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Democrats Take Aim at GOP Senate Majority

While Clinton and Warren may not always see eye-to-eye, they and the rest of the Democratic Party have a common cause in the need to flip the Senate.
Image: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accompanied by Senator Elizabeth Warren
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accompanied by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in Cincinnati, Ohio on Monday, June 27, 2016.The Washington Post via Getty Images

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Monday was Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s turn to join her fellow Democrats in cranking up the heat on her Republican colleagues in the Senate, who have become as big of targets as Donald Trump in the closing days of the campaign.

Addressing an enthusiastic outdoor rally on a crisp New England autumn day, Warren had plenty of barbs for Trump, whom she has demonstrated a unique ability to provoke. But the Massachusetts Democrat also tore into this state’s Republican incumbent, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, with unusual ferocity.

“Donald Trump is right. Kelly is weak,” Warren said, ticking through a list of Trump’s offenses Ayotte had allegedly abided before finally “running as fast as she can away from him” once his poll numbers tanked.

“Donald Trump sure has made Kelly Ayotte dance. Day one she loves him, day two she hates him, day three she’s back with him — boy, spins round and round,” Warren told hundreds on a lawn at St. Anselm College.

Ayotte is in a tight race for re-election against Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat. Like most of the other GOP senators up for reelection this year, Ayotte hardly comes from Trump’s wing of the party and has never been a vocal supporter.

Related: How Republicans Ended Up With Donald Trump

But there is no safe distance Republicans can stand from Trump. Democrats, eyeing multiple polls suggesting Clinton has all but sewn up the presidential race, are spending the final two weeks of this campaign working mercilessly to turn the entire GOP into Trump’s collateral damage.

While Clinton and Warren may not always see eye-to-eye, they and the rest of the Democratic Party have a common cause in the need to flip the Senate.

“Secretary Clinton has seen how critical it is to have a set of strong allies in Congress with a GOP that hasn't agreed to work with the president as it had in previous eras,” said former Obama spokesperson Ben Labolt. “Trump's dismal numbers have given her the ability to expand her focus, but she also needs to do everything she can to avoid getting her wings clipped quickly by a Republican dominated Congress.”

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Republicans currently control both chambers of Congress. Winning the House may be out of reach, but the Senate is more important, with power to confirm or reject Clinton's judicial and top administration appointments. So after spending months using Republicans as a cudgel against Trump, suggesting he’s an outlier and not someone traditional Republicans should support, Clinton’s campaign has flipped that playbook this month to help Democrats win the four seats they need to take the gavel in the upper chamber.

Warren meanwhile, has as much to gain as anyone from flipping the Senate blue.

The ambitious first-term lawmaker would have more power with an agenda-setting majority, while she and her fellow liberals could become the kingmakers of Clinton’s administration if the president needs their votes, not those of majority Republicans, to confirm appointments.

At the same time, President Obama has also been stepping up his work to boost Democrats down-ballot, aware that much of his legacy is tied up in executive actions that will need to be carried out by Senate-confirmed executive branch appointees.

Obama on Sunday filleted Joe Heck, a Republican running to fill Harry Reid’s Senate seat in Nevada, for breaking with the GOP nominee “now that Trump's poll numbers have cratered.”

"Too late. You don't get credit for that,” Obama said.

Clinton made the same argument against Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Pat. Toomey this weekend. Toomey, who faces a strong challenge from Democrat Katie McGinty, has distanced himself from Trump, but won’t say if he plans to vote for him or not.

“If he doesn’t have the courage to stand up against Donald Trump after all of this, then how will he stand up to special interests and powerful forces that are going to be trying to have their way in Washington?” Clinton said.

Meanwhile, pro-Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, which originally intended to focus solely on boosting Clinton, has started running ads hitting Ayotte and Tommey, with more targets coming later this week, according to a source familiar with the group’s plans.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the all-but-certain incoming Senate Democratic leader, has transferred millions from his reelection campaign to other candidates. Sen. Bernie Sanders is using the remnants of his presidential campaign to boost colleagues.

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Aware the White House is likely a lost cause this year, Republicans are falling back on the argument that by retaining their majority, they will serve as check on a President Hillary Clinton. But Democrats are trying to cut them off at the pass there, too, arguing a GOP Senate will only intensify the stagnation.

“We've got to break through the gridlock and the dysfunction that has unfortunately marred Washington,” Clinton said Monday during one of three shout-outs for Hassan, Ayotte’s Democratic challenger.

Clinton offered a lengthy endorsement of Hassan’s tenure as governor, before moving on to also praise Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern and House candidate Carol Shea Porter, running in her fourth re-match against Rep. Frank Guinta.

Last week, Clinton’s campaign moved more than $7 million to boost down-ballot Democrats, and the campaign has been coordinating closely with those of other candidates.

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Clinton leads Trump by eight percentage points in New Hampshire, but that has so far not translated down-the-ballot to Hassan. The dynamic is similar in other states, and Democrats grumble privately that Clinton’s earlier approach gave down-ballot Republicans a pass.

There are limits to the one-size-fits-all anti-Trump approach, it’s a way to leverage the resources and attention of the presidential race.

Trump and all he stands for, Clinton said Monday, can’t just be defeated. “It needs to be repudiated on November the 8th, here in New Hampshire and across the country," she said.