Hillary Clinton is helping Senate candidates now so they can help her if she wins the White House

Hillary Clinton and Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is running to unseat Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida, campaign in Coconut Creek, Fla., on Tuesday.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton wanted to share her birthday with a special someone this week in Florida.

“One of the best gifts you can give yourselves would be sending Patrick Murphy to the United States Senate!” she told a crowd of supporters here in a college gymnasium.

While Clinton has taken care to mention fellow Democrats on the campaign trail — she usually starts her rallies by rattling off names of local officials, stealing glances at a list to make sure she doesn’t miss anyone — she recently started fusing her stump speeches with full-throated pitches for her party’s Senate candidates.

The decision represents a new facet of Clinton’s push for the White House as she tries to boost candidates like Murphy, who is attempting to unseat Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. She appears to be looking for ways to plow past the obstructionism that has plagued President Obama, starting with a return to Democratic control of the Senate, and shoring up a base of support on Capitol Hill by helping Democrats get elected.


Republicans have controlled both chambers of Congress since 2015, giving them the power to block Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and stall his choices for other federal judgeships. For years, the GOP has frustrated Obama’s efforts at policymaking, including comprehensive immigration reform.

There are signs they may keep the same tactics if Clinton is elected. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas suggested that the Supreme Court could continue operating with one fewer than its full slate of nine justices.

“Assuming Clinton wins, having a Democratic Senate is of paramount importance” for her policy agenda, said Allan J. Lichtman, a history professor at American University.

Democrats need to flip four seats to take control of the Senate if Clinton wins, giving them 50 total. Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, would be able to cast tie-breaking votes as vice president.

Clinton’s efforts on behalf of Democratic Senate hopefuls are also notable for the contrast with Trump, who never mentions his party’s Senate candidates at his rallies, where he functions more as a one-man show than a top-of-the-ticket nominee.

In turn, down-ballot Republicans have been forced into pretzel-like political contortions to avoid defending his most controversial comments while also maintaining the loyalty of Republican voters. After facing a barrage of questions about Trump’s insults of women, Latinos and other groups, many Republicans welcomed Friday’s revelation that the FBI was taking a new look at emails related to Hillary Clinton’s private server.


Some senators have chosen to stay away from Trump even if they plan to vote for him; Rubio, for example, didn’t join Trump at any of his events in six cities over three days in Florida this week.

Clinton has homed in on that dilemma.

In Pennsylvania on Saturday, she sharply criticized Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who has refused to say whether he will vote for Trump.

“If he doesn’t have the courage to stand up to Donald Trump after all this, can you be sure he will have the courage to stand up for you?” she said, urging voters to back Katie McGinty, a former state environmental official and adviser in Bill Clinton’s administration.

It’s rare for Clinton to directly criticize a Republican senator, but she never veers far from her anti-Trump message in stumping for other Democrats. In North Carolina, she said that Deborah Ross, a lawyer and former state lawmaker running for Senate there, “knows that people of courage and principles need to come together to reject his dangerous and divisive agenda.”

The primary super PAC supporting Clinton, Priorities USA, also is jumping into the fight for the Senate. Last week, it began running television advertisements against both Toomey and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Ayotte, trying to fend off a challenge from the state’s Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, supported Trump, then abandoned him when a recording of Trump bragging about groping women was leaked, creating a muddied message that pleased few voters.


“They’re in this terrible Catch-22, where they either make a blatantly political decision to break with him, or continue to stand by him,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for Priorities USA.

Even the National Republican Senatorial Committee effectively conceded that the presidential campaign isn’t a plus for their candidates.

“Democrats have relied on political gravity from the presidential race to carry them across the finish line,” said Andrea Bozek, the committee’s communications director, while still arguing that Republicans have better Senate candidates.

Some Republicans are poised to escape the potential fallout from Trump’s candidacy. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, for example, who is operating a campaign that exists largely separately from Trump, is running well ahead of Democratic challenger Ted Strickland, a former governor.

But Trump’s visit to Nevada on Sunday could pose more trouble for his party.

In the battle for the Senate seat there being vacated by Minority Leader Harry Reid, Republican Rep. Joe Heck has come under fire for refusing to say how he’ll vote for president, insisting the ballot is a private affair.

He pulled his endorsement after Trump’s comments about groping women were revealed, a decision that has led to ridicule from Trump supporters.


His Democratic opponent in the race, Catherine Cortez Masto, has no intention of letting Heck distance himself from his party’s unpopular candidate.

“Withdrawing his support isn’t leadership,” she posted on Facebook. “It’s Joe Heck trying to save his political career.”

Twitter: @chrismegerian, @lisamascaro


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