Trump fallout raises new hopes for Democrats in tight Senate races

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., waves to delegates during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016.
J. Scott Applewhite | AP
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., waves to delegates during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016.

Though they still face an uphill battle to win control of the House, Senate Democrats in tight races maintain optimism as GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's support continues to wane and down-ballot Republicans scramble to distance themselves from his campaign.

In the latest polls, Trump continues to lose ground to Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton, following a controversial attack on the U.S. election process itself in Wednesday's third and final debate. Trump claimed the upcoming presidential vote is has been "rigged" against him, and has pointedly declined to say whether he would accept the results if he loses.

On Wednesday, Trump pledged to keep the country "in suspense" in an unprecedented campaign challenge to the legitimacy of the U.S. electoral system.

"I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now," he said when asked directly if he would accept the results on Election Day, which is less than three weeks away.

The backlash to Trump's remarks only added to widespread fears among Republicans that disillusioned party members could abandon GOP House and Senate candidates further down the ballot. Democrats have grown increasingly confident that they have a shot at regaining control of one or both chambers of Congress.

For now, taking back the House remains a tall task for Democrats.

In any given election cycle, relatively few Congressional districts switch party control, thanks to decades of gerrymandering that have left some 85 percent of the 435 districts considered unassailable. This year, few than 40 House seats are considered "in play."

With a current 59-seat GOP advantage, Democrats would have to pick up 30 GOP seats to win back the majority. So it would take a substantial wave of GOP voter defections, or a deeply depressed turnout, for Democrats to flip that many seats.

The contest for the Senate, however, is much tighter.

While the GOP currently holds an eight seat majority in the upper chamber, several retirements have set up a virtual dead heat among the 34 seats that are up for re-election this year. Of those, 14 are expected to remain safely in Republican hands, and nine are considered safe for Democrats.

That leaves 11 key races that are up for grabs, including seven that are considered "tossups," which means just four seats could tip the balance of power in Democrats favor. In all seven, the latest polls tracked by real Clear Politics show the margin between the candidates remains within low single digits.

Here are some of those key races:

Beyond the seven tossups, four states are expected to split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Arizona, Ohio

In Arizona, incumbent GOP Sen. John McCain appears to be holding a solid lead against Democratic rival Ann Kirkpatrick, with a comfortable 16 point average lead in the polls. Republicans are also holding down ballot support in Ohio, where incumbent Sen. Rob Portman holds a solid lead over Democratic rival Ted Strickland.

Illinois, Wisconsin

Democrats hold solid leads in Illinois and Wisconsin, where victories would take away two seats from GOP incumbents. Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk is trailing Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth by seven points; in Wisconsin, former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is hoping to take back the seat he lost to GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in 2010. Feingold holds a 5.3 percent lead in the polls.

That leaves the seven "tossups" where five of the races are virtual dead heats. Democrats would have to pick up at least two of them to win back Senate control.


Though Indiana has typically been a reliably red state, the retirement of Republican Sen. Dan Coats has given an opening to Democrat Evan Bayh, a former governor and senator who retired in 2011. While the race is expected to be close, Bayh has a slight lead in the polls with less than three weeks left in the campaign.


GOP Sen. Roy Blunt held a comfortable lead through the summer, but his race against Democrat Jason Kander, Missouri's secretary of state, has tightened considerably. The final count is expected to be close.

North Carolina

Once considered a safe Republican seat, incumbent Sen. Richard Burr is in a tough fight against Democrat Deborah Ross, a former state legislator, who briefly led Burr in the polls earlier this month. Burr's campaign has also benefited from Hillary Clinton's aggressive campaign in the state, where she has opened up a slight lead against Trump in the polls.


After deciding to run for re-election following his failed presidential bid, GOP primaries Sen. Marco Rubio has a comfortable lead against former Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy. But Clinton has opened up a four point lead against Trump in the state, which could create a headwind for Rubio in the final weeks of the campaign.

New Hampshire

Clinton's lead against Trump may also help Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan in her bid to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has struggled to distance herself from Trump after earlier citing him as a role model for children. Polls show the race is in a virtual dead heat.


GOP Rep. Joe Heck is hoping to flip this Senate seat from blue to red, following the retirement of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. But Reid's handpicked replacement, Catherine Cortez Masto, is holding a slim lead in the polls after trailing Heck for most of the race. Heck has tried to distance himself from Trump, recently calling on him to quit the presidential race.


This battleground state is another for the Republicans to lose. Incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Toomey has trailed Democratic challenger Katie McGinty, but the latest polls show them tied. Pennsylvania has a split Congressional delegation but has voted for Democrats at the top of the ticket in the last six presidential elections.