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Heard on the Hill

Word on the Hill: Nats' Election Night

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Take Five: Sen. Jim Risch

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Word on the Hill: Are You Registered?

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To hear Donald Trump tell it for the last year, Senate Republicans were weak, dumb losers, and not just the ones he ran against for president. He infamously called Sen. John McCain “not a war hero” and tweeted that Sen. Jeff Flake was “a very weak and ineffective senator … Sad!” He lambasted Sen. Mark Kirk as “dishonest” and a “loser,” and told an Atlanta rally that he wished Republican leaders in Washington would “just please be quiet” so he could win the race by himself.

He tagged Sen. Lindsey Graham “a disgrace” and “one of the dumbest human beings I have ever seen.” Sen. “Little Marco” Rubio was “just another Washington, D.C., politician” with “the biggest ears I’ve ever seen.” Sen. Rand Paul was “truly weird” and Sen. “Lyin'” Ted Cruz was not only dishonest, but by Trump’s suggestion, his father was involved in the Kennedy assassination.

So imagine the irony if those useless slobs in the upper chamber, 22 of whom will share the ballot with Trump in November, actually help him win the White House on Election Day. That emerging possibility is a reversal from the assumption leading up to this point in the cycle, which said that Trump’s coattails would determine the fates of Senate Republicans, and not the other way around. If Trump did well, the thinking went, they would do well. If he tanked, he would take them down with him like passengers on the Titanic.

But as Trump’s poll numbers tumbled through the summer, the Republicans running for re-election worked to build their own brands, with their own paths to victory, independent of their erratic nominee. The result is now a class of Republican Senate candidates who are nearly all more popular than Trump, with many who have built robust campaign operations of their own, above and beyond Trump’s scattershot approach to Election Day.

[The Down-Ballot Shuffle, a Ticket-Splitting Revival]

An analysis last week by The Washington Post showed Senate Republican candidates overperforming Trump by an average of 4 points in competitive states. Only Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and Rep. Todd Young in Indiana are polling worse than Trump.

In critical swing states like Arizona and Florida, “Not a War Hero” McCain and “the Biggest Ears I’ve Ever Seen” Rubio are not only pulling ahead of their Democratic rivals, they’re also outpolling Trump by double digits. So is Rob Portman in Ohio, where Portman has built a massive turnout operation to get his own voters to the polls, no matter what the Trump campaign does or does not do on Election Day. Ohio is now tied for Trump and Clinton, but a major Portman victory could deliver just enough persuadable voters to the polls to give Trump a margin of victory.

In Georgia and Utah, two states that should be easy wins for Trump but are dangerously close contests instead, Sens. Johnny Isakson and Mike Lee are way out ahead of their rivals. If Trump wins those states, he may have them to thank for bringing Republicans to the polls who might not have bothered otherwise.

So how would a Trump White House work with a Republican Senate if the party defied expectations and won them both? It’s hard to imagine President Trump being able to bury the hatchet with senators he maligned along the way, who could then chair committees, allocate funds, and hold the votes for whatever agenda Trump has in mind. They might not forgive him for the things he said, and he might not forgive them for some insults they hurled in the heat of the campaign.

[Senate Republicans Leave Trump Meeting With Little to Say]

After months of being called “Little Marco,” Rubio snapped and called Trump a small handed, orange-hued “con artist.” Sen. Ben Sasse described Trump as one half of “the dumpster fire” that the election has become. Mike Lee said Trump “scares me to death,” while Ted Cruz, after the Your-Father-Helped-Kill-Kennedy bit, called Trump a “sniveling coward” and “a narcissist the likes of which I don’t think this country has ever seen.”

But it’s possible that all of those insults and nasty words about Trump during the primary were just politics masquerading as conviction.

On Friday, Ted Cruz endorsed Trump after declaring at the Republican convention that he was “not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and father.” But Cruz apparently is in the habit of supporting people who could be in power in the near future.

