Trump-Endorsed Candidates Close In on Opponents in Key Senate Races

News Analysis

New York Attorney General Letitia James’s lawsuit targeting former President Donald Trump and three of his grown children for alleged fraudulent business practices has had little noticeable impact on the closely-watched Senate races in which Trump-endorsed outsiders hope to best Democrat incumbents and candidates, analysts say.

Voters in the states where these races play out tend to consider the lawsuit, like other recent legal troubles faced by Trump such as the Department of Justice investigations and the Jan. 6 hearings, as distractions from crime that has risen precipitously in cities and a border crisis that has flooded “sanctuary” communities from coast to coast with more migrants than the cities’ social services are equipped to handle, according to one political strategist.

The latest polls of the states with contested Senate seats show that GOP nominees derided in the mainstream media in recent months for their alleged weakness as candidates and for their association with the former president are, in fact, much more competitive than supposed and that the outcome of the races is likely to be extremely close.

Running Neck and Neck

A Sept. 12 op-ed on The Daily Beast disparaged Georgia’s Trump-endorsed Senate candidate, Herschel Walker, as “an unqualified, lying buffoon” and stated that his campaign “is increasingly a train wreck,” while acknowledging that polls have shown Walker running neck-in-neck with the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Raphael Warnock.

While some might have expected the calculus to change significantly with the announcement of a new lawsuit spelling further trouble for the powerful GOP figure who endorsed Walker, the reality even now, as reflected in the latest polls, is an extremely close race. On Oct. 3, the polling website FiveThirtyEight reported Warnock enjoying the support of 47.3 percent of voters and Walker with 45.2 percent of the electoral pie, with the difference of 2.1 percent well within the margin of error, suggesting that The Daily Beast op-ed and other attacks in the mainstream media, and Trump’s latest legal troubles, have not registered at all in the minds of Georgia voters.

The senate race in Ohio is even tighter, with Trump-endorsed Republican candidate J.D. Vance commanding the support of 44.5 percent of voters, compared to 45 percent for Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight figures.

Vance’s strong showing, and the negligible margin between the two candidates in current polls, comes in spite of heavy criticism and negative depictions of Vance in the legacy media, including an Atlantic Monthly op-ed’s reference to him as “a contemptible and cringe-inducing clown.”

A similar dynamic is at work in another closely watched Senate race, in Pennsylvania, where Trump-endorsed television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz is running against Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. On Sept. 30, reports emerged, citing an Emerson College-The Hill survey, that Fetterman’s lead over Oz had dropped by half, from four points to two points, a figure within the margin of error. Fetterman now enjoys the backing of 45 percent of the state’s electorate compared to 43 percent for Oz.

Oz’s surge in the polls defies analyses and predictions set forth in the mainstream media in recent months, including a lengthy piece in The New Republic entitled “The Humiliation of Dr. Oz Is Nearly Complete” and stating that “very little has gone according to plan” in Oz’s senate campaign and noting that Fetterman had managed to raise almost nine times the amount of funds that Oz had at his disposal, even including money contributed by Oz himself.

One state that does not fit the pattern is Arizona, where the Trump-endorsed senate candidate, venture capitalist Blake Masters, now trails his opponent, incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly, 41.6 percent to 48.5 percent, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight polls.

Problematic Timing

Given how tight the races are and the prospect that Democrats will lose both the House and the Senate in November amid mounting concerns over crime, inflation, housing prices, and the general mishandling of the economy, some observers are suspicious of the timing of recent legal moves against Trump and of James’s lawsuit in particular, which aims to fulfill pledges that James made in an explicitly political context when campaigning for her position in 2018.

But James may in fact have waited too long for her maneuver to have the desired outcome, some observers believe.

“I don’t think the New York Attorney General’s findings will have much impact on the midterm elections unless something more dramatic happens. The civil suit will take a while to unwind, and any possible criminal referrals, for example to the IRS, will not be solidified before November,” Mark Caleb Smith, chair of the department of political science, history, and government at Cedarville University in Ohio, told The Epoch Times.

