Four Republican senators were outraised by their Democratic challengers in the third fundraising quarter, with three of them representing battleground states (Iowa, Maine, and Arizona) that Republicans will need to win to maintain power. And in North Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis raised only $1.2 million, an underwhelming sum for a senator facing a credible primary threat and an expensive general election ahead. All four swing-state senators also are viewed unfavorably by their constituents according to new quarterly Morning Consult polling, underscoring the sudden shift in support away from Republicans.
In Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst failed even to hit the million-dollar mark in fundraising, a financial baseline of sorts for senators running for reelection. She was outraised by a Democratic outsider, businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, who raised $1.1 million despite facing a contested Democratic primary and refusing donations from corporate PACs.
As her fundraising has slowed, Ernst’s support back home has also declined. The Morning Consult tracking poll found Ernst with an underwater job-approval rating of 39/43, with more independents viewing her unfavorably than favorably. That’s a shift from her net-positive job approval over the spring, which stood at 42/38.
Donald Trump comfortably carried her state in 2016, but since then, Iowa farmers have taken a serious hit from the president’s trade war. Both Gallup and Morning Consult have found his support sinking in the state, with a March Des Moines Register poll showing even 28 percent of Iowa Republicans believing the tariffs have hurt the state’s agribusiness.
These are all major red flags suggesting Iowa is a much bigger battleground than Republicans anticipated at the beginning of the year.
The GOP’s outlook in Arizona and North Carolina is also looking gloomier. Both Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina are facing nuisance primary challengers, which makes it harder for the incumbents to consolidate their base. But the more they try to protect their right flank, the tougher it becomes to win over the suburban moderates who decide races in these swing states.
McSally, who lost last year’s election before being appointed to her seat, trailed Democratic challenger Mark Kelly by 5 points, 46 to 41 percent, in a poll taken in August. She’s been outraised in all three of the fundraising quarters by significant margins—an unusual disadvantage for a sitting senator. She already lags Kelly in campaign cash by nearly $4 million.
Tillis holds the lowest approval rating (33 percent) of any sitting senator, according to the Morning Consult survey. A Democratic poll conducted in September found him trailing his little-known Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham, 45 to 43 percent. But before he even faces Cunningham, he’ll have to get past self-funded businessman Garland Tucker in the primary. Tucker has poured $1.2 million of his own money into the campaign—around the same amount Tillis raised in the last three months. Tucker has already been using that money on anti-Tillis campaign ads, forcing the senator to respond in kind.
Cunningham wasn’t the Democrats’ top recruit, but this race is turning more into a referendum on Tillis. If Cunningham wins the nomination and runs a competent race, Tillis will face major hurdles in winning a second term.
In Maine, a race that Republicans consider the nation’s biggest bellwether, Sen. Susan Collins is suddenly facing a real fight. State House Speaker Sara Gideon raised a whopping $3.2 million in the third quarter, outpacing Collins by more than $1 million. More significantly, Collins’ once-golden image back home has continued to slip, according to the Morning Consult numbers. Her popularity has hit an all-time low in the tracking survey, down to 43/49 job approval.
Collins has already gone up with an early advertisement, a sign that her team recognizes this race will be the toughest campaign that the senator has faced.
Here’s the big picture: If Trump doesn’t win a second term, Democrats need to net only three seats to win back the majority. Assuming they can’t hang onto Sen. Doug Jones’ seat in ruby-red Alabama (but hold Sen. Gary Peters’ seat in traditionally blue Michigan), the magic number is four. And when you add Sen. Cory Gardner’s tough race in Colorado to the toss-up list, they’ve got five promising opportunities to defeat Republican senators.
In other words, Dems are in a prime position to flip the Senate now. Collins, Tillis, Ernst, McSally and Gardner are all in real, real trouble, and defending Trump to the end as they have may very well be their end as well.
I know I'm acting snakebit on Trump's reelection chances, as underestimating the Democratic party's chances to snatch defeat away from the jaws of victory remains the surest way to end up with a second Trump term, especially if there's a third party spoiler that takes 2-4% of the anti-Trump vote away.
But no matter who the Democratic candidate is, nothing will get done as long as Mitch McConnell remains majority leader, and I'm glad to see the Dems taking flipping the Senate seriously.