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Judge Roy Moore’s victory in Alabama’s fractious Republican Senate primary has fueled renewed infighting between the GOP’s insurgent and establishment wings that is likely to trigger several additional battles next year.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

But it also did something else: It opened a potential path for Democrats to retake the Senate in a year in which the battleground tilts strongly against them. Their path stems from the growing prospect that Republicans may nominate some candidates too far to the right for mainstream voters, just like in 2010 and 2012.

Success is still a long shot. The House remains a better 2018 Democratic target, albeit no sure thing, either. Democratic victories will require a continuation of President Donald Trump’s low job approval, good candidates and some more strategic GOP retirements.

Democrats’ Senate problem is that of 33 seats being contested, 25 are Democratic-held, including 10 in states Trump carried last year. Republicans are only defending eight, seven in states he won.

With Republicans holding a 52-48 majority, and the vice presidency, Democrats need a net pickup of three seats. That is a tall order, considering there is no guarantee all Democratic incumbents can survive well-financed GOP opposition. For each incumbent who loses, the Democrats would need to win one additional Republican seat.

But Moore’s victory has concerned many Republicans because of his outspoken, radical views: favoring a ban on homosexuality and persisting in the disproved contention that former President Barack Obama was born outside the United States.

Though Alabama last elected a Democratic senator in 1992, the first post-primary poll showed the GOP nominee only 6 points ahead of his Democratic rival, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones. Though Moore remains favored, the well-regarded Jones could gain support from some establishment Republicans fearful the twice-removed former state Supreme Court chief justice would embarrass Alabama.

Beyond Alabama, other Republicans, led by former White House strategist Steve Bannon, saw Moore’s victory over appointed Sen. Luther Strange as an invitation to go after GOP incumbents.

Such challenges were launched earlier in the two states with the best 2018 Democratic opportunities. In Arizona, state Sen. Kelli Ward is running against Sen. Jeff Flake, who polls show has been weakened by his criticism of Trump. Last week, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, considered the strongest Democratic candidate, announced her candidacy for his seat.

In Nevada, Danny Tarkanian, the son of legendary University of Nevada at Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, is challenging Sen. Dean Heller. Democrats have a potentially strong candidate in Rep. Jacky Rosen.

Elsewhere, Democrats face higher hurdles. One opportunity may be in Tennessee, where GOP Sen. Bob Corker decided last week against a third term bid in which he might have faced a conservative challenge.

That could set off a contentious GOP primary. The anti-gay record of one possible candidate, state Sen. Mark Green, prompted the Trump administration to drop him as a potential service secretary. With a strong candidate, Democrats would have a chance against someone like Green.

In both 2010 and 2012, Republicans lost their chance to win the Senate by rejecting centrist candidates in primaries in several states, including Delaware, Colorado and Missouri.

Primary challenges to other GOP incumbents seem unlikely in Republican strongholds like Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah and Texas, where Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso faces an uphill fight against Sen. Ted Cruz.

Among Democratic incumbents, the GOP’s principal targets are Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Parties holding the White House generally lose several dozen House seats at midterm elections. But early analyses don’t yet project Democrats ahead or even in enough marginal House seats to win control, though most surveys show them leading the projected popular vote.

History says that may yet happen. But the Democrats will clearly need some GOP help to win the Senate.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: carl.p.leubsdorf@gmail.com.

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(8) comments

new2Lax

Homey, you got part of it correct, crack HR guy and adequately compensated. As far as the "toxic" part, the Republicans will take toxic every time if they continue to take over the government, as you see happening right before your eyes. All the States Trump won seem to agree with me, 304 electoral votes to the" Trumpster", how's that for an A$$ kicking and you and your trying to tell me I'm some how wrong. Parrish the thought until your in a position to advise on politics. I don't see it for 20 or so years though.

kingman10

Trump keeps messing things up and gets us into another war, doesn't matter how much voter suppression or gerrymandering goes on, the repubs will suffer the consequences the next election. the voting public will wake up and head to the polls even if it is an off year for elections.

new2Lax

I believe you thought Hillary was a shoe-in, as did the majority of your counter parts with the help of a biased media. Walker was also suppose to lose and be recalled, how did that work out. The Democrats are on a roll and lost all four special elections in, Montana, South Carolina, Kansas and the most expensive election in Congressional history, Georgia. Looks like the voters prefer the Republicans, Gerrymandering and all. They just keep winning, like Trump says, we may get sick of winning. Looks like that's what it is going to take for you to get a win. Even a blind squirrel fines a nut once in a while.

oldhomey

Is that what happened when executives in your Fortune 300 company tossed you on the ash heap, new2, sick of their highly-paid, crack HR man continually putting his ignorant "shoe-in" his mouth trying to enumerate parts of counters? How does this parse out as drawing a logical conclusion: "Looks like the voters prefer the Republicans, Gerrymandering and all"? Makes the Republican case look a little toxic, don't you agree? How much did the blind squirrel fine you for your idiotic postings?

Cassandra

New2, are you drunk or is your grasp of the English language just that poor?

oldhomey

Cassie, I am voting for both.

new2Lax

Cassandra, both at times but I'm usually correct in my assessments. Republicans seem to be on the correct path if you truly analyze what has taken place in our government. Your a good example, you have nothing to say about the gains of the right. You seem to think this is a bump in the road. Precisely why you and your party are where they are. With responses like yours and not having the ability to analyze and realize what has happened to the Democrat party, clearly suggest you are inebriated or have a poor grasp of reality. I'm wondering if Homey will agree with both, both are spot on.

Cassandra

Moore was, is, and will always be a convicted criminal, just like Joe Arpaio. The fact that republicans have chosen him as their candidate speaks volumes about their regard for the rule of law.

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