Bloody GOP primaries bolster Democratic hopes for Senate majority

Brandon Presley's phone is ringing a lot these days. The Elvis relative has taken calls from top Democrats, like Sena...

Posted: Dec 18, 2017 2:11 PM
Updated: Dec 18, 2017 2:11 PM

Brandon Presley's phone is ringing a lot these days. The Elvis relative has taken calls from top Democrats, like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation, Rep. Bennie Thompson.

And they all have a message: This is the year a Democrat can win in Mississippi, especially if the GOP eats its own.

Democrats say Republican infighting can help their efforts to win Senate seats in 2018

Red states like Arizona and Mississippi could be in play

They hope that Trump's cascading unpopularity will turn the environment toxic for the GOP

"Anybody that is a Democrat in the South can look to Alabama and finally see a light at the end of the tunnel," said Presley, who's been elected three times to the state utility regulatory commission, and whose grandfather was the brother of Elvis's grandfather.

The stunning loss last week of Roy Moore in deep-red Alabama has given Democrats new hope to do something once viewed as all but impossible: Win back the Senate majority. And to do that, they'll have to defend five of their incumbents in red states Donald Trump won handily in 2016. Plus, they'll have to pick up at least two GOP seats, and one of those seats almost certainly would have to be won in a state with a Republican-heavy electorate.

RELATED: Poll: Half of voters want Democrats to control Congress

Mississippi remains a long shot for Democrats, but they believe they can replicate the Alabama formula: Hope that the staunchly conservative Chris McDaniel challenges Sen. Roger Wicker in the GOP primary, leaving the Republican incumbent weakened -- or defeated -- for a general election against Presley.

McDaniel, who lost a vicious Senate primary fight against Republican Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014, is not deterred.

"It's fair to say that I'm leaning strongly toward the US Senate seat," McDaniel, a state senator, told CNN. "Anybody that understands the Deep South recognizes that for a Democrat to be successful, it's going to take the most egregious allegations imaginable to upend the race."

That's music to the ears of Democrats, since Presley is only likely to run if there's a Republican primary.

Asked if Presley could win a head-to-head race against Wicker, Thompson conceded: "It will be tough." But he flashed a grin when asked about a matchup against McDaniel.

"I think when you picked flawed candidates, that is probably the biggest shortcoming," said Thompson, the state's lone congressional Democrat. "Absolutely," a Democrat could win statewide, he said.

Wicker says he's ready for all challengers and is prepared to mount an aggressive campaign for a third term.

"I've just been getting ready in general for a vigorous re-election," Wicker said.

A broader strategy, but overconfident?

Democratic leaders say that the fight in the South is part of a broader strategy nationwide, vowing to compete all over the country.

Even if they don't win in conservative states, they hope that Trump's cascading unpopularity will turn the environment toxic for the GOP, forcing the party to spread thin its precious resources in a desperate fight to keep its narrow majority.

"We're going to be competing everywhere," said Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "One of the lessons from (Alabama) is that we should compete everywhere -- and anything can happen."

Still, Republicans say that Democrats are growing overconfident and are dubious they can raise the kind of money necessary to compete nationwide. There are still vulnerable Democrats who stand a serious shot of losing in Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Montana.

Plus, they say that the Moore race was an anomaly: He was a highly controversial candidate with positions that put him on the far-right fringe -- compounded by accusations of sexual assault of minors and pursuing relationships with teenage girls.

"I think the Alabama race, what we saw there was a reaction to the candidate," said GOP Sen. Deb Fischer, who is up for re-election next year in the red state of Nebraska.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the Alabama race "was about a candidate. It wasn't about an agenda."

Gardner added: "I feel very optimistic for 2018."

Republicans, too, are confident they can hold onto open seats in deep red states, including if veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch retires in Utah.

In an interview, Hatch signaled he'd make a decision about his future in the new year, adding that he wants to run again while saying that he expected Mitt Romney to mount a bid if he retires.

"I'm leaning in favor of running, but you never know, my wife doesn't want me to run," Hatch, 83, told CNN. Asked about Romney's interest in running, Hatch said: "I think he would -- I think if I hang it up, he might run. I would hope so if I do hang it up."

Democrats on defense in Minnesota?

The GOP hopes it can snag a seat in deep-blue Minnesota now that Sen. Al Franken is resigning amid allegations he touched women inappropriately. Republicans hope that the former governor, Tim Pawlenty, may be convinced to run for the open seat next year.

