The results in those races will be crucial in determining the next president’s ability to translate his or her agenda into legislation — and Congress’ ability to turn those bills into laws — not to mention other key responsibilities, like confirming Supreme Court nominees.
Republicans have long been playing defense in the 2016 Senate contests, with 24 GOP-held seats in play, at least 10 of which are in swing states, compared with Democrats’ 10. Democrats need a net gain of four or five seats, depending on who wins the White House, to retake Senate control.
“It’s pretty obvious this was going to be a really challenging cycle for us. And we have a lot of incumbents who are up in purple states,” he said. “It’s sort of like a knife fight in a phone booth.”
“Republican senators are talking to voters like they’re running for sheriff. Every message is highly targeted and purposefully local,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek wrote in an email.
New Hampshire’s Ayotte suffered a Trump-related setback after saying during a debate that she would “absolutely” encourage children to look at him as a role model, though she quickly walked back those comments.
Since that flub earlier this month, at least one poll has shown Ayotte trailing Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, although several other surveys showed the race in a virtual tie.
“It’s imperative for our campaigns to highlight how their Republican opponents have failed people in their states,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in an email. “A part of that includes their support for Donald Trump as they were complicit in helping build the party of Trump.”
Another factor that could help Democrats in the battle for Senate control is that the Clinton network has turned its attention to down-ballot races.
Last week the Clinton campaign contributed $2.5 million each to the Democratic Senate and House campaign committees — a tiny fraction of the $100 million it has made in contributions this cycle — and pledged $6 million for mail and digital ads in seven battleground states, including Ohio and New Hampshire.
As part of that effort, it released a new ad Thursday in New Hampshire — one of the only ads there that explicitly ties Ayotte to Trump — playing the debate moment when Ayotte said he would be a good role model.
“For months and months of this,” a narrator says, followed by clips of Trump’s most eyebrow-raising comments — “Kelly Ayotte stood by him. But now she’s running away, trying to save her political career.”
While the Clinton campaign and Priorities are legally barred from communicating or coordinating, they seem to share a strategy for winning the Senate: explicitly tie Republican candidates to their presidential nominee.
Clinton campaign spokeswoman Jen Palmieri indicated as much during a press gaggle on the campaign plane, saying, “These are leaders of the Republican Party that legitimized Donald Trump’s candidacy.”