Republicans Try to Flip the Script on Down-Ballot Democrats

Campaign posters in downtown D.C. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

After months of attacks by Democrats aimed at down-ballot Republicans over Donald Trump’s uncomfortable and controversial rise through the party’s ranks, the GOP is attempting to reverse the playbook.

Earlier this week, the National Republican Senatorial Committee dropped a stinging video critical of the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and called on Democratic Senate challengers to ask themselves a question.

“Can they really support Hillary Clinton? She’s a living history of scandal, lies and spin,” the video says, echoing a similar theme that has been unleashed by its House counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee.

While much of the focus of the campaign so far this year has been on how unfavorably voters view Trump,  their opinion of Clinton isn’t much better. In a number of states where Democrats are making plays to beat incumbent Republicans – including presidential battleground states Ohio and Pennsylvania – Clinton’s popularity is below 30 percent, according to Morning Consult surveys.

Some Democrats will privately admit concerns about Clinton’s unpopularity, but most scoff at the notion that Clinton’s challenges are comparable to Trump’s. While Clinton has been under attack for years and been locked in a grueling primary with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), no one has spent much television money attacking Trump — yet.

While her support is higher in states such as Florida and North Carolina, only about two in 10 voters have a favorable view of her in some of the more challenging states for Democrats, including Arizona and Missouri, where two of the Senate Democrats’ star recruits are challenging Sen. John McCain and Sen. Roy Blunt.

On Tuesday, Blunt’s campaign released a new video of its own, boosted by a small digital advertising buy, highlighting Kander’s support for Clinton and her support for Obamacare, which remains unpopular in the Show-Me State.

Sadie Weiner, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said she is skeptical of the Republican effort.

“Senate Republicans are desperate to do anything that will change the conversation from Donald Trump, and what choice do they have with a standard-bearer who regularly disparages women, immigrants and Hispanics,” she said. “Even Republican Senate leaders have acknowledged that Trump will be an albatross for their candidates.”

In Kentucky, where only a quarter of voters have a favorable view of Clinton, the campaign has deployed someone on her behalf with a higher favorability from voters: former President Bill Clinton.

When she was in the Bluegrass State over the weekend, speaking with voters in the Cincinnati suburbs Sunday, Clinton said the former president would be “in charge of the economy” if she was president.

“Because, you know, he knows how to do it. Especially in places like coal country and inner-cities and other parts of our country that have really been left out,” she said.

The Clintons made around a dozen trips to Kentucky in May ahead of its presidential primary, but nearly half of them were taken by her husband, not the candidate herself.

Brian Walsh, a Republican consultant who has served as the NRSC’s communications director, said it is “too early to tell” whether the former secretary of State’s own unpopularity will matter in a big way against Trump, who is also unpopular.

“It makes sense for both sides to be prosecuting the arguments that they are, but November is still a very long way away,” he said.


Morning Consult