If Democrats are going to keep control of just one chamber of Congress this year, the Senate might just be their best bet.
To be sure, they have little, if any, room for error, given that Republicans need to net just one seat to win the Senate majority. But Democrats also have reason for optimism.
Recent polling shows Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) clobbering the Republican nominee, celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
A Marquette Law School survey out this week found Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) with a 7-point lead over Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
In Florida, a state that’s shifted to the right in recent years, Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), the likely Democratic Senate nominee, appears to be gaining on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), with a recent University of North Florida poll showing her leading by a 4-point margin.
Blame it on the candidates: Part of the problem for Republicans, strategists say, is their lineup of Senate candidates in key battleground states.
Oz, for example, has been mocked relentlessly over everything from his history of pushing dubious – even outright false – medical claims to the fact that he only moved to Pennsylvania from New Jersey shortly before announcing his Senate bid. In one of the latest episodes, Fetterman and his allies ridiculed Oz after a video resurfaced online in which the celebrity doctor complains about the price of “crudité” at a “Wegners” grocery store (it appears Oz meant to reference either the supermarket chains Redner’s or Wegmans). Oz later explained that he was “exhausted” when he shot the video.
Republicans have also expressed concerns about former NFL player Herschel Walker, the Republican Senate nominee in Georgia, who has faced a spate of negative headlines, including revelations that he has three previously undisclosed children despite his history of railing against absentee fathers.
As Republican strategist Doug Heye told us recently: “Republicans have some not awesome candidates who are nominees now.”
There’s also another silver lining for Democrats: fundraising. Overall, Democratic Senate candidates are outpacing their Republican opponents in the money race, and while fundraising isn’t necessarily an indicator of who’s winning and who’s losing, small-dollar donations are typically seen as a sign of momentum among a party’s voters.
The caveat: It’s relatively early and we haven’t yet entered the post-Labor Day campaign sprint. Democrats are still facing a tough political environment, even if they’ve had a good couple of weeks, and a Republican wave in November could still easily wipe out Democrats’ Senate majority. But for now, at least, things may be looking up for the party in power.