WASHINGTON – Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen is chairman of the Democrats’ 2018 campaign to win back the majority in the Senate, and he has been under no illusions.
“This cycle in the Senate is a very difficult political map for Democrats,” Van Hollen told Capital News Service. “There are 34 senators up this time – 26 of those senators are Democrats and eight are Republican seats. So, as you can see, there’s a lot of focus on protecting incumbent senators and we are doing everything we can to try and pick up those eight seats.”
With the 2018 midterm elections just days away, Van Hollen and his Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are making their final campaign pushes in hopes of breaking the GOP’s hold on the Senate, just as Democratic counterparts are trying to do in the House.
In order to gain control of the Senate, the Democrats need to win enough seats to reach at least a 51-member majority. Currently, the Republicans have control, with a 51-49 majority.
Although flipping the Senate to the Democrats at first glance looks doable, they must defend 10 seats in states that voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Republicans, on the other hand, only are defending one seat in a state that voted for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
As of Friday, the nonpartisan political site FiveThirtyEight said the Democrats had only a 1 in 7 chance of taking control of the Senate Tuesday.
Van Hollen told CNS that the DSCC is focusing most of its campaigning resources in battleground states that have very close contests, including Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee and Texas.
Sen. Cory Gardner, chairman of the Republican National Senatorial Committee, told GOP donors last month the party is positioned to win most of the competitive Senate seats and could hold as many as 55 seats when the balloting is over, according to Politico.
The NRSC did not respond to CNS requests for interviews.
Helping Democrats, Van Hollen believes, is the fact that “the biggest issue on voters’ minds is the cost of healthcare and health coverage issues.”
“There was a big effort last year launched by Republicans to strip away protections of the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “That means that people would lose their protections for pre-existing health conditions.”
“All of a sudden, people became very focused on what they had to lose, and they didn’t like what they saw,” he said.
Because that is what Democratic senators and Senate candidates are hearing in this “grassroots bottom-up concern” from constituents, all have been putting forth specific proposals to address those issues, according to Van Hollen.
But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a different opinion regarding how much Medicare proposals are helping the Democrats. At a “Washington Post Live” event last month previewing the midterm elections, Gingrich expressed his belief that these big issues are tearing the parties apart, not bringing them together.
“Some of the Democrats made a real run for a while at sort of a Medicare for everyone, that looked like it was almost going to take off until people started looking at it, and they’ve since backed off because it’s not very defensible,” Gingrich said.
“I don’t want to sound self-serving, but it is really hard to come up with five or 10 big ideas and hammer them out and get 200 and some people – in our case, we’ve got something like 400 people who are candidates – to sign on to them. And most of the time, people just get too tired in both parties,” Gingrich said.
Right now, the biggest concern in the midterm elections is voter turnout. Democrats, more so than Republicans, tend to have a large number of “drop-off voters” – those who vote in presidential election years but drop off in midterms.
Nevertheless, Van Hollen said there have already been “good signs” in early voting in some states. In Florida, one in four voters during the early voting period was a new voter, meaning this was his or her first time voting in a midterm election.
Van Hollen remains hopeful that Democrats can do well in Tuesday’s Senate races.
“Do Senate Democrats have a path to Senate majority? Yes. It is a narrow path,” Van Hollen said. “Because of the strength of our candidates and the fact that they are working hard for their states, we find ourselves in a stronger position than anyone imagined.”
Gingrich is skeptical. It’s going to be a GOP night.
“I literally think (the Republicans are) more likely to be at 57 in the Senate than (Democratic Minority Leader Chuck) Schumer is to be leader,” Gingrich said. “So, I think if you look at the Senate, he’s (Trump) going to get all of his judges; he’s going to get all of his appointments; he’s going to continue to reshape the government.”