"I'm hoping Gov. Pawlenty does" run, said former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman, who lost his seat to Franken in a 2008 cliffhanger.

Pawlenty told CNN last week that he is "politically retired," even as he left the door open for a return.

Arizona could go blue

Republicans recognize that traditional GOP states are no slam-dunk in a year when polls show voters backing Democratic control of Congress by wide margins, including a Monmouth survey last week that shows a whopping 15-point preference for Democrats on the generic ballot.

In Arizona, where Republicans could face a brutal Senate primary for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, Democrats have a shot with a moderate Democrat, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.

"If you have a Democrat that runs a good campaign, and a Republican that just drills down on the base like the president does, that's not a good formula," Flake told CNN when asked about the Arizona race.

Asked if he thought Sinema could win, Flake said: "I do."

Moreover, Democrats believe that in two other red states -- Tennessee and Texas -- there's at least an outside shot of pulling off an upset, especially in Tennessee, where former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen is mounting a bid for the seat being vacated by Sen. Bob Corker, where another bitter GOP primary is shaping up.

"Gov. Bredesen's a well-respected former governor," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican from Tennessee. "His biggest challenge will be persuading Tennesseans that they want to move Bob Corker's desk over to Chuck Schumer's side of the aisle."

And in Texas, Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat who is challenging Sen. Ted Cruz, says the results of the Alabama race gives voters a reason to believe that upsets are possible in unthinkable places, including his own. He says he's been campaigning in suburban, rural and ranching communities -- traditional GOP strongholds.

"Democrats haven't been showing up there; we're showing up," O'Rourke said. "And people are turning out, so I'm really encouraged. And I think the only thing that's really changed is now many more people see that this is possible."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 319948

Reported Deaths: 7371
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22285267
Hinds20719421
Harrison18431317
Rankin13901282
Jackson13718248
Madison10263224
Lee10059176
Jones8467167
Forrest7832153
Lauderdale7261242
Lowndes6517150
Lamar635188
Lafayette6313121
Washington5425137
Bolivar4841133
Panola4670110
Oktibbeha466198
Pearl River4605147
Marshall4574105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425873
Monroe4157135
Union415777
Neshoba4063179
Lincoln4008112
Hancock386987
Leflore3515125
Tate342486
Sunflower339491
Pike3371111
Alcorn327272
Scott320374
Yazoo314171
Adams308086
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma298784
Simpson298589
Tippah291968
Prentiss284161
Leake272074
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264642
Grenada264087
George252251
Newton248663
Tishomingo231868
Winston230181
Jasper222148
Attala215073
Chickasaw210559
Holmes190474
Stone188433
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174132
Yalobusha167840
Smith164134
Walthall135347
Greene131834
Lawrence131124
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127238
Amite126242
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108234
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96629
Franklin85023
Quitman82216
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 548657

Reported Deaths: 11306
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810031566
Mobile42105831
Madison35690525
Tuscaloosa26173458
Shelby25607254
Montgomery25081614
Baldwin21868314
Lee16278176
Calhoun14719327
Morgan14629285
Etowah14175364
Marshall12453230
Houston10781287
Elmore10293214
Limestone10179157
St. Clair10162251
Cullman9952201
Lauderdale9603250
DeKalb8972190
Talladega8460184
Walker7338280
Autauga7241113
Blount6945139
Jackson6932113
Colbert6413140
Coffee5635127
Dale4928116
Russell454841
Chilton4476116
Franklin431382
Covington4275122
Tallapoosa4138155
Escambia401680
Chambers3728124
Dallas3607158
Clarke353061
Marion3240107
Pike314378
Lawrence3133100
Winston283472
Bibb268564
Geneva257981
Marengo250565
Pickens236962
Barbour234559
Hale227278
Butler224271
Fayette218862
Henry194543
Randolph187544
Cherokee187345
Monroe180041
Washington170539
Macon163051
Clay160059
Crenshaw155957
Cleburne153444
Lamar146837
Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124342
Conecuh113630
Coosa111729
Perry108626
Sumter105732
Greene93634
Choctaw62125
Out of AL00
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Oxford
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Tropical Depression Claudette has now moved into Alabama and Georgia, leaving with some cloud cover but dry conditions. Most of us will stay dry through this Father's Day but some spotty showers will likely through the late afternoon.
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