With a lot of attention already being focused on the battle for control of the U.S. House in 2018, it is sometimes easy to shirk the midterm Senate contests. That is partly because the horrific Senate landscape for Democrats makes a takeover of that chamber seem like a stretch. For one thing, Democrats are defending 25 seats, while Republicans are only defending 9. But the number that really haunts every donkey is that ten Democratic senators who are up for reelection in 2018 represent states won by Donald Trump last year. Meanwhile, only one Republican running in 2018 is dealing with an electorate who voted for Hillary Clinton.
But as a periodic installment of surveys from Morning Consult shows, the Democrats running in all those 2016 red states are by and large doing better than one might expect when it comes to job-approval ratings from their constituents. And the numbers do not invariably correlate to the presidential strength of the two parties in each state, either.
Only one of the ten Democrats from Trump-voting states hits the lofty 60 percent approval rating level (with 32 percent disapproval), and that’s one who may really need it: Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a state that Trump carried by 35 points. But two others from deep-red states are nearly that popular: Jon Tester (57 approve/32 disapprove) of Montana, which Trump carried by 20 points, and Joe Manchin (57/30) of West Virginia, which Trump won by more than 40.
Two senators from big Trump states are at somewhat weaker, but by no means terrible, popularity levels: Joe Donnelly of Indiana is at 46/26, while Claire McCaskill of Missouri is at 47/39.
Then we come to Democratic senators in states that Trump carried much more narrowly — indeed, narrowly enough that the usual midterm pushback against the party controlling the White House might erase any presumed GOP advantage entirely. All are in favorable territory:
– Bill Nelson of Florida, at 53/26
– Sherrod Brown of Ohio, at 52/30
– Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, at 49/29
– Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, at 47/38
– Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, at 44/38
The one Republican in “enemy territory” has among the lowest approval numbers in the Senate: Dean Heller of Nevada, at 43/32. Just for the record, the only senator who Morning Consult shows as being actually underwater in approval ratings is the fellow running the upper chamber, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, at 44/47. But McConnell doesn’t have to face voters again until 2020.
These numbers are, obviously, just from one pollster and crazy early. Democratic senators in highly adverse territory, such as Donnelly, Heitkamp, Manchin, McCaskill, and Tester, will all get the best shot Republicans can take in terms of candidate recruitment and money. Some could face scary expensive races — such as Bill Nelson, who could be challenged by two-term GOP governor and perpetual self-funder Rick Scott.
But all in all, if Trump and the GOP continue to stumble around while motivating Democrats to fight them, and if midterm anti-White House dynamics kick in, the pro-GOP Senate bloodbath a lot of people have expected for 2018 might not happen after all. The Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy shows all Democratic incumbents to be favored at present. It’s still hard to figure out how Democrats could actually produce the net gain of three seats and win back the Senate, even in the best of circumstances; it might take an unexpected retirement or two, or some senatorial implosion. But the Senate bears watching.