Tuesday, 1 Dec 2020

Fueled by Cash, Health Care and Trump’s Woes, Democrats Aim for Senate Control

Republicans are battling to hold off losses by warning of the risks of unified Democratic power in Washington, but they concede their majority is in peril.

By Carl Hulse

BOZEMAN, Mont. — Voters caught up in this state’s exceedingly close Senate race could be forgiven for believing Gov. Steve Bullock, the Democratic candidate, was sharing the ballot with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader.

An incessant stream of Republican-funded advertisements depicts Mr. Bullock, a popular two-term governor, alongside Mr. Schumer and other leading Democrats such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Senator Steve Daines, the Republican incumbent battling for political survival in the conservative-leaning state, regularly tries to tie his opponent to the national party, asserting that Mr. Bullock is Mr. Schumer’s “lap dog.”

“Steve Bullock in the Senate puts Chuck Schumer in charge,” the latest ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee said. “Think about that.”

Mr. Bullock doesn’t think much about it.

“I say it is all B.S.,” he said in an interview as snow descended upon Montana and shut down campaign appearances already curtailed by the coronavirus, which has hung over the election season and was surging anew in the Mountain West. “Montanans see through some of the stuff where they are trying to turn me into something they don’t recognize.”

But while the governor resented the ad’s implication, in one respect it was absolutely true: If Mr. Bullock is elected to the Senate, Mr. Schumer will almost certainly be in charge as the majority leader.

Here in Montana and in crucial battleground states across the country, Republicans are playing defense in a struggle for control of the Senate. Dragged by President Trump’s struggles even in conservative states and confronting a phalanx of Democratic opponents who have raked in extraordinary sums of cash to challenge them, Republicans privately acknowledge that their majority is hanging by a thread.

The Montana race, described by strategists for both parties as a coin flip, is one of a handful of contests that will determine control of the Senate and the ability of the next president to pursue his agenda, fill a cabinet and win the judicial confirmations suddenly at the forefront of the nation’s political dialogue. Democrats have other narrow paths to Senate power, but a Bullock victory would essentially assure it and signal Democratic gains elsewhere.

As the race entered its final days, Republicans led by Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, were being forced to shore up candidates in traditionally safe locations such as Alaska, Kansas and South Carolina. Democrats believe they are already on track to win Arizona and Colorado and are on the hunt for a half-dozen others starting with Iowa, Maine and North Carolina. Georgia is suddenly looming as a real opportunity for Democrats, with both of the state’s Republican senators at risk.

Democrats conceded they were likely to lose in Alabama, where Senator Doug Jones is running for re-election after an upset victory in a special election in 2017, and are keeping a close watch on Michigan, where Senator Gary Peters is facing John James, a Republican who was receiving a last-minute surge of outside money. But they were eyeing significant pickups elsewhere.

With Republicans holding the Senate majority by a margin of 53 to 47, a net gain of three seats would put Democrats in control should former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. win the presidency; four would be required if Mr. Trump is re-elected.

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