Many Republican leaders have expressed concern that nominating Donald Trump could squander their opportunity to win back the White House in 2016. However, that is just part of the damage a Trump candidacy could inflict upon the party. Republican insiders also worry that Trump may cripple their chances of maintaining control of the U.S. Senate, especially since many key races are being held in states with a significant population of Hispanic voters.
Latino voters represent a special danger for Republican candidates. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric places GOP politicians on the defensive, as they must distance themselves from Trump, or risk alienating Hispanic voters. In an interview with The Hill, a Nevada Republican strategist noted the potential dilemma Trump’s rhetoric poses for Republican Senate candidate Joe Heck:
I think it’s pretty clear that some of [Trump’s] more dramatic proposals on immigration will certainly affect races like the Nevada senate race in particular…In a state like Nevada, the Hispanic element is absolutely essential.
Heck’s task is magnified by the fact that he would likely face Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, a well-known Latina politician who could energize Hispanic voters. Voters make decisions based on a wide range of factors, rather than through a one-dimensional prism of identity politics. Nevertheless, there is no question that Cortez Masto would present an added pull factor for many Latino voters, which would amplify the “push factor” already provided by Trump, potentially driving them to the polls in record numbers.
With Republicans defending 24 of the 34 Senate seats up for re-election in 2016, they have little margin for error if they wish to keep control of the U.S. Senate. The GOP’s two best pick-up opportunities are in Nevada and Colorado, but both those states are off the table if Trump drags down the GOP contenders with his xenophobic campaign. Competitive Republican-held seats in Florida, Arizona and Illinois — all states with significant Hispanic populations, are in jeopardy of turning blue if the Republican Senate candidates are in any way associated with Trump.
Republican strategists are growing increasingly uneasy that having Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket, would not only undermine their chances of winning the White House, but that it would also cost them the U.S. Senate as well. Those fears are legitimate, because while Trump is dominating the Republican field, his toxic message is unappealing to a wide segment of the general electorate. Not only would Trump be almost certain to lose a general election campaign, but in all likelihood, he would drag a lot of Republican Senate candidates down with him.