In congressional races across America, Republicans are beginning to echo Democrats on a core assumption: Hillary Clinton will be president.
With Donald Trump lagging in the polls, Republicans running for Congress are urging voters to elect them as a check on a Clinton presidency. Democrats, meanwhile, argue Hillary Clinton will need allies on Capitol Hill to enact her agenda.
In a hotly contested Minnesota congressional district, Republican Stewart Mills all but concedes his party’s presidential nominee will lose on November 8, but he tries to turn that prospect to his advantage in a television ad against his opponent, Democrat Rick Nolan.
“Nolan would give Hillary Clinton a blank check to run up trillions in new debt and job-destroying taxes,” the advertisement asserts while flashing a series of cropped images of Nolan and Clinton superimposed against the U.S. Capitol building and other backdrops.
“Rick Nolan and Hillary Clinton: wrong on spending, wrong on national security, wrong for Minnesota families,” the ad concludes.
Republicans in the Senate, like Missouri’s Roy Blunt, are using the tactic, as well.
“One Hillary in Washington would be bad enough,” a television ad in support of Blunt asserts while showing a split screen with identical photos of the Democratic presidential nominee. Then, one of the Clinton images morphs into the face of Jason Kander, the Democrat challenging Blunt.
“Reject Jason Kander,” the ad urges.
Republicans are in survival mode, hoping a Trump loss will not torpedo the party’s congressional candidates, according to one political analyst.
“It [the Republican ad campaign] says that the Republican Party is coming to terms with the fact that they are going to lose the White House in a couple of weeks,” said John Hudak of the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Donald Trump’s falling poll numbers are starting to infect down-ballot races.”
Democrats, sticking together
While Trump usually walks on stage alone, shunned by Republican lawmakers in states where he holds rallies, Democratic congressional candidates are flocking to Clinton for a moment in the spotlight.
“It is so important that we elect Hillary Clinton and Democrats up and down the ticket on November 8,” said New Hampshire Senate candidate Maggie Hassan, the first speaker at a recent Clinton rally in her state.
Moments later, Clinton took the podium and returned the favor.
“What I love about Maggie is that she’s independent, she knows how to find common ground,” the Democratic presidential nominee said.
President Barack Obama is also campaigning for Democrats around the country, and mocking the Republican message about the need for a legislative counterweight to a Clinton presidency
“'You should vote Republican anyway because we will check Hillary’s power. We will be a counterweight.’ No, no, no,” Obama said while campaigning for Democrats in Nevada. “A vote for them is a vote for more gridlock. That is their [the Republican] argument. That is not a good argument.”
Trump, meanwhile, is not hiding his annoyance with Republican lawmakers.
“You have to get out and vote, and that includes helping me elect Republicans all over the place,” Trump said at a Florida rally earlier this week. “I hope they help me, too. It would be nice if they helped us, too, right?”
Publicly dismissing Trump’s chances of winning could be risky for congressional Republicans.
“They are really stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Hudak. “If they run away from Trump completely, they are going to alienate one important group. If they fail to run away from Trump completely, they will alienate another group.”
While Democrats would have to pick up 30 seats to win a majority in the House of Representatives, they would need a net gain of just four to control the Senate if Clinton won the White House.
If Trump won the presidential contest, Democrats would need to pick up five Senate seats to control the chamber.