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Perspective: Don’t bet the farm on a GOP takeover of the Senate

In the general election, it doesn’t matter how the Republican base feels. What matters is what voters in the middle think

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U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker talks with Georgia state Sen. Butch Miller and former state Rep. Terry Rogers.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, center, talks with Georgia state Sen. Butch Miller, left, and former state Rep. Terry Rogers as Walker campaigns on July 21, 2022, in Alto, Georgia. Walker is one of the GOP’s hopes for taking control of the Senate in the November midterms.

Bill Barrow, Associated Press

With President Joe Biden’s popularity remaining low and inflation remaining high, some Republicans have been talking about what they will do “when” they retake the U.S. Senate in November, not “if.”

Outrage over news that the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act contained approval of an army of new IRS agents coming to audit your tax return — and the FBI’s search of former President’s Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate — have added to this optimism.

But realistically, it seems Republicans will have an uphill climb this November if they want to take a majority in the chamber. That’s because of the seats that are up for grabs.

Of the 35 Senate seats on the ballot this November — including in California, which will hold a special election to fill Vice President Kamala Harris’s seat — only 14 are held by Democrats, while Republicans have to defend 21 seats. Two of the Republican-held seats considered toss-ups are in states won by Biden in 2020, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

Democrats will defend seats in Arizona and Georgia, two swing states that ought to favor Republicans in an off-presidential election year but may not because of the candidates voters chose in the primaries. 

With just under three months to go to the general election, Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock has pulled slightly ahead of his Republican opponent, former football star Herschel Walker. A longtime friend of Trump, Walker jumped into the race with the former president’s encouragement, despite a history of domestic violence which Walker has admitted.

In Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly has pulled 10 points ahead of his opponent, Blake Masters, in recent polls. Masters, who was backed by tech billionaire Peter Thiel and Trump in the Republican primary, hasn’t had much of a chance to define himself since winning, so there’s still a chance he can make up some of the distance. He’s already starting to try to tack to the center.

Other close races include Democratic seats in Nevada, New Hampshire and Colorado, while Republicans will need to defend their incumbent in a potentially close race in North Carolina and an open seat in Ohio. 

The only race considered a true “toss-up” among those seats is in Nevada, where Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Mastro faces Adam Laxalt, the former state attorney general. Laxalt was backed by Trump, but also has a family legacy in Nevada politics that may help him.

That’s it. There isn’t much there for Republicans to hold onto, making their hopes for a majority a much steeper climb. 

At least some of the blame can be laid at the feet of Republican voters, who seemed more interested in sending a message to the establishment wing of the party in the primary than in winning in November. 

Some of the frustration felt by the Republican base is understandable. As the Republican electorate has grown more working class, the needs and values of the base have changed, and the establishment wing of the party has been slow to catch up. 

Looming over all of this is the anger many Republican voters still feel about how they and their “all-time favorite president,” Trump, were treated by the media and the left — and even some Republican party leaders — during Trump’s presidency. And, of course, despite evidence to the contrary, many still believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, a belief continually stoked by unsavory characters on the right. To them, the FBI raid is just the latest evidence of how unfairly Trump and his supporters have been treated.

But in the general election, it doesn’t matter how the Republican base feels. What matters is what voters in the middle think. 

And what many independent voters seem to crave these days is a little stability. From the turbulent early years of the Trump administration, to the malaise of COVID-19 which has been followed by increasing crime rates and rampant inflation, the whole nation seems fatigued. 

Which party will gain the trust of these voters? 

There are still many unknowns. We don’t know yet whether and how well Republican Senate candidates will tack to the middle this fall. They’ll have to show extraordinary discipline between now and November if they want American voters to trust them. 

And Republicans still have many things going for them. 

Biden is still unpopular, the economy is still on precarious footing, and some of the extreme elements on the left could manage to make things uncomfortable for their own party’s candidates. 

But, ultimately, with an already difficult map to victory, it’s Republicans who’ll have to work harder this fall if they want to win.