If Republicans can just hold onto their Senate majority this November, discouraged Democrats will retire and open more seats for the GOP, Sen. John Barrasso predicted Tuesday morning.
“If we’re able to hold the Senate this year, in the toughest of years, and stay at 51 … then you’re going to see massive Democratic retirements in 2018,” Barrasso said, “because it flips to us and there’s no way that Democrats will pick up in 2018.”
Barrasso, who chairs the Republican Policy Committee, acknowledged 2016 is a tough year for the GOP to hold onto power in the Senate. Twenty four Republican senators are up for re-election this year, compared to 10 Democrats. The Rothenberg-Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates six of those contests as tossups or tilts. But that dynamic flips in 2018 , with 25 Democrats up for re-election, compared to eight Republicans.
But Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said Democrats have a better shot at netting the five seats necessary to take back the Senate majority this year, as higher turnout in a presidential election year tends to benefit his party.
“There’s a big jump in numbers,” Durbin said. “And we feel, on the Democratic side, those numbers include a lot of minority voters and occasional voters that show up for a presidential race, that usually favor us.”
Durbin and Barrasso discussed the upcoming elections and the Senate agenda at a breakfast hosted by the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck at the Hyatt Regency, a short walk from the Capitol.
Ahead of the five primary contests Tuesday , the two Senate leaders also briefly discussed the contentious presidential primaries, which have highlighted internal party divisions.
Barrasso did not delve into which candidate his party can coalesce around, though billionaire Donald Trump is the current front-runner. He noted, “It’s an amazing time in politics.”
Durbin, who has backed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president, said his party can unite despite the reluctance from some supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to back Clinton.
Durbin harkened back to 2008, and a fierce primary fight between Clinton and current President Barack Obama, his former Illinois Senate counterpart.
“I remember eight years ago when I appealed to my colleague in the Senate to consider running for the presidency, his first reaction was, ‘What about Hillary?’” Durbin recalled. “And I said, ‘Well you have a different appeal than she does.’ And if we can bring both teams together, in the end, whoever the nominee is, we’re going to elect the next president. And I think the same holds true in this case.”
As far as Clinton and Sanders supporters are concerned, Durbin said, “When it comes to the political agenda, there’s far more that unites them than divides them.”
Barrasso did not directly address the divisions within his party, but said in his closing remarks that none of the candidates on either side have the hopeful, and typically victorious, message this year.
“I think that the negatives are so high that I just think the campaign in November is going to be kind of a downward spiral rather than upward, aspirational,” Barrasso said.