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Democrats see late surge in Senate battlegrounds

POLITICO logo POLITICO 11/5/2018 By James Arkin
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Video by the Associated Press

A final batch of polls provided signs of late momentum for Democrats in the battle for the Senate, with surveys showing their candidates leading in two battleground races and decisively ahead in New Jersey.

In Florida, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson led Republican Gov. Rick Scott in two surveys out Monday, a sign that the critical battleground race is breaking their way in the final days. And in Missouri, an NBC News poll showed Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill slightly leading Republican Josh Hawley despite Republicans optimism in recent weeks that the race shifted in their favor.

Democrats would need both those polls to be correct — especially in Missouri, where Hawley has led by a similar margin in several other recent public polls — and to have similar momentum in a handful of other tossup races, to have any shot at winning the Senate majority Tuesday night.

It's a long-shot, but not impossible. And President Donald Trump has gone all in down the stretch to prevent it from happening.

Trump will conclude a week of barnstorming across the Senate map Monday night with rallies in Indiana and Missouri, hoping to boost Hawley and Republican Mike Braun, who’s locked in a tight race against Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in the Hoosier State.

Given the GOP’s dim odds of keeping the House majority, the president has bet on his ability to gin up last-minute enthusiasm among his voters in red states to protect or even grow their Senate majority. Trump’s Indiana and Missouri rallies will be his second visit to each state in recent days. He also held rallies in Montana, Tennessee and Florida over the weekend to give a last-minute boost to Republican Senate candidates.

The president’s closing schedule underlines the uncertainty of the Senate map, with a handful of tossup races in which neither party has a clear advantage. Republicans are confident they can flip North Dakota and protect Tennessee, and Democrats are bullish on holding West Virginia and flipping Nevada. But at least five races — in Arizona, Florida, Montana, Indiana and Missouri — remain tight in the closing stretch.

Trump’s ability to ignite his voters in these states could determine whether Republicans are able to protect or make slight gains on their 51-49 Senate majority.

“I think we’re going to do well in the House,” Trump said Sunday. “But, as you know, my primary focus has been on the Senate, and I think we’re doing really well in the Senate.”

a man wearing a suit and tie: Sen. Bill Nelson campaigns at the 65th Infantry Veterans Park on Sunday in Kissimmee Florida. He is facing off against Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott for the Florida Senate seat. © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Sen. Bill Nelson campaigns at the 65th Infantry Veterans Park on Sunday in Kissimmee Florida. He is facing off against Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott for the Florida Senate seat.

But Democrats have not given up hope of winning the chamber. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Sunday that Democrats have a “narrow” path to capturing the chamber. He also pointed how the terrain has shifted in Democrats' favor over the course of the election cycle, despite a map that tilts heavily towards Republicans. Democrats remain clear favorites in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states Trump won two years ago.

“I don't want to define a good night because what we see right now is a situation that is a whole lot better than anyone would have predicted 18 months ago, when Republicans were saying that they might win another eight seats and have a filibuster-proof majority in the United States Senate,” Van Hollen said Sunday on Meet the Press. “No one's talking about that right now.”

In Florida, a Quinnipiac University poll out Monday showed Nelson ahead of Republican Gov. Rick Scott by 7 percentage points; an NBC News poll showed Nelson with a narrower, 4-point edge over the Republican governor.

Scott rejected both surveys, saying Monday morning that he believes the momentum is on his side.

"We have big rallies, lots of energy on our side, so we're going to have a big win,” Scott said on Fox News. “There’s no blue wave. If anything there's a red wave."

Rick Scott wearing a suit and tie: Florida governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott speaks alongside President Donald Trump at a campaign rally at the Pensacola International Airport on Saturday. © Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images Florida governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott speaks alongside President Donald Trump at a campaign rally at the Pensacola International Airport on Saturday. In Missouri, McCaskill led Hawley by 3 points in an NBC poll, 47 to 44 percent, with several other candidates receiving nominal support. Hawley led McCaskill by a similar margin in two separate surveys released Monday. Missouri has no early voting and both parties are working feverishly to boost turnout on Election Day. Trump’s rally there Monday night in the most conservative corner of the state is scheduled just nine hours before polls open.

Democrats also look poised to avoid a debacle in New Jersey, where Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez led Republican Bob Hugin by 15 points in a final Quinnipiac University poll. Democrats invested millions down the stretch to boost Menendez's flagging campaign.

Nationally, polls diverged over whether the environment had shifted for Democrats or Republicans in the final days of the campaign. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll Monday showed Democrats with only a slight lead in the generic ballot, 43 to 40 percent. But a CNN poll showed a 13-point edge for Democrats.

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