Republicans run into early headwinds in two critical Senate races

Republicans run into early headwinds in two critical Senate races

Last year, Senate Republicans were already feeling so desperate about their upcoming midterm prospects that they rushed to wish Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa a speedy and full recovery from COVID-19 so that he could run for reelection in 2022. The power of incumbency is a huge advantage for any politician, and Republicans were clinging to the idea of sending Grassley—who will be 89 when the ’22 general election rolls around—back to the upper chamber for another six-year term.  

GOP fortunes have improved slightly since then, with historical trends improving their midterm prospects since Democrats now control the White House and both chambers of Congress. But the Senate map is still a long ways away from a gimme for Republicans, and several recent developments have brought good news for Democrats. 

The first of those is a new poll from the Des Moines Register showing that nearly two-thirds of Iowa voters (64%) believe “it’s time for someone else” to hold Grassley’s seat versus the 27% who want to see the octogenarian reelected to an eighth term. Women voters were especially brutal, with seven out of ten saying they were ready to give Grassley the heave-ho.

Grassley’s numbers with GOP voters lagged too, with just 51% committing to supporting him again, while just 7% of Democrats and 23% of independents agreed. Grassley’s overall job approval clocked in at a meager 45%; it’s his lowest level since 1982.

The poll, conducted by Selzer & Co., upends Republican thinking that another Grassley run could help safeguard the seat. In fact, Grassley may be a liability in the general election, or GOP primary voters may choose an alternative. In any case, Iowa’s Senate race could prove more competitive than Republicans had hoped. 

Meanwhile, the GOP primary race for North Carolina’s open Senate seat has been scrambled by Donald Trump’s surprise endorsement of hard-right Congressman Ted Budd, according to Politico. Following Trump’s input at the state party convention earlier this month, former North Carolina governor-turned-Senate candidate Pat McCrory rushed to dismiss the endorsement as falling “flat” in the room.

Now, retiring GOP Sen. Richard Burr is coming to McCrory’s rescue, reportedly arguing both publicly and privately that he is “the only one in the race” who can win the seat statewide. “Pat McCrory has a commanding advantage,” Burr told Politico.

Burr, one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump of impeachment charges, also took a swipe at Trump’s rationale, or lack thereof.

“I can’t tell you what motivates him,” Burr said of Trump. “I’ve never seen individuals endorse a candidate a year before the primary. That’s unusual.”

Judging by Budd’s own internal polling, Burr has a point. McCrory enjoys far higher statewide name recognition, and he’s leading Budd by about two dozen points, 45%-19%. Another Republican contender, former Rep. Mark Walker, garners just 12% of the vote, with 23% still undecided. 

McCrory, who has been meeting with GOP senators to make his case, is running as an establishment Republican. Budd obviously occupies the Trump lane now. It’s a scenario that could easily leave one side or the other feeling resentful depending on which Republican prevails, and any result on the GOP side could wind up depressing at least some general election turnout among Tar Heel Republicans.

But that’s the least of the GOP’s worries, according to McCrory’s camp, which is intent on catastrophizing the ultimate result of a Budd primary win.

“If Republicans want a majority in the U.S. Senate, they will nominate Pat McCrory,” said McCrory adviser Jordan Shaw. “Otherwise, Democrats are going to take this seat and keep the majority.”

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