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Could Trump Cost McConnell His Senate Majority?

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

In his attempt to maintain control of the U.S. Senate and send a Republican to the White House this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is walking an awkward line when talking about presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

In an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, McConnell was asked if Trump’s nomination would help Republican candidates for Senate during the November general election.

“I think we don’t know yet,” McConnell said. “What I do think is that Senate races are big enough to where you can paint your own picture. And all of our candidates are going to be in a good position to run.”

Republicans are defending 24 of their 54 seats in the Senate and Democrats are defending 10 of their 44 seats.

Steve Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, says it’s unclear if Trump will ultimately hurt the GOP’s chances further down the ballot because he both energizes new voters and disenfranchises established ones.

“He’s offending a lot of voters in the middle that might have supported the GOP and yet he’s not doing it in the way that, say, a Ted Cruz would have done by stating a very clear, stark ideological message around which at least the party could rally within Republican constituencies,” Voss said.

Voss says that Trump is “extreme” on some issues but “not notably conservative” when it comes to others.

Trump has called for barring Muslims from entering the U.S. and deporting all illegal immigrants from the country.

Meanwhile he’s strayed from the GOP platform on abortion to permit the procedure in situations of rape, incest and in cases where the mother’s life is threatened.

“It so wholly depends on what he does from here on out,” Voss said. “But for sure, nothing he’s done so far has made the map look any better for the Republican Party and there’s a good chance he’s made it worse.”

The Center for Politics’ Senate ratings map predicts Democrats expanding their ranks to at least 47 seats and Republicans holding on to at least 48. The map also predicts five “toss-up” states — Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Hampshire.

While Trump’s message has been embraced by Republican voters all across America, McConnell said he doesn’t believe the party is fundamentally changing.

“What he is helping us do is reach out to voters who lately haven’t voted for Republicans,” McConnell said. “And I think that could end up making him very competitive in November.”

McConnell is trying to encourage Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to run for re-election to his seat, which will be a toss-up between the winner of a crowded GOP primary field and one of two congressmen running in the Democratic primary.

“We’re doing everything we can to encourage him to run,” McConnell said on MSNBC.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Senate Leadership Fund, which has ties to McConnell, is prepared to spend heavily on Rubio’s re-election campaign if he chooses to run.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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