Bloody GOP primaries bolster Democratic hopes for Senate majority

Brandon Presley's phone is ringing a lot these days. The Elvis relative has taken calls from top Democrats, like Sena...

Posted: Dec 18, 2017 3:11 PM
Updated: Dec 18, 2017 3:11 PM

Brandon Presley's phone is ringing a lot these days. The Elvis relative has taken calls from top Democrats, like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation, Rep. Bennie Thompson.

And they all have a message: This is the year a Democrat can win in Mississippi, especially if the GOP eats its own.

Democrats say Republican infighting can help their efforts to win Senate seats in 2018

Red states like Arizona and Mississippi could be in play

They hope that Trump's cascading unpopularity will turn the environment toxic for the GOP

"Anybody that is a Democrat in the South can look to Alabama and finally see a light at the end of the tunnel," said Presley, who's been elected three times to the state utility regulatory commission, and whose grandfather was the brother of Elvis's grandfather.

The stunning loss last week of Roy Moore in deep-red Alabama has given Democrats new hope to do something once viewed as all but impossible: Win back the Senate majority. And to do that, they'll have to defend five of their incumbents in red states Donald Trump won handily in 2016. Plus, they'll have to pick up at least two GOP seats, and one of those seats almost certainly would have to be won in a state with a Republican-heavy electorate.

RELATED: Poll: Half of voters want Democrats to control Congress

Mississippi remains a long shot for Democrats, but they believe they can replicate the Alabama formula: Hope that the staunchly conservative Chris McDaniel challenges Sen. Roger Wicker in the GOP primary, leaving the Republican incumbent weakened -- or defeated -- for a general election against Presley.

McDaniel, who lost a vicious Senate primary fight against Republican Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014, is not deterred.

"It's fair to say that I'm leaning strongly toward the US Senate seat," McDaniel, a state senator, told CNN. "Anybody that understands the Deep South recognizes that for a Democrat to be successful, it's going to take the most egregious allegations imaginable to upend the race."

That's music to the ears of Democrats, since Presley is only likely to run if there's a Republican primary.

Asked if Presley could win a head-to-head race against Wicker, Thompson conceded: "It will be tough." But he flashed a grin when asked about a matchup against McDaniel.

"I think when you picked flawed candidates, that is probably the biggest shortcoming," said Thompson, the state's lone congressional Democrat. "Absolutely," a Democrat could win statewide, he said.

Wicker says he's ready for all challengers and is prepared to mount an aggressive campaign for a third term.

"I've just been getting ready in general for a vigorous re-election," Wicker said.

A broader strategy, but overconfident?

Democratic leaders say that the fight in the South is part of a broader strategy nationwide, vowing to compete all over the country.

Even if they don't win in conservative states, they hope that Trump's cascading unpopularity will turn the environment toxic for the GOP, forcing the party to spread thin its precious resources in a desperate fight to keep its narrow majority.

"We're going to be competing everywhere," said Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "One of the lessons from (Alabama) is that we should compete everywhere -- and anything can happen."

Still, Republicans say that Democrats are growing overconfident and are dubious they can raise the kind of money necessary to compete nationwide. There are still vulnerable Democrats who stand a serious shot of losing in Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Montana.

Plus, they say that the Moore race was an anomaly: He was a highly controversial candidate with positions that put him on the far-right fringe -- compounded by accusations of sexual assault of minors and pursuing relationships with teenage girls.

"I think the Alabama race, what we saw there was a reaction to the candidate," said GOP Sen. Deb Fischer, who is up for re-election next year in the red state of Nebraska.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the Alabama race "was about a candidate. It wasn't about an agenda."

Gardner added: "I feel very optimistic for 2018."

Republicans, too, are confident they can hold onto open seats in deep red states, including if veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch retires in Utah.

In an interview, Hatch signaled he'd make a decision about his future in the new year, adding that he wants to run again while saying that he expected Mitt Romney to mount a bid if he retires.

"I'm leaning in favor of running, but you never know, my wife doesn't want me to run," Hatch, 83, told CNN. Asked about Romney's interest in running, Hatch said: "I think he would -- I think if I hang it up, he might run. I would hope so if I do hang it up."

Democrats on defense in Minnesota?

The GOP hopes it can snag a seat in deep-blue Minnesota now that Sen. Al Franken is resigning amid allegations he touched women inappropriately. Republicans hope that the former governor, Tim Pawlenty, may be convinced to run for the open seat next year.

"I'm hoping Gov. Pawlenty does" run, said former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman, who lost his seat to Franken in a 2008 cliffhanger.

Pawlenty told CNN last week that he is "politically retired," even as he left the door open for a return.

Arizona could go blue

Republicans recognize that traditional GOP states are no slam-dunk in a year when polls show voters backing Democratic control of Congress by wide margins, including a Monmouth survey last week that shows a whopping 15-point preference for Democrats on the generic ballot.

