WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Hill) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said the political atmosphere is good for Republicans heading into the midterms but warned that the party could bungle its chances if “unacceptable” candidates win their primaries but go on to lose in November.
Republicans are feeling optimistic about their chances to win back the Senate, but they face several messy primaries that could have ramifications for the general election map and the GOP’s chances of picking up, or holding onto, a seat.
McConnell, speaking at a chamber event in Kentucky, said that 1994 had been the best year for Republicans and that the atmosphere heading into November “is better than it was in 1994.”
“From an atmospheric point of view, it’s a perfect storm of problems for the Democrats,” McConnell said. “How could you screw this up? It’s actually possible. And we’ve had some experience with that in the past.”
“In the Senate, if you look at where we have to compete in order to get into a majority, there are places that are competitive in the general election. So you can’t nominate somebody who’s just sort of unacceptable to a broader group of people and win. We had that experience in 2010 and 2012,” McConnell added.
To win back the Senate in November, Republicans would need a net pickup of just one seat to tip the current 50-50 balance. Republicans are defending 21 seats, compared to Democrats’ 14, including two seats currently held by Republicans that are in states President Biden won in 2020.
Five seats are rated by The Cook Political Report as toss-ups. Three of those — Nevada, Georgia and Arizona — are currently held by Democrats, while two — Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — are currently held by Republicans. In Pennsylvania, GOP Sen. Pat Toomey is retiring.
Meanwhile, three of the seats currently held by Republicans are ranked as “lean” Republican: Florida, Ohio and North Carolina. In Florida, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio is running for reelection, while Ohio and North Carolina are open races because GOP Sens. Rob Portman and Richard Burr are retiring.
Only one seat currently held by Democrats is ranked “lean” Democrat: New Hampshire, where Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan is running for reelection.
Despite having to play defense on a larger swath of seats, Republicans are increasingly confident about their chances of winning back the majority in November as Biden struggles to rebound in polling and Americans remain concerned about inflation and the economy more broadly.
But first Republicans need to navigate several crowded primaries that will determine who their nominee is in the general election.
Former President Trump over the weekend irked some allies when he endorsed Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Senate race. There’s also been running high-profile tension in the North Carolina GOP primary, where Trump has endorsed Rep. Ted Budd.
Top GOP figures have also raised red flags over Senate candidate Eric Greitens in Missouri. Greitens’s ex-wife is accusing him of abusing her and their children while they were married. The accusations, which Greitens has denied, sparked calls for him to drop out of the race.
Republicans in previous cycles have watched GOP nominees win the party’s primary only to lose the Senate seat in the general election. McConnell has warned that he and his allies could step in where a candidate they view as unable to win in November appears poised to win the primary.
The fight for the Senate is running through several states, most of which McConnell mentioned on Tuesday: Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin.
“So far, I’m optimistic that in the places that are going to determine who the next majority leader is we’re going to have fully electable nominees,” McConnell said.