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Trump Hovers Over McCain, Rubio Senate Re-Election Races

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican voters in Arizona and Florida are expected to pick Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio as their respective U.S. Senate nominees when they go to the polls on Tuesday, but one name not on either ballot, Donald Trump, looms large.

The Republican presidential nominee has endorsed both McCain and Rubio in their re-election bids even though he has rocky relations with both senators.

Trump offended McCain and many other Republicans last year by suggesting that the maverick senator and party’s 2008 presidential nominee was anything but a war hero because he was captured during the Vietnam War after his airplane was shot down during a bombing mission.

In March, Trump ended Rubio’s presidential bid by trouncing him in the Florida primary to cap a race in which the New York businessman taunted the first-term senator as “little Marco,” and Rubio insulted Trump on everything from his hair color and the size of his hands to misspelled words in tweets.

During their re-election efforts, both McCain and Rubio have offered support for Trump as the party’s White House nominee. But they have tiptoed around him, mainly out of concern that his provocative comments on illegal immigration, Muslims and U.S. support for NATO could alienate moderate and independent voters in their states.

At the same time, they have steered clear of attacks on Trump that might antagonize his core supporters.

Adding to the intrigue is that the fates of the two senators will likely play a big role in whether Republicans can upset expectations and maintain majority control of the Senate after the Nov. 8 election.

But first, McCain will have to win Tuesday’s Republican primary in Arizona and Rubio will have to prevail in Florida.

McCain, who is trying to extend a 30-year Senate career, faces a challenge from physician and former state Senator Kelli Ward, who is aligned with the conservative Tea Party movement.

McCain leads Ward by 55 percent to 29 percent, according to a CNN opinion poll released last week. But Ward is ratcheting up her attacks, arguing: “It’s time to defeat the establishment and retire McCain.”

In an interview last week with Politico, Ward called McCain, 80, “a pretty sour old guy.” Citing her medical background, she questioned whether he would even live long enough to complete another six-year Senate term.

Ward has aligned herself with Trump, who will face Democrat Hillary Clinton in November’s presidential election.


Echoing Trump’s call for the building of a wall on the southern border with Mexico, Ward has boasted: “It’s time to mix the mortar to fix the border.”

Trying to neutralize Ward’s appeal with conservatives, McCain has touted his support for gun rights, his vow to cut government waste and endorsements from anti-abortion leaders.

If McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, wins on Tuesday, he would face Democratic U.S. Representative Ann Kirkpatrick.

While McCain has said he is in the toughest re-election fight of his career, the CNN poll has him opening a 13-point lead over Kirkpatrick.

Rubio, who decided last year not to seek re-election to the Senate in order to pursue the Republican presidential nomination, jumped into the race in June after his failed White House bid.

His late decision to seek a second Senate term came at the urging of Republican Party leaders, who viewed him as their best hope for preventing Democrats from taking the seat.

That prompted the major Republican Senate candidates to quit, leaving Carlos Beruff, 58, a millionaire homebuilder and newcomer to politics, as Rubio’s main primary challenger. Like Ward, Beruff has embraced Trump and has accused Rubio of “tap dancing” around the presidential nominee and only offering him lukewarm support.

Rubio is polling well ahead of Beruff. A win on Tuesday means Rubio would likely face U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy, who leads the Democratic field.

(Additional reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Caren Bohan and Peter Cooney)

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump waves goodbye as he leaves the stage after his wife Melania concluded her remarks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Reverse Coattails: How Trump Is Harming Republican Senate Hopes

Donald Trump may not only be damaging his own campaign with every speech. He’s also hurting the campaigns of his fellow Republicans. So far, Trump is polling behind GOP senators in several states, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. If that trend continues, support for the Republican senators running for re-election in those states may continue to hold steady, allowing the GOP to maintain their Senate majority, or, as Five Thirty Eight notes, Trump may drag down down-ticket races even more than he already has.