Even if Republican senators hold their own, the question remains whether voters who come out for their senators will also vote for Trump, split their ticket or skip the top line altogether. Ticket-splitting reached a 92-year low in the 2012 elections, but as Walter Shapiro pointed out here this summer, ticket splitting may not be dead, it might just be sleeping. The 2016 election will answer that question once and for all.

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.

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Politics

Congress Reacts to Shimon Peres' Death

By Christina Flom
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For anyone following gun control (or gun safety) as political issue, it would be easy to dismiss 2016 as just another year where a whole lot happened, but nothing changed.

There have been 224 mass shootings in the United States so far this year, including the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the July attack on Dallas police officers. After every major incident, Washington followed the now-familiar script of outrage, calls from Democrats for gun restrictions, denial from Republicans that guns are the problem, and then, as usual, gridlock.

But as Election Day gets closer, an incremental, but important shift has modified gun safety as a usually partisan campaign issue. A handful of Republicans in must-win Senate seats are now running on their willingness to embrace even modest gun reforms, while outside interest groups are crossing the aisle to reward those Republicans for doing it.

The highest profile Republican who may be changing the rules on guns is Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, who is locked in a dead-heat race in Pennsylvania against Katie McGinty. Toomey blazed into the Senate in 2008 as an unapologetic conservative and former president of the Club for Growth with an A rating from the National Rifle Association. So it was striking when he joined Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School to sponsor legislation to expand background checks for firearms purchases.

Toomey joined Democrats this year on a similar bill after the San Bernadino shootings and voted over the summer to cross check gun purchases against the terror watch list.

The Washington politics on guns may be complicated for Toomey, but attitudes on the issue at home in Pennsylvania are unambiguous. A PPP poll of the state in August showed 85 percent of all voters in the state in favor of background checks on all gun purchases, including 80 percent of Republicans.

[Gun Control Meets Congressional Dysfunction]

The issue is usually a potent partisan issue for Democrats, who typically portray Republicans as puppets of the gun lobby, but Toomey's decision to sponsor and vote for gun restrictions has made that almost impossible for Katie McGinty, especially after PACs led by Gabby Giffords and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed Toomey in recent weeks.

The Bloomberg PAC, Independence USA, is running nearly $750,000 of ads in the Philadelphia suburbs, where he has to perform well to win reelection. An especially powerful ad features the daughter of Sandy Hook Elementary's principal, who was killed protecting children at her school.

“Pat Toomey crossed party lines to do the right thing," she says.

[Democrats 'Not Worried' About Punishment for House Sit-In, Hoyer Says]

In an op-ed for CNN, Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly praised both Toomey and Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk as principled on the issue that nearly cost her her life when she was shot by a constituent at a town hall meeting.

The endorsement came at a pivotal time for Kirk, who has trailed behind Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth and must have support from cross-over Democrats in the state, which is even more in favor of tougher gun laws than the rest of the country. Kirk has long been on the outs with the NRA. More important for Kirk is Gifford's praise as an independent pragmatist, the brand Kirk has been working to push.

[Gun Compromise Faces Challenges From Right and Left]

In all-important Florida, guns have become a crucial issue in that state's Senate race. Sen. Marco Rubio said the Pulse night club shooting so moved him that he decided to run for another term.

Last week, Eric Garcia reported that Rubio introduced legislation to notify the FBI if the subject of a federal terrorism investigation in the last 10 year tries to buy a gun. Rubio's opponent, Rep. Patrick Murphy, dismissed the bill as Rubio's effort "paper over" a weak record, but it's astonishing, nonetheless, to see a conservative Republican introduce a gun bill less than two months before Election Day.

In 1994, the assault weapons ban was blamed as the reason dozens of Democrats lost their seats. In 2016, a similar decision by Republicans may be the reason some Republicans keep their jobs. If that's the result, 2016 will end up being the year the politics of guns changed, no matter what legislation ended up passing on Capitol Hill.

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.

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