News & Politics

Are Republicans Becoming As Worried About Losing the Senate As the House?

Right-wing anxiety is mounting.

Photo Credit: MSNBC

The conventional wisdom among many political analysts has been that while Democrats have a good chance of retaking the House of Representatives in the November midterms, they are facing a much steeper climb in the U.S. Senate—where obtaining a majority would mean keeping every seat they presently hold while taking two seats from Republicans. But if comments that Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California recently made at a GOP fundraiser are any indication, some Republicans are growing increasingly worried about the Senate. And Nunes is not the only Republican who fears that the Senate could be in play for Democrats in November.

MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” has obtained a recording that was surreptitiously made at a GOP fundraiser in Spokane, Washington on July 30. In the recording, Nunes is asked about GOP efforts to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—and he replies that while he’s no fan of Rosenstein, Republicans’ top priority at the moment should be getting Judge Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Impeaching Rosenstein, Nunes said, can wait.

Nunes is heard saying, “I’ve said publicly Rosenstein deserves to be impeached. The question is the timing of it right before the election.” Republicans, Nunes stressed, “take the risk of not getting Kavanaugh confirmed” if they “start with impeachment on Rosenstein.”

Here’s the thing: if Nunes were truly confident that Republicans would be maintaining the Senate in the midterms, he wouldn’t have expressed such a sense of urgency about Kavanaugh. Republicans certainly had no problem waiting a year when President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland for the High Court, which is why Justice Neil Gorsuch (a Donald Trump appointee) is now on the High Court instead. But Nunes obviously fears that if the Senate doesn’t confirm Kavanaugh soon, they might not have a chance because Democrats could be controlling the Senate in 2019.

Republicans have been openly expressing more concern about the House than the Senate. Pro-Trump GOP strategist Alex Castellanos, for example, has predicted that Democrats will gain 40 to 50 seats in the House but won’t retake the Senate. But neocon Bill Kristol, publisher of the Weekly Standard and a vocal critic of President Trump on the right, has asserted that Democrats’ chances of regaining both the House and the Senate are “pretty good now.” And in Texas, Sen. Texas Cruz is obviously feeling nervous about a recent Texas Lyceum poll showing him ahead of Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by only 2%—which is a statistical dead heat.

It’s no coincidence that Cruz is now asking Trump to please campaign for him in Texas: even though Republicans have a major advantage over Democrats in Texas Senate races, Cruz has said of O’Rourke’s campaign, “We are taking it deadly serious.” During 2018’s second quarter, O’Rourke raised $10.4 million, while Cruz “only” raised $4.6 million. So, as much as Cruz despised Trump in 2016, he obviously feels that he really needs his help in Texas now.

Another Senate race Republicans are concerned about—perhaps more than any other—is the one in Nevada, where recent polls have showed incumbent Republican Dean Heller and Democrat Jacky Rosen in a dead heat. Heller is considered the most vulnerable of the incumbent Republicans seeking reelection, as Nevada was a state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016’s presidential election.

If Democrats maintained all of their current Senate seats and Rosen defeated Heller in Nevada, they would still need to pick up at least one more seat—for example, a seat in Arizona, where Republican Sen. Jeff Flake is not seeking reelection and Rep. Martha McSally has been the frontrunner in the GOP senatorial primary. In early August, a poll by OH Predictive Insights showed that in a hypothetical matchup between McSally and Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat was ahead by 4%.

So, in a scenario in which Democrats maintained all of their current Senate seats and there were victories by Rosen in Nevada and Sinema in Arizona, they would have a narrow lead in the Senate in 2019. But that assumes they don’t lose any of the seats they are defending, which is a possibility. In Missouri, incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill is considered the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrat.

Nonetheless, hearing comments that Nunes made about the midterms when he didn’t know he was being recorded speak volumes and point to a growing Republican anxiety about the Senate. Everyone from former Rep. David Jolly to Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been asserting that Republicans are in trouble in the House come November—and judging from Nunes’ comments, some Republicans are very worried about the Senate as well. 

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.