(The Hill) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is managing expectations about how many Senate seats are likely to flip in the midterm election after Trump-backed candidates who have perpetuated election fraud conspiracies advanced on Tuesday.
McConnell previously predicted the 2022 midterms would be “very good” for Republicans, citing President Biden’s low approval rating and the historical trend of the president’s party losing seats in the middle of their first term in office.
But the success of candidates backed by former President Donald Trump — who have echoed his unfounded claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election — and the erratic performance of other Senate GOP hopefuls have put a damper on expectations of a Republican tidal wave in November.
McConnell sought to manage expectations Wednesday in an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier when asked about the prospects of Republicans in several key races.
“I think it’s going to be very tight. We have a 50-50 nation. And I think when this Senate race smoke clears, we’re likely to have a very, very close Senate still, with us up slightly or the Democrats up slightly,” McConnell said Wednesday evening on Fox’s “Special Report.”
McConnell delivered his sober-sounding analysis when Baier asked him about Republican candidates such as J.D. Vance, Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker struggling against their Democratic opponents in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia, respectively, in recent polls.
Trump endorsed all three candidates and appeared to help Vance and Oz clinch their primary victories.
An analysis of the Ohio Senate race by FiveThirtyEight found Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio) leading Vance by an average of 2 percentage points in recent polls.
In Pennsylvania, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is leading celebrity doctor Oz by an average of 10 percentage points, and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) is leading former football star Walker by 3 percentage points.
Two more Trump-backed candidates, investment firm executive Blake Masters and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, won their primary races in Arizona and Missouri, respectively, on Tuesday. Both candidates have supported Trump’s claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
Masters said last week that he would have objected to the certification of the 2020 presidential election results if he had been serving in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, and Schmitt joined with 17 other Republican attorneys general in 2020 to overturn the election results.
The emergence of Trump-allied candidates in key Senate races has given Democrats more hope that they can cling to their slim 50-50 majority.
Democrats are also feeling energized by the backlash against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark abortion rights ruling.
Abortion rights advocates scored a major victory Tuesday when voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to remove protections for abortion rights in the state Constitution, voting 59 percent to 41 percent to keep the protections in place.
Asked about how the court’s decision would impact Senate races in the fall, McConnell said, “I don’t think we really know until the end of the year.”
“We’re in the process of finding that out,” he said. “There were a lot of people interested in the issue in Kansas. There’s no question about that.”
More than 900,000 Kansans turned out to vote in Tuesday’s election, more than in any primary election since 2010, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal, a number that experts tied to interest in the abortion question.