Martha McSally trails by 12 points as a slew of new polls signal trouble for Republican Senate races

Democrats favored to win Senate as polls show leads in Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina: Cook Political Report

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published July 27, 2020 11:34AM (EDT)

US Senator Martha McSally (R) (R-AZ) speaks next to US President Donald Trump at a Keep America Great Rally in Phoenix, AZ, on February 19, 2020. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
US Senator Martha McSally (R) (R-AZ) speaks next to US President Donald Trump at a Keep America Great Rally in Phoenix, AZ, on February 19, 2020. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly's lead over Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., swelled to double-digits in a new poll as a slew of recent surveys signaled tough races for Republicans in Senate races.

Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., leads McSally 53-41 in a new NBC News-Marist poll. Two other polls, one from CNN and another from CNBC, showed Kelly leading by 7 points.

Kelly has consistently outraised the Republican incumbent, more recently raising $12.8 million to McSally's $8.9 million in the second quarter of this year.

McSally, who was appointed to the former Senate seat of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., after losing her own Senate race to Sen. Kirsten Synema, D-Ariz., has long been one of the most vulnerable Republicans facing re-election this year. McSally has tried to tie her fortunes to that of President Donald Trump, who carried the state by fewer than four points in 2016. The NBC-Marist poll shows Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by five points, a much smaller margin than McSally's race.

The Cook Political Report shifted McSally's race from "Toss Up" to "Lean" Democrat last week.

"The bottom fell out for us at the end of May and June," a Republican strategist told the outlet.

The Arizona poll is one of several surveys released this weekend showing Republicans struggling in key races as the president's approval rating sags amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has now killed more than 146,000 people in the U.S., and a deepening financial crisis.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., trails Democrat Cal Cunningham 50-41, according to an NBC-Marist poll. That is right in line with an earlier CNBC poll which showed Cunningham leading by seven points, and a PPP survey which showed him up by 8 points. Cunningham also broke the state's Senate fundraising record last quarter, bringing in a $7.4 million haul.

Like McSally, Tillis has tried to boost his re-election chances by moving closer to Trump. Politico described him as "Trump's new best friend in North Carolina" last year. But Trump's fortunes are shaping up even worse in the state than in Arizona. Biden leads Trump 51-44 in North Carolina, according to the NBC-Marist poll.

Republicans also got more bad news in Michigan, where Republican John James is running against Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., after losing another Senate race to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in 2018. A CNN poll shows Peters leading 54-38, making it the third straight poll showing James trailing by double-digits.

The latest surveys come amid weeks of rough polls for other vulnerable Senate Republicans such as Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

The Cook Political report projected Democrats were favored to win back the Senate for the first time last week as it shifted McSally and Ernst's races toward Democrats.

"Something remarkable would have to happen for Republicans to still have control of the Senate after November," a Republican pollster told the outlet. "It's grim. There's just so many places where Democrats either have the upper hand or are competitive in states that six months ago we wouldn't have considered at risk."

"If you're an incumbent in a bad environment sitting at 44 percent, you should be pretty damn scared," added a Republican strategist. "The expanding map has made it really hard, and there's just a lot of Democratic momentum right now."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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