Elections raise questions about SenateWritten by Saige Albert
Washington, D.C. – As ranchers from around the West gathered in Washington, D.C. for the week of April 11, Kevin McLaughlin, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), noted that the 2016 election cycle will see some challenges, but he predicts the Senate will stay in Republican control this year.
“At the NRSC, we only care about Senate races and electing Republican senators to the Senate,” he told attendees at the Public Lands Council Spring Legislative Conference. “It’s a tough cycle for us, and we have a tough map.”
Starting with the presidential election, McLaughlin said, “Donald Trump is throwing a curve ball to everyone. Anyone who tells us they know how this is going to turn out is lying to our faces.”
McLaughlin continued that, at the NRSC, his job is to help to build a crew, give them the information they need to be successful and send them out to states to build support.
“We feel like our role for our campaigns and our candidates is to support them in any way we can to make sure they’re ready for rough seas,” he said. “We had no idea that Tropical Storm Trump was forming off the coast.”
He added, “We’re going to find out how good our crews are.”
Despite any challenges that have popped up this year, McLaughlin also noted that the NRSC has been planning for a long time, and they are prepared to tackle the challenge.
“Almost a year ago, we had all of our departments sit down and write memos for every single candidate,” he said.
The memos described what each candidate would mean in every state across the U.S.
“We have some good guidance on where we think we can go on our votes,” he said.
McLaughlin also noted that the election will still be a challenge.
Outside the presidential election, McLaughlin said, “The Senate races are going to be a challenge for us in an already challenging cycle.”
“We have 34 races,” he continued. “There are 24 Republican incumbents and 10 Democrats. Those Democrat seats are in such Republican hotbeds as Connecticut, Oregon and California. It’s fun times.”
The important piece with these elections, he said, deals with training. NRSC brings in political directors, campaign managers and others to talk about how things have changed and how the election is different than it was in 2010, when these incumbents were last elected. McLaughlin commented that the election will be remarkably different from their last race.
“In 2010, the iPad was a year away from being sold. We could buy Uber on GoDaddy for $2.99. The guy who runs Snapchat was in high school,” McLaughlin explained. “Everything has changed. This is a different world that these guys are running in.”
While candidates are very intelligent and their campaign managers are skilled, McLaughlin also said, “It’s a tough cycle from 30,000 feet, but it’s good for us that campaigns are not run at 30,000 feet.”
Rather than focusing on the big picture, McLaughlin said that Senate races are won at the local level in local elections.
“The way we can throw an incumbent out is to tell people – theirs voters and their constituents – what they’ve done wrong,” he said. “We’ve had some success at that in the past, and we had some success in the last cycle doing that.”
“I feel like our folks are very, very well positioned in their states to do well, even if Tropical Storm Trump is a dead hit on us,” McLaughlin continued.
Looking at data
While McLaughlin said that everyone in D.C. is willing to provide an opinion as fact for the outcome of political races, he added that NRSC has worked diligently to analyze data in reaching conclusions.
“One of the things we came into as the NRSC last cycle is that we said we were getting sick and tired of getting kicked around in primaries, and we weren’t going to lose any more primaries,” he said. “Last cycle, we went seven for seven in primaries. We don’t like to lose.”
Presidential primary states are important, as well, and McLaughlin noted that it is important to look at those states for information, particularly when it comes to incumbent voters.
“Trump has no incumbent voters,” McLaughlin emphasized. “There is a Cruz incumbent voter, and we feel much better after looking at the results of the primaries. This is all after $0.5 billion in negative advertising.”
As a leading indicator, McLaughlin noted that he looks at favorability versus un-favorability, rather than straw polling.
“Do people like the candidates? At the end of the day, this is a more or less a student council. If people do not like their representative, they will vote against them,” he said. “If they like them, there’s a much better chance they will vote for them. Our folks are in great shape.”
Working through 2016
With a long campaign season ahead, McLaughlin also noted that the NRSC is positive that Republicans will hold the majority in the Senate.
“We feel very good we’ll hold this majority, come hell or high water,” he commented. “We are going to do what we have to because we have seen the stakes. There are decades of policy decisions and other things that will be affected.”