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Republican memo warns US Senate ‘at risk’ of falling into Democratic control

The Guardian logo The Guardian 2020-09-16 Daniel Strauss in Washington
a person talking on a cell phone: Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

A memo by Senate Republicans’ campaign arm has admitted that control of the upper chamber is “at risk” and that Democrats could win the Senate in November’s elections.

The September 2020 political update from the National Republican Senatorial Committee summarizes the state of the race of 10 states with Senate races around the country and how the outcome of each could factor into whether Republicans or Democrats control the chamber in January.

The memo, obtained by the Guardian, has been circulating among political operatives, donors and interested parties. It comes just shy of 50 days before the November 2020 elections.

“The next few weeks will define the future of our country for generations to come,” the NRSC memo reads.

Memos like these are often shaped like dispassionate updates but in actuality they are often used to convince interested parties that races slipping out of reach are still in play. They are also often used to juice donations to lagging candidates and counter trending narratives.

Democrats need to pick up three or four seats to take control of the Senate. The fact that the NRSC memo categorizes seven Senate races as ones that simply can’t be lost or deserve serious attention suggests that it’s possible, but not certain that Democrats can take control of the Senate.

a man wearing a suit and tie holding a cell phone: Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. Democrats are ‘even eyeing states like South Carolina, where Jaime Harrison reported raising a staggering $10.6m in August alone.’ © Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. Democrats are ‘even eyeing states like South Carolina, where Jaime Harrison reported raising a staggering $10.6m in August alone.’

“Make no mistake: the Senate Majority is at risk. Beyond the four battleground states of Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona and Maine, Democrats are going on offense in historically red states like Montana, Iowa and Georgia,” the memo continues. “They’re even eyeing states like South Carolina, where [Democrat] Jaime Harrison just reported raising a staggering $10.6m in August alone.”

The memo goes on to list four states under its “firewall” rubric: Iowa, Montana, Georgia and Kansas. Those states generally trend red but Democrats have staked their hopes on candidates with track records of appealing to both Republicans and Democrats or can rally key voting blocs.

All four of those states, though, are usually more fertile ground for Republicans. Georgia, in particular, has been a state Democrats have hoped to flip for the last few presidential cycles.

Three states fall under the memo’s “battleground” rubric and they have all been trending toward Democrats in the past few cycles. The Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly, in particular, has consistently maintained a low double-digit or high single-digit lead over the incumbent Republican senator Martha McSally.

The memo also warns that “North Carolina will be a knife fight in a phone booth until the end …”

Still, the memo urges Republicans to take solace that despite the “defensive map” all is not lost. Republicans are highly likely to flip at least one Senate seat: Alabama.

Notably, two major Senate races are not on this list; Kentucky and Texas. For years Democrats have vainly promised that one day Texas would flip in a statewide race. But its leaning remains toward Republicans. In Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is up for re-election. That race’s omission from the memo suggests that the Senate leader’s re-election is not a pressing concern for Republicans.


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