Currently, Republicans have a majority in the Senate with 54 seats. If Democrats gain four seats and Hillary Clinton wins the White House, the Senate will revert to Democrats, as the vice president casts tie-breaking votes. If Clinton doesn’t win, Dems need to pick up five seats. There are 34 seats up for a vote on this November, and according to Five Thirty Eight, the ten “closest to changing parties,” as shown in the current polling averages are as follows: Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

In each of these states except Wisconsin, Trump polls decidedly worse than Republican Party’s nominee for Senate. In Wisconsin, Trump still polls behind Sen. Ron Johnson, but just by one point.

Trump is also polling behind Clinton in eight of these ten states, with the exception of Arizona and Missouri.

Five Thirty Eight suggests that unless voters decide to split their tickets (which could happen), Trump may take the Republican Senate candidates down with him. A recent New Hampshire poll, in fact, seems to indicate that Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s poll numbers are closely tied to Trump — bad news for the Senator.

In an interview with Talking Points Memo published Saturday, Saint Louis University political scientist Ken Warren broke down the Senate race in Missouri between Republican Sen. Roy Blunt and Democrat Jason Kander, Missouri’s secretary of state, who is polling very well.  Blunt has endorsed Trump. Warren says “There’s no question that Trump will hurt Blunt.”

“A lot of Republicans just do not support Trump, particularly the more educated, more metropolitan Republicans who will not turn out. If fewer Republican voters show up and vote for the Republican ticket, it’s essentially negative coattails.”

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in Fairfield , Connecticut, U.S., August 13, 2016. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin

Chris Van Hollen To Run For Senate In Maryland

By Alexis Levinson, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen announced Wednesday he will run for the seat of retiring Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, moving swiftly as numerous other ambitious Democrats have their eye on the race.

“I am excited to share that I have decided to run for the United States Senate from our great State of Maryland,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

The seven-term congressman’s move comes just two days after Mikulski announced she wouldn’t seek another term and with nearly every other member of Maryland’s congressional delegation pondering whether to run for just the second open Senate seat in the last 30 years.

Rep. Donna Edwards told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday she is seriously considering a bid and would make a decision soon.

“I’ve made quite clear that I’m interested in running,” she said. “I see a pathway to succeeding Barbara Mikulski.”

As for a timeline, Edwards said, “give me a couple of days or so, and I’ll figure it all out.” Van Hollen confirmed his candidacy just a couple of hours later, but Edwards made clear she had no compunction about running against her colleagues.

“Was it a factor to me when I ran for Congress against a seven-term incumbent and every bit of the establishment was against me? Not really,” she said, referring to her first election to Congress when she ousted fellow Democrat Al Wynn.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who is also considering a bid, greeted reporters’ questions Wednesday with a hearty laugh. He confirmed as he walked away, “That’s not a no.”

Other members of the delegation are also reportedly considering it. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger told Bloomberg he was giving the possibility of running “very serious consideration,” and Rep. John Delaney tweeted Monday that he “will explore a race for Senate.”

Rep. John Sarbanes is also considered a possible contender. He is the son of longtime former Sen. Paul Sarbanes.

Photo: Edward Kimmel via Flickr

McConnell’s Move To Avert Shutdown Cheers Vulnerable Senators Up In 2016

By Niels Lesniewski and Humberto Sanchez, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is always looking ahead to the next election.

And as much as the Kentucky Republican’s move to go ahead with a clean bill funding the Department of Homeland Security drew the ire of the conservative base, others including those on the ballot and vulnerable in 2016 said it was important to resolve the issue and get on with the GOP agenda.

Republican Senator Mark S. Kirk, who is running for re-election in the generally blue state of Illinois, said Tuesday that GOP senators should tell the House Republicans who are against advancing the appropriations bill without riders in opposition to President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration that “this is the way the Senate demands this go.”

