The prognosis for President Donald Trump and his party was grim.
In a post-Labor Day briefing at the White House, a top Republican pollster told senior staff that the determining factor in the election wouldn't be the improving economy or the steady increase in job creation. It would be how voters feel about Trump.
And the majority of the electorate, including a sizable percentage of Republican-leaning voters, doesn't feel good about the president, according to a presentation from pollster Neil Newhouse that spanned dozens of pages.
Newhouse's briefing came amid a darkening mood among Republican officials as the November election nears. Party leaders were already worried that a surge in enthusiasm among Democrats and disdain for Trump by moderate Republicans would put the House out of reach. But some Republicans now fear their Senate majority is also in peril -- a scenario that was unthinkable a few months ago given the favorable Senate map for the GOP.
"For Republican candidates to win in swing states, they need all of the voters who support President Trump, plus a chunk of those who do not," said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster. "That is threading a very narrow strategic needle."
Operatives in both parties say Republicans still have the edge in the fight for control of the Senate. But GOP officials are increasingly worried that nominees in conservative-leaning states like Missouri and Indiana are underperforming, while races in Tennessee and Texas that should be slam-dunks for Republicans are close.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised an alarm last week, warning that each of the competitive Senate races would be "like a knife fight in an alley."
Some of the public fretting among Republicans appears to be strategic, as party officials try to motivate both voters and donors. Many moderate Republican voters "don't believe there is anything at stake in this election," according to the documents Newhouse presented to White House officials. He attributed that belief in part to a disregard for public polling, given that most surveys showed Democrat Hillary Clinton defeating Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Newhouse and the White House would not comment on the early September meeting. The Associated Press obtained a copy of Newhouse's presentation, and two Republicans with knowledge of the briefing discussed the details on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter publicly.