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GOP Optimistic About Senate Chances    10/05 06:07

   

   NEW YORK (AP) -- Leading Republicans are entering the final month of the 
midterm campaign increasingly optimistic that a Senate majority is within reach 
even as a dramatic family fight in Georgia clouds one of the party's biggest 
pickup opportunities.

   And as some Democrats crow on social media about apparent Republican 
setbacks, party strategists privately concede that their own shortcomings may 
not be outweighed by the GOP's mounting challenges.

   The evolving outlook is tied to a blunt reality: Democrats have virtually no 
margin for error as they confront the weight of history, widespread economic 
concerns and President Joe Biden's weak standing. There is broad agreement 
among both parties that the Democrats' summertime momentum across states like 
Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin has eroded just five weeks before Election 
Day.

   "There's reason to be apprehensive, not reason to be gloomy," veteran 
Democratic strategist James Carville said. "It looked like at the end of August 
we had a little momentum. I don't know if we've regressed any, but we're not 
progressing in many places."

   That tepid outlook comes even as Republicans confront a series of 
self-imposed setbacks in the states that matter most in the 2022 midterms, 
which will decide the balance of power in Congress and statehouses across the 
nation.

   None has been more glaring than Herschel Walker's struggles in Georgia, 
where the Republican Senate candidate's own son accused him of lying about his 
personal challenges -- including a report from The Daily Beast alleging that 
the anti-abortion Walker paid for a girlfriend's abortion in 2009. Walker 
called the accusation a "flat-out lie" and said he would sue, an action his 
campaign hadn't taken as of late Tuesday.

   "Everything has been a lie," Christian Walker responded Tuesday.

   The Republican establishment, including the Sen. Mitch McConnell-aligned 
Senate Leadership Fund, and former President Donald Trump himself remained 
staunchly behind Walker on Tuesday in his bid to oust first-term Democratic 
Sen. Raphael Warnock. The Walker campaign also reported a massive fundraising 
haul that coincided with the latest allegations.

   "If you're in a fight, people will come to your aid," said Steven Law, head 
of the Senate Leadership Fund and a close ally of McConnell, R-Ky.

   Law said the Georgia race had grown increasingly competitive despite the 
Democrats' focus on Walker's personal life. And looking beyond Georgia, Law 
said the political climate was predictably shifting against the party that 
controls the White House, as is typically the case in midterm elections.

   "It certainly seems that voters are returning to a more traditional midterm 
frame of mind," Law said.

   Should Republicans gain even one Senate seat in November, they would take 
control of Congress' upper chamber -- and with it, the power to control 
judicial nominations and policy debates for the last two years of Biden's term. 
Leaders in both parties believe Republicans are likely to take over the House.

   Even facing such odds, it's far too soon to predict a Republican-controlled 
Congress.

   Democrats remain decidedly on offense and are spending heavily to try to 
flip Republican-held seats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Voter 
opposition to the Supreme Court's decision this summer to strip women of their 
constitutional right to an abortion has energized the Democratic base and led 
to a surge in female voter registrations.

   Republicans are most focused on Democratic incumbents in Arizona, Georgia, 
New Hampshire and Nevada, although Republican officials believe that 
underwhelming Trump-backed nominees in Arizona and New Hampshire have dampened 
the party's pickup opportunities.

   "The Republican candidates they're running are too extreme," said J.B. 
Poersch, who leads the pro-Democrat Senate Majority PAC. "I think this is still 
advantage Democrats."

   Meanwhile, conditions in the top battleground states are rapidly evolving.

   In Pennsylvania, Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz faced difficult new 
questions this week raised by a Washington Post article about the medical 
products he endorsed as a daytime television star. Another news report by the 
news site Jezebel detailing how his research caused hundreds of dogs to be 
killed rippled across social media.

   Still, Democratic officials acknowledge the race tightened considerably as 
the calendar shifted to October. And White House officials are concerned about 
Democratic nominee John Fetterman's stamina as he recovers from a May stroke.

   "Senate Republicans had a very bad start to October, but we know each of our 
races will be tight and we're going to keep taking nothing for granted," said 
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who leads the Senate Democrats' campaign arm.

   The GOP Senate candidates' latest challenges in Georgia and Pennsylvania 
dominated social media Monday and Tuesday, according to data compiled by GQR, a 
public opinion research firm that works with Democratic organizations.

   News stories about Walker's abortion accuser and Oz's animal research had 
the first- and second-highest reach of any news stories on Facebook and Twitter 
since they surfaced Monday, topping content related to the television show 
"Sons of Anarchy," another report about Planned Parenthood mobile abortion 
clinics and news about Kanye West. GQR used the social listening tool NewsWhip, 
which tracks over 500,000 websites in more than 100 languages roughly in real 
time.

   In swing-state Nevada, the rhetoric from Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez 
Masto has become increasingly urgent in recent days as she fends off a fierce 
challenge from former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt. Within the White 
House, there is real fear that she could lose her reelection bid, giving 
Republicans the only seat they may need to claim the Senate majority.

   "We have a big problem, friend," Cortez Masto wrote in a fundraising appeal 
Tuesday. "Experts say that our race in Nevada could decide Senate control -- 
and right now, polling shows me 1 point behind my Trump-endorsed opponent."

   Democrats and their allies continue to hope that backlash against the 
Supreme Court's abortion decision will help them overcome historical trends in 
which the party controlling the White House almost always loses seats in 
Congress. Democrats, who control Washington, are also facing deep voter 
pessimism about the direction of the country and Biden's relatively weak 
approval ratings.

   The traditional rules of politics have often been broken in the Trump era. 
In past years, Republicans may have abandoned Walker. But on Tuesday, they 
linked arms behind him.

   Law, of the Senate Leadership Fund, said he takes Walker at his word that he 
did not pay for a former girlfriend's abortion, despite apparent evidence of a 
"Get Well" card with Walker's signature and a check receipt.

   He said voters believe that "Walker may have made mistakes in his personal 
life that affected him and his family, but Warnock has made mistakes in public 
life in Washington that affected them and their families."

   There were some signs of Republican concern on the ground in Georgia, 
however.

   Martha Zoller, a popular Republican radio host in north Georgia and one-time 
congressional candidate, told her audience Tuesday that the latest allegations 
require Walker to reset his campaign with a straightforward admission about his 
"personal demons" and what he's done to overcome them.

   "He needs to fall on the sword. 'I was a dog. ... And I have asked 
forgiveness for it,'" she said, detailing the kind of message she believes 
Walker must give voters. "It would be so refreshing to have somebody just tell 
the truth."

   Veteran Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin warned his party against writing 
off the Georgia Republican.

   "I wouldn't say Walker is done. Over the last couple of cycles we've 
certainly seen Republican candidates survive things that are not supposed to be 
survivable," Schwerin said. "There are a lot of close races, and the dynamics 
of this election are difficult to predict. Everybody is expecting multiple 
shifts in momentum between now and Election Day."

 
 
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