Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer has his work cut out for him this election year. Just months ago, most Democratic strategists thought they had the Republicans on the ropes. Now they face the reality of Trump’s improving approval ratings, a booming economy and low unemployment.
There is also the added pressure of vulnerable incumbents and hopeful challengers. Schumer must decide quickly which candidates receive the party’s limited monetary resources for this fall’s midterm elections. It is a thankless job that may provide a career future that includes his ouster as Senate Majority Leader.
The daunting facts are as follows:
Senate Democrats are defending 26 seats, including 10 in states that voted for President Trump. The best opportunities for Democrats are in Nevada and Arizona, with Tennessee seen as a longer shot.
There is a distinct possibility the Democrats could lose three seats and as many as eight. The latter could be avoided if prior predictions of a “wave election” are not taken seriously. A “wave” is not feasible this election year.
Schumer must first decide if his party will go on offense or defense. The incumbents want to weigh in the most on that final strategy. The way it is shaping up, the best bet is to ride with the veterans, who are already well-known in their states. They should decide state by state.
At least that is the view of one Washington-based Democratic strategist. Apparently, the belief is the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) will protect incumbents. That appears to be more the case, because they have contributed to or raised money for them. That is typical Washington thinking.
The fact of the matter is, the GOP presently holds a narrow 51-49 majority. The Democrats face an uphill battle with the sheer number of states they have to defend in this election. Democrats have 26 seats to defend, while the Republicans protect just eight seats.
There are few opportunities for Schumer to look at. But people like Jeff Teague, executive director of the Tennessee Democratic Party; thinks there are enough Democratic donors across the country who will want to put money behind challengers in traditionally Republican states.
But his party has some very weak candidates, including incumbents Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) in North Dakota and Sen. Joe Manchin (D) West Virginia. Both states are relatively inexpensive to defend, but the real money necessary for high population states may not be there.
Florida is one such Senate race this year. It promises to be a money pit, that will cost about $3 million per week. It pits incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) against the distinct possibility of Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott. At least Donald Trump hopes Scott runs (to the chagrin of Marco Rubio).
The Democrats dream of victories over incumbents like Ted Cruz in Texas, but there are slim hopes of that. They have been gaining ground in the conservative state the past few years, but unlikely that will turn the tide as of yet. Again, it is a vast and expensive state.
There is no question the Democrats have a huge advantage over the Republicans in cash donations. The DSCC has outraised its counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, for 11 consecutive months, and has a $10 million cash on hand advantage.
Republican candidates will take advantage of major spending from outside political groups. They include the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and groups backed by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
Most political strategists see Democrats lucky if they lose only three seats in the Senate. The wishful eyes look to the House and its minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Her legendary wizardry in campaign fundraising is infamous.
But dark shadows appear in the form of congressional candidates already running against her leadership. The Democrats seem to be as disjointed as the Republicans they accuse of the very same thing.