This does not mean that the charges brought by James are devoid of any substance or that Trump and others named in the suit are certain to escape consequences, Smith clarified. It may be useful to consider the lawsuit and its potential timeline in the context of the next presidential race, he argued.

“I think the case is potentially devastating to Trump, but not until later. The impact on 2024 could be much more significant. I suspect Donald Trump will not be brought down by a single event, but by a succession of setbacks that forces the majority of the GOP to move against him,” Smith said.

Nor does the relatively limited impact of the lawsuit on the midterms mean that GOP setbacks will be without consequences for Trump and the direction that the party takes after November. The stakes are high, Smith believes.

“If the 2022 midterms go poorly for his chosen candidates in Arizona, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and the Democrats manage to hang onto the Senate, Trump will be damaged. If investigations in Georgia and New York move forward, those will harm him also,” Smith said, alluding to ongoing scrutiny of, and potential further legal troubles related to Trump’s alleged role in attempting to undermine the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The most severe consequences of James’s investigation and civil prosecution may turn out to be reputational rather than penal in nature, Smith suggested.

“If his business interests are damaged, and especially if his net worth is much smaller than he has let on, he will suffer in prestige. Add all of that together, and Trump could be quite vulnerable in 2024,” Smith stated.

With all his legal troubles, it is still premature to write Trump off or discount his influence on local and national races.

“All that said, he still leads in all the ways that matter most—fundraising, name recognition, and polling. For now, 2024 is still his nomination to lose,” Smith added.

Self-Defeating Moves?

Another view of the most recent moves against Trump and their possible effect on the midterms comes from Lonny Leitner, vice president of the government affairs firm LS2 Group, which has offices in Iowa and Minnesota. James’s case against Trump whom the attorney general has publicly criticized in the past is poorly conceived, Leitner said, and may end up rallying GOP voters and independents who were on the fence and drive up support for the former president.

“The Attorney General of New York is a partisan hack trying to make a name for herself, and filing these charges against Donald Trump and his family so close to election day proves what a fraud Attorney General James is. Once again, Democrats find themselves unable to beat Trump at the ballot box, so they are trying to beat him in the courts,” Leitner told The Epoch Times.

Such moves will only accentuate how out-of-touch Democrat officials are with the concerns of ordinary voters, he argued.

“It’s laughable, as these are the same Democrats who want to empty our prisons while violent crime is rising. It’s too bad the Attorney General of New York won’t focus on bringing charges against the axe-wielding nut job who attacked people inside a McDonald’s a couple of weeks ago, as well as the released criminal who badly beat an innocent woman inside the subway system a couple of days ago,” Leitner said.

Leitner was referring to two incidents that have badly shaken citizens and made them all the more fearful about crime trends in a deep blue state, namely a Sept. 16 incident captured in a video posted to TikTok in which a patron of a Bronx McDonald’s turned violent against other customers, and a Sept. 20 attack, caught on surveillance video, on a 23-year-old woman on a subway platform near JFK International Airport.

Democrats’ preoccupation with what they see as Trump’s unfitness for office comes at the expense of adopting and articulating stances with which ordinary voters can identify, and the consequences in November and beyond will be dramatic, Leitner believes.

“While Democrats are obsessed with Donald Trump, the American people are struggling to provide for their families as inflation is out of control. American families are sacrificing just to be able to fill up their car with a tank of gas, as gas prices are still at record-level highs. These same American families are fighting to stop indoctrination in their K-12 public schools so their children can get the education they deserve,” Leitner argued.

“Finally, Americans are facing record crime rates in the communities they call home, so while partisan Democrats continue to go after Donald Trump, they are only making him stronger. The GOP will win back both houses of Congress on November 6,” he predicted.

The Epoch Times has reached out to the Democratic National Committee and James’s office for comment.

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Michael Washburn is a New York-based reporter who covers U.S. and China-related topics. He has a background in legal and financial journalism, and also writes about arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of the weekly podcast Reading the Globe. His books include “The Uprooted and Other Stories,” “When We’re Grownups,” and “Stranger, Stranger.”

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