WASHINGTON — The chief architect of the Democrats’ effort to boost their clout in the Senate said the party has opportunities to pick up seats in Nevada and Arizona, but conceded a “tough political map” has them defending seats in many other states.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen is positioned to beat incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller.
“The polls show we can win there,” Van Hollen said. “When people learn more about Jacky Rosen’s record they support her, and when they find out how the incumbent senator is voting in Washington they don’t like it.”
The two candidates are on opposite sides of the debate on health care reform, and on net neutrality.
Heller is confident he will win re-election in the fall, but he admits the race will likely be close.
“In Nevada, it’s going to be a typical race. It’s going to be close and everybody has to work hard,” Heller told the Review-Journal.
Heller said he would welcome President Donald Trump to the state for any reason, “whether it’s my campaign or any issue he wants to discuss.”
Van Hollen said the DSCC would welcome campaign help from former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but those decisions would be made by candidates in each state.
Rosen and Heller are expected to win their party primaries on June 12, setting up a battle in November that is likely to be one of the most closely watched contests in the country.
The non-partisan Cook Political Report has rated the Nevada Senate race a “toss up.”
Another seat Democrats hope to win is in Arizona, where Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, is stepping down.
Democrats are defending 23 seats in the 2018 midterm election; Republicans just nine seats. Two independent senators, in Vermont and and Maine, who caucus with Democrats, also face re-election.
“It’s a tough political map, there is no doubt about it,” Van Hollen told reporters at a morning gathering organized by the Christian Science Monitor.
Democrats face serious challenges in Florida, West Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana, Montana and Missouri, states that voted for Trump in the 2016 election.
But Van Hollen said the party is energized and mobilized because promises made by Trump and Republicans “have failed to materialize.”
And incumbent Democrats have fared well over the year, giving the party the opportunity to focus on picking up seats in Nevada and Arizona, Van Hollen said.
He said Americans were most concerned about rising health care costs, an issue that favors Democrats over Republicans on a generic ballot.
Although Van Hollen spoke of an energized Democratic base that helped the party achieve wins in early contests last year, recent polls show an erosion of that momentum.
“Republicans are coming back,” Heller said. “I think Trump has had some really good accomplishments and I think Republicans are frustrated with the press.”
Heller said the media has focused on the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and payments to adult actress Stormy Daniels. That obsession by the media is “motivating the base.”
Van Hollen said the special counsel investigation is not a big issue for voters, but an important issue for all Americans to ensure no one is above the law.
“Health care costs remain one of the top issues across the country,” Van Hollen said.
He said Democrats are on the right side of the health care issue, opposing cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.
While Republicans have touted their tax cut package as an achievement, Van Hollen said the $2 trillion debt it created to give breaks to corporations and the wealthiest taxpayers could turn middle class voters to Democratic candidates.
“The longer it sits out there, the worse it looks,” Van Hollen said of the GOP tax plan.