From The Hill
New polls showing Hillary Clinton opening up big leads over Donald Trump in two key battlegrounds has sparked alarm among Republicans who worry he will sink their Senate majority.
Trump has had a bad two weeks, and the damage is starting to show in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, two crucial swing states.
Republican strategists and neutral political experts say if Trump loses by eight points or more in states with competitive Senate races, he will likely take Republican incumbents down with him.
“If Trump can keep it close then Senate Republican incumbents have a good chance of winning but if he craters, it’s end of story,” said one Senate Republican strategist.
A WBUR poll of New Hampshire voters released Thursday showed Clinton beating Trump by 17 points in a head-to-head matchup in the Granite State and by 15 points in a four-way race with the Libertarian and Green Party candidates.
The same survey shows Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) trailing Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan by 10 points, 50 percent to 40 percent.
Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, said it will be difficult for Ayotte to win if Clinton carries the state by eight points or more.
“Eight to ten points, a loss like that would be roughly what McCain’s loss to Obama was in 2008, which spelled the end for John Sununu. That’s an awful lot to ask Ayotte to make up,” he said.
President Obama defeated John McCain, the then GOP nominee, by nine points in 2008. Then Republican Sen. John Sununu (N.H.) ran three points ahead of McCain but he couldn’t make up the margin and lost his seat.
In Pennsylvania, another Senate battleground, a Franklin & Marshall poll published Thursday shows Clinton leading Trump by 11 points among likely voters, 49 percent to 38, and by 13 points among registered voters, 48 percent to 35.
That’s bad news for Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, another Republican incumbent facing a tough re-election.
“In 1984, one out of every two voters cast a vote for the president of one party and a member of Congress from the other. In 2012, that number dropped to 20 percent, one in five. So we’re talking about the proverbial coat-tail effect,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall poll.
“You could see that having a huge effect in the Senate,” he added.
A Republican Party official pushed back against both polls, arguing they don’t reflect the reality on the ground.
The source argued the WBUR poll was conducted from July 29 to Aug. 1, immediately after the Democratic convention when Clinton was enjoying a peak in positive media coverage.
“This is a short-term Dem convention bounce and the race should normalize soon,” the source said
The official said Franklin & Marshall poll was flawed because it tested nine different attributes about the presidential race, which all favored Clinton, before asking about the Senate race.
“That is called priming and can push voters in certain directions by highlighting certain issues or attributes in terms of how they might vote,” the source said.
But Trump’s drop in the polls isn’t confined to New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, Madonna noted.
A nationwide Fox News poll published Monday showed Clinton beating Trump by 10 points.
The latest numbers are causing alarm among Senate Republicans who must defend 24 seats in November while Democrats only need to protect 10. If Clinton wins the White House, Democrats need to pick up a net of four seats to recapture control of the upper chamber.
“It scares them. Any Republican in cycle is looking at the polls right now and it makes them very nervous,” said Brian Darling, a former Senate Republican aide.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has signaled that he is willing to distance his vulnerable members from Trump if needed.
McConnell told colleagues at a lunch earlier this year that the Senate GOP would drop Trump “like a hot rock” if he starts to collapse in the polls.
Trump could put other Republican incumbents in danger, too. If Trump bombs in Ohio or Florida, it could hurt Sens. Rob Portman and Marco Rubio, respectively.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is in the fight of his life in Arizona, and saw Trump this week refuse to endorse him.
“Every state is different but I would say if he loses by more than four or five points it becomes problematic. It’s very unusual for — particularly an incumbent — someone in the same party to run more than a handful of points ahead of the top of the ticket,” said John Weaver, who served as a senior adviser to McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s bid this year.
“If this happens in New Hampshire, in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Iowa, in Wisconsin, etcetera, it’s going to be very problematic to hold the Senate,” he added.
Voters these days tend to vote throughout the ticket the same way they do at the top.
Or if Republicans, conservatives or independents are turned off by Trump, they’re less likely to show up to the polls.
But Darling and other strategists say it’s too soon to write off Trump as a loser.
“We have three debates coming up and a long way to go until Election Day,” he added. “It’s unnerving to see these numbers but what have we seen? The polls are pretty volatile. They’ve been up and down and all around.”
The Senate GOP strategist said Trump can come back if he sticks to his economic message and avoids getting tangled up in distracting fights.
“He’s got the ability to close the gap if he stays disciplined and focuses on the economy,” the source said. “If he’s criticizing another gold star family, if he’s stuck in this morass of bad news, then he’s in big trouble.”
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