New Hampshire’s GOP primary will complete the Senate battleground map
In an evenly divided Senate, where Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to flip the chamber, Hassan is one of four key Democratic incumbents Republicans are looking to pick off this year. But as they have across the country, some candidates following in Trump’s footsteps in New Hampshire have raised concerns among GOP leaders because of their lackluster fundraising and hardline right-wing rhetoric.
The primary in New Hampshire, which was thrown open after Sununu rebuffed national Republicans’ efforts to recruit him, is a window into the GOP struggle that’s been waged across the political map over the spring and summer.
Still, Republican voters could once again ignore establishment preferences Tuesday and opt for the candidate who has aligned himself more closely with Trump, even if doing so comes at the cost of electability in November.
Republicans had hoped that inflation and the backlash new presidents historically have faced in midterm elections would carry the party to House and Senate majorities in November, delivering victories in competitive races across the map no matter the individual candidates in those races.
But gas prices have dropped. Biden and the Democratic-controlled Congress have enacted more of the President’s agenda. Democratic candidates have outpaced most of their GOP Senate rivals in fundraising. The FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate has once again elevated a figure who galvanizes liberals and alienates suburban voters. And perhaps most significantly, the Supreme Court’s June decision to end federal abortion rights protections appears to have animated parts of the electorate that Democrats feared would slip away from the party or sit the midterms out.
The early signs of a more evenly matched midterm landscape came in Democratic victories in a special election in a bellwether House district in upstate New York and in Alaska’s ranked-choice special election for the state’s at-large House seat, which has been in GOP hands for nearly half a century, as well as voters’ overwhelming support for abortion rights in a referendum on the Kansas primary ballot.
Meanwhile, a handful of Republican candidates who won primaries, many with Trump’s backing, have struggled to expand their appeal to a broader electorate in critical states — including Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada — that could decide which party controls a Senate that is currently divided 50-50.
GOP ups spending and focuses on crime
As GOP groups ramp up spending on television ads, their message in several key states is shifting away from attacking Biden on inflation. Instead, those ads target Democrats on crime and policing.
Barnes, in his own ad launched two weeks ago, said Republicans are trying to scare voters, and that their charge that he wants to defund the police is “a lie.”
“I’ll make sure our police have the resources and training they need to keep our communities safe, and that our communities have the resources to stop crime before it happens,” Barnes says in the spot.
The shifting strategy underscores how unsettled the playing field is in the battle for control of the Senate just eight weeks from the November 8 midterm elections.
In August, Republican campaigns and groups spent $25 million airing over 160 ads about inflation, while also spending about $11 million airing 80 ads about crime, according to AdImpact data. In just two weeks of September so far, Republicans have spent about $9 million airing 89 ads about inflation, while also spending about $9 million airing 54 ads about crime.
In Ohio’s key Senate race, Republican J.D. Vance launched an ad last week, saying, “Streets are exploding with drugs and violence, while liberals like [Democratic opponent] Tim Ryan attack and defund our police.”
Democratic Senate candidates have so far vastly outspent their Republican rivals in races in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, forcing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell-aligned outside GOP groups to attempt to make up the difference. As the campaign season shifts into a new gear post-Labor Day, Senate Leadership Fund, for example, is set to massively ramp up its spending. The super PAC has placed nearly $200 million in ad reservations over the next two months, according to AdImpact data, the most of any political advertiser.
FEC filings from SLF last week showed it upping its commitment in several key states — adding $3.7 million to Pennsylvania, $3.7 million to Georgia, $3.5 million to North Carolina, $3 million to Ohio, $2.4 million to Wisconsin, and $2 million to Nevada. The additions will complement already massive reservations in battleground states. SLF had previously booked $38 million in Georgia, $33 million in Pennsylvania, $28 million in North Carolina, $27 million in Ohio, $19 million in New Hampshire, $16 million in Nevada, $15 million in Wisconsin, and $10 million in Arizona.
The GOP spending in North Carolina and Ohio underscores Democrats’ success in expanding the map of competitive races. Both seats are held by retiring Republican senators, and are must-wins for the GOP’s chances of winning the chamber in November.
Debate about debates
Fetterman has said he would only debate in October. He said in a statement that he always intended to debate Oz and that the hold-up has “only ever been about addressing some of the lingering issues of the stroke, the auditory processing, and we’re going to be able to work that out,” but he didn’t provide specifics.
“Let’s be clear – Dr. Oz’s campaign won’t agree to a SECRET debate. It has to be a REAL one with REAL journalists asking REAL questions. Sorry John – imaginary debates don’t count!,” Oz communications director Brittany Yanick said in response.
While Oz’s team has been raising questions about Fetterman’s health, the Democrat has hammered Oz over past remarks calling abortion “murder,” with his allies warning Sunday that Oz would be a “rubber stamp” for a national ban.
In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger, former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker, have engaged in a months-long debate about debates.
Walker refused to participate in a debate during the GOP primary. Warnock has sought three debates, and Walker has said he’d debate Warnock on October 14 in Savannah. Warnock responded by saying he would debate Walker then, if Walker would accept another debate.
Debates typically drive news coverage of key races in their final weeks. The limited number in several key races, including Pennsylvania and Georgia, could increase the importance of television ads as the primary way of reaching voters — a reality that explains why McConnell and other top Republicans have increased outreach to major donors and urged senators to transfer campaign cash to the Senate Leadership Fund.
“The Democrats are going to vastly outspend Republicans across the board. But as long as we have enough money to tell our story and to defend our opposition, I think we’ll be fine,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of McConnell’s leadership team, said last week.