Trump May Not Drag Down Senate Candidates

Early polls have Trump and Clinton head to head, with Senate races also tight

Democrats continue to try to tie Ayotte to Trump despite Trump polling closely with Clinton. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Democrats continue to try to tie Ayotte to Trump despite Trump polling closely with Clinton. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 26, 2016 at 5:00am

Democrats are wasting no opportunity to lash any Republican to Donald Trump, whose turbulent run to the brink of the GOP presidential nomination has upended the party. But contrary to conventional wisdom, a sampling of polling suggests that he actually may not hurt Senate candidates this fall.  

A recent WBUR poll showed Trump running just two points behind likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire — that’s head-to-head when the margin of error is considered.  


How Senate Republican Campaigns Will Handle Trump


Also in the Granite State, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., trails Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan in her re-election bid by a similarly narrow margin.

A Quinnipiac University 
 released this month found the expected general election presidential race basically even in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida — all swing states. Another Qunnipiac survey 
 Senate races in those states similarly tight.

“It’s certainly encouraging that Trump appears to be polling well in some key swing states,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican adviser and global vice president of Hill & Knowlton Strategies. “But let’s see what it looks like after the conventions.”  

The tough-talking businessman claims to have attracted to the political process millions of new voters feeling unrepresented by their elected leaders and falling behind economically. His most fervent supporters are predominantly white males in mainly rural communities.  

He also benefits from a Republican base energized to take on Clinton and the fact that the public dislikes them both about about the same, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News survey of registered voters.


How Much of a Weight Is Trump on Portman?

Indeed, Trump has garnered a record-breaking 11.5 million votes in primary balloting so far — about 45 percent of the total on the Republican side, according to Real Clear Politics. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the end, but I think he’ll be helpful because he’s bringing new people to the party,” said Republican Sen. Rob Portman who’s in a tight re-election fight in Ohio.  

The stakes are particularly high for Trump in Ohio, if history is any indicator. No Republican has lost Ohio and won the White House. 
But it’s unclear how many actual new voters he’s attracted and what impact, if any, that total is having on polling and down-ballot races.  

Also, Trump has a frosty relationship with establishment political figures, who continue to keep him at arm’s length and still worry about their majorities in Congress, especially the Senate. His endorsement tally from Capitol Hill and from state officials remains light.  

Moreover, just over half of 100 GOP aides who responded to the latest CQ Roll Call Capitol Insiders Survey now expect Democrats to pick up the four or five seats they will need to control the Senate next year.  

With polling showing tight races in general in a narrowly divided electorate, Senate incumbents, especially, continue to try to keep Trump out of their picture. They want to make it harder for Democrats to tar them with Trump’s controversial positions on foreign policy, immigration and topics important to women.  


Senate Republicans Try to Escape Trump Vortex


In Pennsylvania, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey holds press conferences to condemn his opponent’s support of “sanctuary cities.” Ayotte’s campaign has attacked Hassan for holding another Washington fundraiser.    

And Sen. John McCain’s campaign in Arizona has targeted his likely Democratic foe, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, in a hard-hitting ad that focuses on President Barack Obama’s health care law.  


What’s a Vulnerable Republican To Do?


Bob Kish, an Ohio-based Republican consultant who is critical of the presumptive GOP standard-bearer, said that it would be hard for Democrats to link Trump to Portman, who’s up against former Gov. Ted Strickland.  

“Rob Portman has made it clear he’s running his own race,” he said. “He’s just a different kind of person.”  

Democrats aren’t backing off.  

In Ohio, Strickland juxtaposes Portman with Trump in a new ad.  

“Donald Trump at the top of the Republican ticket is shining a bright spotlight on Senator Rob Portman’s status as the ultimate Washington insider and his decades long, unabashed support for unfair trade deals,” said Strickland spokesman David Bergstein in a press release.  

And a recent effort by state Democratic leaders in New Hampshire sought to make the Trump-Ayotte link stick.  

But former State Sen. Burt Cohen, a Democrat who is backing Bernie Sanders, said he did not think it would work because Trump racked up 50,000 more votes than Clinton totaled in the Democratic primary, he said.  

Alex Roarty contributed to this report.
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