republicans Double Down on Unpopular Policies That Cost Them in 2018

Senate Republicans are still on the wrong side of the top issue for voters. Spineless GOP senators, who “have no credibility” and no excuse for their records of voting to gut coverage protections for pre-existing conditions.

One of their biggest new liabilities is the GOP’s ongoing lawsuit to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. Every single Republican Senator voted for the 2017 tax law that sparked this dangerous lawsuit that would drive up costs and eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions, and they have “no plan” if the ACA is struck down. The fallout from this unpopular legal attack on the health care law could mean “political havoc” for Republicans.

Meanwhile, the DSCC has continued running ads highlighting how Senate Republicans enabled and then refused to oppose this lawsuit despite the disastrous consequences it would impose on their constituents.

Bottom Line: The early trendlines emerging across the Senate landscape signal how Democrats are increasingly well-positioned to flip key seats and take back the majority.

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