Republicans are worried that they could lose control of the US Senate this fall as a potent combination of a cratering economy, President Donald Trump's handling of the COVID-19 response, and rising enthusiasm among Democratic voters dims their electoral prospects.
According to The Washington Post, GOP senators, in recent weeks, have privately become alarmed and forced to rethink over their strategies adpoted in recent weeks to fight the coronavirus outbreak as polling shifts in favour of Democrats.
"It is a bleak picture right now all across the map, to be honest with you," said one Republican strategist closely involved in Senate races who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss concerns within the party.
"This whole conversation is a referendum on Trump, and that is a bad place for Republicans to be. But it's also not a forever place," he told the Post further.
Multiple analysts said they believe GOP candidates will recover once the nation -- and the presidential campaign -- returns to a more normal footing, casting the November elections as a contest between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
But a return to normalcy ahead of the elections is far from a given as the death toll continues to rise and economic data paints a grim picture. In other words, the president's handling of the pandemic could be the determining factor not only for his reelection but for Republicans' ability to hold on to the Senate. In short, as goes Trump, so probably goes the Senate majority, the newspaper stated.
The emerging consensus of several Republican strategists is that GOP incumbents should be able to hang on in states Trump won in 2016 if the president can hang on to those states himself. That list includes North Carolina, Arizona and Iowa, which Democrats are heavily targeting this cycle. While, the flip side for Republicans is that states Trump lost in 2016 -- such as Colorado and Maine -- could be out of reach.
Republicans currently hold a 53-to-47 advantage in the Senate.
"The political environment is not as favorable as it was a few months ago," another Republican told the Post.
The first quarter of 2020 was also a boon in fundraising for Democrats, with 10 challengers outraising GOP opponents in seats currently held by Republicans: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Carolina and South Carolina. The only closely watched race where the Republican incumbent raised more cash than the Democrat was Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa.
Meanwhile, Democrats have planned to attack GOP senators for their opposition to the increasingly popular Affordable Care Act, with 2020 marking the first Senate elections where Democrats can target a large swath of Republicans for votes early in the Trump presidency to repeal the health law.
"Democrats have expanded the Senate map and put Mitch McConnell's majority at risk with impressive challengers, record-breaking grass-roots fundraising, and a focus on the issues that matter most to voters like defending coverage protections for preexisting conditions," Stewart Boss, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was quoted as saying.
Republican senators, on the other hand, are trying to assert the powers of incumbency -- contending they are doing their jobs effectively for constituents during the pandemic -- as they run public-service-announcement style campaigns, the Post reported.
During private calls with donors, through news coverage and in ads, Senate Republicans are touting the USD 2 trillion economic rescue package, known as the Cares Act, passed by Congress. It includes a popular small-business lending program that has become a centerpiece of Republican efforts to show how they have responded to the virus outbreak and its devastating impact on the economy.
They also cling on to the fate of the sinking economy -- which on Friday reported a 14.7 per cent unemployment rate for April -- to help determine the fate of incumbent GOP senators come in November. That is a reason why several Senate Republicans have already stressed the need to carefully reopen businesses and other economic activity -- warning of the long-term impact to the country if the lockdown continues indefinitely.