Senate GOP campaign chief tempers expectations for size of November win

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Senate GOP campaign chief Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) is keeping expectations in check for Republicans’ quest to retake the Senate majority, maintaining that his only goal is to flip two seats despite a favorable map for Republicans.

Daines told a group of reporters on Thursday his overarching goal this cycle is to end the party’s four-year stretch in the minority, and anything else is gravy.

“Fifty-one,” Daines said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor when asked what his goal for the cycle is. “Because that gives us the majority.” 

“I will let you all go through and analyze the races and decide on what number you want to put on it. … All I know is what matters the most is the majority. Fifty-one is what we’re focused on,” Daines said. “A lot of these races are on the margins. They’re razor-thin races. It’s going to be a night that things could go either way in many of these states. But 51 is our goal, and you will not hear me, from now until Nov. 5, say anything other than 51.” 

The comments are in stark contrast to those shared by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the previous chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who predicted the party would not only win a majority in 2022, but would secure upwards of 55 seats. 

But Daines’s remarks put him in lockstep with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who indicated in an interview with Politico that he isn’t getting over his skis either. 

“It’s important to not get too excited, because it’s noteworthy that in the last cycle, not a single incumbent lost. So what’s the message? Candidate quality,” McConnell said in an interview. “It’s important to continue to say you want 51. There’s nothing wrong with getting more, but 51 gives you control. And I think that’s going to be really important, no matter who’s elected president.”

Senate Republicans need to win two seats to hit the magic number of 51, but they can also retake the majority if they swing one seat and former President Trump wins back the White House. 

The GOP is depending on a favorable map and a group largely comprised of ultra-wealthy candidates, many with backgrounds in business, to pick off a couple of longtime Democratic incumbents in a spate of swing states.

That group is headlined by Tim Sheehy in Montana and Bernie Moreno in Ohio — the reddest seats on the map currently held by Democrats. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) is widely expected to flip the open seat in the ruby red state, with Daines declaring that race “over” after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) opted for retirement.

The Kentucky Republican, who is stepping down as leader at the end of this year, also laid out what he believes are the four states that, in addition to West Virginia, could unlock the majority.

“You take polls around Labor Day and begin to decide where you’re going to play,” McConnell said. “But we know where we’re going to play for sure right now: Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland.”

In Pennsylvania, David McCormick is looking to deprive Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) of a fourth term. Perhaps the tallest climb of those four states for the party is in Maryland, where former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) holds a lead over each of Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. Maryland is, however, easily the bluest state the party is playing in this cycle, with Democrats repeatedly citing a recent poll showing voters in the state prefer they stay in the majority. 

Daines agreed with the quartet of states McConnell named, but indicated he believes four other contests should be lumped in with that group: Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona. The committee has thrown in its lot with former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), businessman Eric Hovde, Sam Brown and Kari Lake, respectively, in those races. 

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