In Arizona, where Republicans could face a brutal Senate primary for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, Democrats have a shot with a moderate Democrat, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.

"If you have a Democrat that runs a good campaign, and a Republican that just drills down on the base like the president does, that's not a good formula," Flake told CNN when asked about the Arizona race.

Asked if he thought Sinema could win, Flake said: "I do."

Moreover, Democrats believe that in two other red states -- Tennessee and Texas -- there's at least an outside shot of pulling off an upset, especially in Tennessee, where former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen is mounting a bid for the seat being vacated by Sen. Bob Corker, where another bitter GOP primary is shaping up.

"Gov. Bredesen's a well-respected former governor," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican from Tennessee. "His biggest challenge will be persuading Tennesseans that they want to move Bob Corker's desk over to Chuck Schumer's side of the aisle."

And in Texas, Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat who is challenging Sen. Ted Cruz, says the results of the Alabama race gives voters a reason to believe that upsets are possible in unthinkable places, including his own. He says he's been campaigning in suburban, rural and ranching communities -- traditional GOP strongholds.

"Democrats haven't been showing up there; we're showing up," O'Rourke said. "And people are turning out, so I'm really encouraged. And I think the only thing that's really changed is now many more people see that this is possible."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1101185

Reported Deaths: 17557
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1441632231
Lake715041238
Allen65802880
Hamilton50322484
St. Joseph48966643
Elkhart39621543
Vanderburgh34317495
Tippecanoe30336273
Johnson27293465
Hendricks25947380
Porter25171386
Madison20749447
Clark19985277
Vigo18838308
LaPorte16924261
Delaware16480297
Howard16432311
Monroe16415219
Kosciusko13976165
Hancock12899185
Bartholomew12729189
Warrick12051190
Wayne11921267
Floyd11901226
Grant11755240
Morgan10276190
Boone9706121
Noble9094122
Henry9040165
Marshall8932147
Dearborn8866100
Dubois8751139
Shelby8101129
Cass8055127
Lawrence7939184
DeKalb7638107
Jackson752693
Huntington7475110
Gibson7019118
Montgomery6930123
Harrison688298
Knox6855115
Steuben655787
Miami6497109
Whitley644860
Putnam635583
Clinton619877
Wabash6080109
Jasper604992
Jefferson5710103
Ripley550292
Adams533781
Daviess5020117
Scott482880
Wells4733101
White470368
Greene463899
Clay459762
Decatur4548110
Jennings441766
Fayette438494
LaGrange421290
Posey404044
Washington385455
Randolph3834107
Fountain368762
Spencer357347
Fulton356872
Starke349073
Owen347577
Sullivan345754
Orange325571
Jay321950
Rush299632
Carroll290238
Franklin287144
Perry285153
Vermillion281158
Tipton248265
Parke247030
Pike245044
Blackford218744
Pulaski206458
Newton179752
Brown174050
Crawford168129
Benton163917
Martin151719
Switzerland145612
Warren132316
Union118316
Ohio91813
Unassigned0587

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1690217

Reported Deaths: 26587
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1772171827
Cuyahoga1648472640
Hamilton1125391528
Montgomery796451395
Summit705111199
Lucas620241020
Butler56096805
Stark527941171
Lorain41276642
Warren35509412
Mahoning35270771
Lake31622495
Clermont30804363
Delaware26791182
Trumbull26782616
Licking26297336
Medina25419351
Fairfield24256287
Greene24097372
Clark21748387
Portage20807281
Richland20686340
Wood19745246
Allen18638320
Miami17074348
Columbiana16571332
Muskingum16483206
Wayne15482306
Tuscarawas14158360
Marion13116194
Erie12479198
Ashtabula12417232
Scioto12288184
Pickaway12114153
Ross11526225
Hancock11321173
Geauga10726175
Lawrence10531172
Belmont10304234
Huron9633158
Jefferson9504227
Union944075
Sandusky9106166
Seneca8752157
Knox8663170
Washington8632158
Athens828996
Darke8288180
Ashland7873149
Auglaize7794117
Shelby7369133
Defiance7243115
Crawford7129150
Brown7072115
Fulton7058112
Logan6899108
Guernsey684284
Mercer683998
Highland6659119
Madison643889
Clinton6422106
Williams635899
Preble6194140
Putnam6126120
Jackson574096
Champaign570687
Perry561179
Coshocton5576104
Ottawa555499
Morrow509364
Fayette485370
Hardin480699
Gallia465478
Pike460176
Van Wert458993
Adams4531109
Henry426978
Hocking403093
Holmes3947140
Wyandot369373
Carroll354478
Paulding320551
Meigs303459
Monroe233661
Noble218047
Morgan212138
Harrison206953
Vinton184337
Unassigned06
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The warming trend is expected to continue through Thursday, before cooler air returns to the Midwest for the weekend.
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