“The House should just go along with the Senate. The burden of majority is the burden of governing, and you’ve got to fund” Homeland Security, Kirk said, praising McConnell’s efforts. “Mitch has been around the block a few times … we’ll be able to extract ourselves from a totally unnecessary battle that the House has put us in.”

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), whose seat is also up in 2016, said he hopes that the fight between those who want to govern and conservatives doesn’t continue to flare up.

“I hope not because it’s very important to show that we can govern, so we are going to have to show some results here,” McCain said, adding that he believes that splitting the bill was the “right strategy.”

But while a path is clear (though perhaps rough) to pass a clean DHS bill through the Senate, getting one through the House could be difficult, at best. One GOP senator up for re-election in 2016 said it doesn’t do any good for only the Senate to act.

“I don’t think most people distinguish between the House and the Senate in the real world,” the senator said. “That’s not a governing majority if the House can’t” ultimately clear the bill to send it to Obama’s desk.

But coordinating with the House has proven difficult.

“The House doesn’t know what it can do until they have to do it,” the senator said.

Another factor at play? The presence of swarms of conservative activists not far away at the National Harbor resort in suburban Maryland for the Conservative Political Action Conference, where the idea of funding the Homeland Security Department without a blockade of the executive actions — however impossible — will likely go over like a lead balloon.

“The activist community obviously is very adamantly opposed to what the president’s executive action did. It was unconstitutional … and illegal, and so you know, they want to see, I think, Congress battle the White House over that,” South Dakota GOP Senator John Thune said. “The fact that a lot of people are here for that, perhaps shapes a little bit the discussion.”

But Thune, the Republican Conference chairman, said that it was also important to get fiscal 2015 spending figured out in order to focus on Republican priorities.

“I think in terms of the rest of the legislative agenda that I think that we really want to take on for the balance of the year, you know, the longer we get into this protracted discussion about this particular appropriations bill, the harder it is to get on to those other items,” Thune said. “It’s important, and we need to express in a very direct … way our opposition to the president’s executive order.”

“At some point, I hope we can navigate this and get on to where we’re dealing with things that are about creating jobs and growing the economy,” Thune said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran echoed that sentiment. The Mississippi Republican noted that his subcommittees have already begun to hold hearing on the dozen fiscal 2016 measures.

“It certainly provides an incentive to restore the regular order of procedure. You know, with the hearings and experts from outside of Congress and the government giving us their reaction to legislation and proposals for dealing more effectively with spending of the taxpayers’ dollars,” Cochran said. “We do have a good number of newer, younger members and I think it’s a good time to really take a hard look at our procedures for managing the … budget that we don’t incur big deficits inevitably within our operating budgets.”

Former Republican Senator Judd Gregg, who was in the Capitol on Wednesday, underscored the need to govern, or the GOP majority will be threatened. His home state of New Hampshire is sure to be one of the hottest battlegrounds on the 2016 Senate map, where GOP incumbent Kelly Ayotte will be on the ballot.

“There is nobody in the party who’s really not a conservative,” Gregg said. “But some people are here to govern, and some people are here to get attention and some people are here for purposes that are unclear to me. But in any event, the purpose of the majority is to govern. Once you are given the majority you can no longer stand in the corner and shout. So the job is to govern and that means you have to reach agreement and in the Senate … you have to go across the aisle to reach agreement.”

Ayotte was quick to issue a statement on Tuesday in support of McConnell’s move ahead with the clean DHS spending bill, while also setting up a vote on a proposal from Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), expressing opposition to Obama’s 2014 executive actions.

“I am encouraged that a recent court ruling has found the president’s executive action on immigration exceeded his legal authority and has blocked its implementation. In light of the court injunction – which prevents the administration from carrying out the president’s executive action – I will support legislation that would fully fund homeland security operations for the rest of the fiscal year,” Ayotte said. “I will also vote in favor of a separate measure that would defund the president’s 2014 executive action, and I support further challenging his illegal actions through the court system.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr