A nationwide poll by Morning Consult was conducted during the first three months of the year to determine the approval rating of every senator in the country. The poll is a first look at the 2018 senators up for re-election and who may be in more or less trouble than conventional wisdom currently has them.
The highest approval rating by any senator is former contender for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, with 75%, who will surely have an easy re-election. Next up is fellow independent Angus King of Maine, who was expected to have a tougher challenge but currently sits with a 67% approval rating.
One surprising result from the survey is that Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp has a 60% approval rating. She is widely expected to be one of the most vulnerable senators since she hails from North Dakota where Trump carried the state by 36 points. This is a good early sign for Heitkamp, who has played a delicate dance within the Democratic caucus as she has met with Trump one-on-one and has supported many of his cabinet nominees and his Supreme Court justice pick. Other vulnerable Democratic senators from states Trump carried by double digits include Senators Jon Tester (MT) and Joe Manchin (WV), who both had a strong showing in the poll with a 57% approval rating.
The same cannot be said for the two other Democratic senators that make up the vulnerable five up for re-election in 2018. Senator Claire McCaskill (MO) stands with a 47% approval rating in a state where Trump won by over 18 points. While Senator Joe Donnelly stands with a 46% approval rating. He did receive the highest "don't know/no opinion" of any senator up in 2018 with 26%. This gives him plenty of room to grow and get his standing over 50%, the benchmark for any sitting senator.
The first of what will be several special elections in the next couple months was held on Tuesday in Kansas to fill the seat of former Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo, who was tapped to be the new CIA director under President Trump. Republican Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes faced off against Democrat James Thompson, an Army veteran running for office for the first time. The fourth district of Kansas is a heavily Republican district and was carried by Trump by 27 points in November.
However, that did not stop the Democrats from putting on a good showing in the final result. In what normally would be a district Republicans carried by over 20 points, Thompson came within seven points of Estes. Democratic Party officials point to the narrow loss in a heavily Republican district as a sign of good things to come for the party, including in next Tuesday's special election to replace former Congressman and now Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in Georgia's 6th district. Republicans meanwhile blame the toxic political environment in Kansas and specifically the unpopularity of Governor Sam Brownback for the narrow win.
We'll have three specific data points once all the special elections are held by June to determine if we see any signs of a wave election coming for Democrats in 2018. The elections in Georgia and Montana, where it is sure to be closer, will provide a solid snapshot of where the enthusiasm is going into 2018.
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