CNN Key Races: A blue state complicates Democrats' Senate math

If Democrats want to take control of the Senate after the midterm elections -- and they very much want to --...

Posted: Oct 3, 2018 12:43 AM
Updated: Oct 3, 2018 12:43 AM

If Democrats want to take control of the Senate after the midterm elections -- and they very much want to -- they're going to need to defend nearly all of their current seats, knock off at least two vulnerable Republicans and maybe strike deep into red territory.

What they can't afford is to play defense in blue states.

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But that's exactly the position of trial-tainted Sen. Robert Menendez, who survived federal corruption charges in New Jersey with a mistrial and now wants to hold onto his job in the Senate.

A number of factors conspired to make CNN slide the New Jersey Senate race from Likely Democrat to Lean Democrat on Monday.

Read the full report from Dan Merica and Terence Burlij. Polling in New Jersey has suggested the race is incredibly tight -- between two and six percentage points between Menendez and his deep-pocketed challenger Bob Hugin in recent weeks.

Democrats need to pick up two seats to win the Senate majority. That might not sound like a lot of seats in a midterm election year when the anti-Trump winds are undeniably helping them, particularly in House races.

But the map this year, with numerous red state Senate Democrats up for re-election, favors Republicans.

New Jersey should be a gimme for Democrats. Trump lost New Jersey by 14 percentage points in 2016. It's deep blue territory. But now Menendez finds himself in the Lean Democratic column, alongside contested Senate races in Ohio, Montana, West Virginia and Wisconsin, all states President Donald Trump won.

A tight race for Menendez bucks the perception of a Trump backlash that has propelled Democrats this midterm. They're on offense in key suburban House districts around the country and seem very close to knocking Republicans out of the majority in the House. While the Senate is a much different story, there's reason for Democrats to be excited about their Senate chances too. Democrat Beto O'Rourke has vaulted into unlikely contention for the Senate seat in Texas held by Sen. Ted Cruz. But while O'Rourke and his supporters are feeding off the moment, Menendez is finding difficulty despite the moment.

Just like Texas hasn't had a Democrat elected as a senator since Lloyd Bentsen won re-election in 1988, New Jersey hasn't had a Republican elected senator since Clifford Case won re-election in 1972. (Texas did have a Democrat appointee, temporarily, to fill a vacancy, and New Jersey had two Republican senators appointed, temporarily, to fill vacancies).

But while demographers and politics watchers have long wondered if Texas, with its status as one of a handful of majority-minority states, would start to turn toward Democrats, no such turn long-term turn toward Republicans has been predicted for New Jersey.

Arizona, another state that has seemed to move toward Democrats but has not voted Democratic yet, could elect its first Democratic senator since 1988, as Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema squares off against Republican Rep. Martha McSally for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. That seems more likely than either New Jersey or Texas flipping.

The Arizona race, along with Tennessee, is one of two Toss Up open races being vacated by Republicans that Democrats will have to win to realize their slim chances of winning the Senate. The only incumbent Republican incumbent in the Toss Up column is Nevada's Dean Heller. If Democrats swept those three key Toss Up Republican seats, they could gain a slim majority. But their quest will be complicated by the fact that there are three Democratic incumbents who are also in Toss Up races in states Trump won. There's also a Democratic incumbent, North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp, whose race is rated by CNN as Lean Republican. If Democrats lose the race in North Dakota and lose just one of the Toss Up races, their chances of taking the Senate majority go from slim to nearly shut.

Each of these races is unique, as Menendez and his troubles prove, but if Democrats are going to make a play for the majority, a tight New Jersey race, even if it still leans toward Menendez, is the last thing party leaders want to worry about if it provides an unexpected opportunity for Republicans.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 312521

Reported Deaths: 5498
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion42641849
Lake27152455
Allen18010298
Elkhart17177221
St. Joseph16799229
Hamilton13011167
Vanderburgh9751120
Tippecanoe858727
Porter827986
Johnson6389165
Hendricks6098157
Vigo608384
Monroe536750
Clark515077
Madison5060122
Delaware4905103
LaPorte465595
Kosciusko462339
Howard344277
Warrick325672
Bartholomew316863
Floyd316277
Wayne307770
Cass299931
Marshall299144
Grant272550
Noble255046
Hancock253852
Henry247537
Boone244554
Dubois237931
Dearborn219030
Jackson215534
Morgan210843
Knox187819
Gibson186925
Shelby182155
Clinton180321
DeKalb177831
Lawrence177648
Adams168222
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Fayette149234
Steuben147113
Jasper144412
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Whitley137114
Ripley132115
Huntington127410
Decatur126143
Putnam124627
Randolph124519
Wells124429
White123222
Clay122523
Posey122116
Jefferson118816
Scott109020
Greene102653
Jay99013
Sullivan96416
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Fulton84518
Spencer8378
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Washington7527
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Carroll68613
Orange67328
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Owen6087
Tipton57627
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Rush5438
Blackford53412
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Pulaski39515
Martin3585
Brown3424
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Union2702
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Warren2382
Ohio2317
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 382743

Reported Deaths: 6274
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin51161671
Cuyahoga37222743
Hamilton30493372
Montgomery20518236
Butler15199148
Lucas14566417
Summit13933327
Stark9193206
Warren841976
Mahoning7530300
Lake710067
Lorain6690106
Clermont593651
Delaware572537
Licking564577
Trumbull5584147
Fairfield554464
Greene538066
Clark5218101
Allen494989
Marion476759
Medina471657
Wood4598107
Miami437568
Pickaway404048
Portage358972
Columbiana357698
Tuscarawas342667
Richland328539
Wayne327394
Mercer296047
Muskingum252510
Hancock245940
Ross244559
Auglaize236435
Darke232560
Erie230268
Putnam229449
Ashtabula228354
Geauga211851
Scioto200616
Union19668
Shelby194017
Lawrence193039
Athens19134
Seneca182919
Belmont170229
Madison163119
Sandusky157729
Preble156521
Huron155519
Defiance144823
Holmes140439
Logan133517
Knox131718
Fulton128726
Jefferson128613
Crawford126817
Washington125227
Ottawa124530
Clinton109115
Williams10799
Ashland107825
Highland103718
Brown10135
Henry101323
Hardin99719
Champaign9825
Van Wert97318
Jackson96212
Fayette92717
Morrow9202
Guernsey89314
Coshocton85215
Perry82912
Adams80313
Pike7661
Gallia76513
Wyandot73217
Paulding66511
Hocking64516
Noble62224
Carroll48810
Meigs39612
Monroe32321
Morgan2685
Vinton2246
Harrison2193
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