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Trump’s immigration push lifts Senate GOP

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© Getty Images Trump’s immigration push lifts Senate GOP

By Alexander Bolton, The Hill

President Trump's focus on immigration has lifted Republican chances of building their Senate majority, even as it's rattling GOP lawmakers in the House.

Republican Senate candidates in Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota have all seen their fortunes rise in the last few weeks as Trump talks up immigration and makes a flurry of campaign appearances, including in Indianapolis on Friday night.

Immigration isn't the only reason for the Senate GOP's rising confidence in the last few weeks. The party also believes its Senate candidates were helped by the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation.

But it's unmistakable that the GOP candidates in red states won by Trump in 2016 are on the rise as Trump zeroes in on what he says is an imminent danger from illegal immigration.

What makes the rise all the more remarkable is that it is happening as GOP strategists express fears that the House majority could be slipping away.

One such strategist, Ford O'Connell, predicted that Democrats would likely pick up 30 House seats - seven more than the 23 Democrats need to win the majority - but that Republicans will keep control of the Senate.

"The Republicans are going to keep the Senate. The only question is whether they make gains or they flatline," he said.

O'Connell says Senate Republican candidates such as Josh Hawley in Missouri, Mike Braun in Indiana, Matt Rosendale in Montana and Patrick Morrisey in West Virginia have momentum.

Trump's vow to stop the caravan of illegal migrants marching to the U.S. border from Central America has revved up conservative voters in these Senate battlegrounds, all of which Trump carried by more than double digits.

The president said this week that he may send 15,000 troops to the border and warned that soldiers could fire on migrants who throw rocks - though he later backed off and said they would be arrested instead.

"When we look at the polling, immigration is the issue that fires up Republicans the most and is also the issue that best correlates to turnout," O'Connell added.

But what's good for statewide Republican candidates in Montana and Missouri could wind up hurting moderate Republican candidates among college-educated voters in suburban swing House districts.

"I don't think it's going to work so well for Carlos Curbelo in Florida," O'Connell said of the second-term Republican representative who represents a 70-percent Latino district just outside of Miami which Hillary Clinton won by 16 points.

Democrats say Trump's rhetoric on immigration has turned off college-educated voters in suburban districts, especially women.

They believe that the president's strategy is to sacrifice those districts and rev up Republican voters in more conservative areas to limit the loss in the House to 30 to 35 seats.

"It's backfiring badly in the Hillary Clinton districts and with women voters, particularly college-educated women," said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. "I think [Trump] is trying to hold the line with the blue-collar districts and also the Senate races in Republican states.

"What he's trying to do is draw a red line where he's going to sacrifice some suburban district to keep the erosion down and increase his margin in the Senate," she added. "It's getting worse and worse with the 15,000 troops."

Trump caused an uproar this week when he tweeted a web video of Luis Bracamontes, an illegal immigrant who killed two California police officers, declaring in a court room that he wished he could kill more.

The video also appears to show a crowd of migrants breaking down fences and gates, superimposed with the text, "Who else would Democrats let in?"

Mike Lux, a Democratic strategist who worked in the Clinton White House, said he's seen internal polling that shows Trump's rhetoric has energized young voters, who turn out in lower numbers during midterm elections - a crucial bloc for Democrats.

"I'm seeing some evidence in the last week that this is moving more Latinos and young people who are Democrats to go vote," he said, arguing that it will help not only in moderate House districts but also some Senate battlegrounds with high numbers of Hispanic voters.

"We're seeing big numbers of Latino and young voters that did not vote in 2014 and in some cases did not vote in 2016 coming out now. Just in the last week in early voting we've been making big gains in those numbers over what we thought we would," he said.

"Anything that spurs young people to get out and vote is a really helpful thing for Democrats," he added.

Political handicapper Charlie Cook said on MSNBC Thursday that "there seems to be a little bit of movement back towards Democrats" and speculated that Trump's response to the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh may have influenced voters.

But Republicans argue the immigration message is a clear winner with the conservative electorate, who could propel them to victory in Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia if they turn out in large enough numbers.

"We could pick anywhere to two to five Senate seats. I think we'll lose about 35 House seats," said Jim McLaughlin, a Republican pollster.

"I think there's a silent majority looking at the caravan and they want the president up against that," he said. "I've seen in focus groups that some of the people most opposed to [the caravan] are Hispanic voters because the ones who came into the country legally are saying, 'I had to wait on line. I had to do things the right way.'

"Nobody talks to the base better than Trump does," he added.

That could explain why Senate Republican candidates in states with large Hispanic populations are doing better than expected.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who was thought to be the most vulnerable Senate incumbent earlier in the election cycle, has kept a narrow lead over Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen (Nev.) in the polls.

McLaughlin said House GOP incumbents such as Curbelo in Florida and Rep. Will Hurd (R) in Texas, who also represents a district that is close to 70 percent Latino, can withstand a backlash against Trump's rhetoric by having their own, independent political brand.

It's the same strategy that Senate Democrats in red states are using to differentiate themselves from Democratic leaders such as Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) in Washington.

But Democrats think Trump is overplaying his hand on immigration in a way that will backfire on GOP candidates, particularly in competitive House races.

Lake, the Democratic pollster, conceded that polls show not all Latino voters are turned off by Trump's hardline immigration stance.

"Particularly Latino men who have been born and raised here or came here legally, there is some sympathy [to Trump's message] but the sympathy is eroding fast now that he's going so far," she said.

Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who worked on Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign, said Trump's rhetoric hurts Republicans in suburban districts.

"In these suburban districts where Republicans are having a very hard time holding onto voters, Republican women, who were within them in past elections, including the last one, the president's rhetoric is so over the top," he said. "When you have the commander-in-chief talking about American troops shooting unarmed people, it's just so discordant with the way people feel about issues."

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: Trump’s immigration push lifts Senate GOP
Trump’s immigration push lifts Senate GOP
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