NRSC: GOP Senators Running for Sheriff, Not President

by Nathan L. Gonzales July 21, 2016 · 3:26 PM EDT

CLEVELAND — Nine freshman Republicans took the stage Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention to celebrate the GOP majority in the Senate. Six hours earlier, top GOP strategists made the case that they won’t be in the minority next year.  

The National Republican Senatorial Committee's chairman, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and executive director, Ward Baker, briefed reporters at the Drury Plaza Hotel, in the same room where their House counterparts  had briefed reporters the day before.  

The duo came armed with contrasting blue and red ties, a few mixed metaphors, and a quiver of opposition research and talking points.  

“We are entering the second quarter of the football game,” Wicker began, before moving to war terminology. The chairman managed to both agree and disagree with the “pundits” including the “the Cooks and the Rothenbergs.”  

Republicans are defending 10 of the 11 most competitive seats that will decide control of the Senate. If Democrats gain a net of four seats, they can control the Senate with the vice president, while a net gain of five seats gives the party a majority regardless of who sits in the White House. Democrats already hold a narrow advantage in three states currently represented by Republicans: Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana.  

“We will hold the Senate majority in 2016,” declared Baker, the retired Marine who heaped praise on another retired Marine, Rep. Todd Young, now locked in a competitive race against former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh for the open seat in Indiana.  

Even in the face a challenging electoral map, presidential turnout which usually draws more Democratic voters, and a polarizing standard-bearer, Wicker and Baker expressed confidence in retaining the majority because of the quality of their incumbents, campaigns, and messaging, as well as the unpopularity of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.  

Republicans could hold the Senate narrowly, but if the last two presidential cycles are a guide, the playing field is likely to shift in favor of the Democrats after the conventions.  

In 2008, we rated 12 Senate races as competitive before the national conventions, which started in late August. In the two months following the Republican convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota, half of the dozen races shifted in favor of the Democrats (and Georgia was added to the battleground map) while the other six maintained the same rating.  

There wasn’t a single state where Republicans were in a better position on Election Day than they were during the conventions, going by the ratings. And Democrats gained eight seats that cycle.

In 2012, we rated 17 races as competitive on Sept. 3, after the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, and before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.  

In the two months of campaigning between the conventions and Election Day, nine of the 17 competitive races shifted toward the Democrats (Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona, Indiana, Hawaii, Missouri, and Michigan), six states (Montana, Virginia, Connecticut, New Mexico, Maine, and Nebraska) had the same rating as during the conventions, and just two shifted toward the Republicans (North Dakota and Nevada). A third state, Pennsylvania, was rated as safe during the conventions but came onto the map as Democrat Favored in the subsequent weeks.  

During the 2012 conventions, the national outlook for the Senate was a range of no net gain to a Republican gain of three seats. In the end, Democrats gained two seats, including holding North Dakota in a close race where polling indicated they were narrow underdogs leading up to Election Day.  

Of course Democrats were buoyed by Presidential Barack Obama’s historic election and impressive campaign operations in those cycles, but Republicans weren’t dealing with the historic unpopularity of their own nominee.

In the briefing Tuesday, Wicker and Baker repeatedly deflected questions about Trump.  

“We’re running for the Senate. We’re not running for president,” Baker said.   

“We literally try to run sheriff races,” he added, explaining that vulnerable GOP incumbents are laser-focused on local issues and understanding voters at the precinct level.   

With the earlier-than-usual conventions, Republicans will have over three months to execute their battle plan in order to win the game and hold the majority.