Sen. Wicker is confident about retaining GOP Senate majority

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is shown during a Katrina 10-year remembrance in Gulfport, Mississippi, on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is shown during a Katrina 10-year remembrance in Gulfport, Mississippi, on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. AP

Republican senatorial campaign leaders had some tough talk Thursday for the 2016 roster of Democratic presidential and senate candidates.

Speaking at the weekly Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Ward Baker, the committee’s executive director, made it clear they intend to hold on to the Senate’s GOP majority – even though the numbers are against them.

Next fall, 24 Republican senators will be up for re-election, compared with just 10 Democrats. The Democrats need to win five more seats to regain the majority. In presidential election years, Democratic voters typically turn out in higher numbers.

But Wicker said Senate Republican efforts to help move a major education bill and a highway funding bill and to fix the Medicare funding formula for doctors would impress voters.

“We think we have a record to run on,” Wicker said. “State by state, we look good. Race by race, candidate by candidate, we are feeling good about our prospects for holding our 24 seats and gaining some more.”

But he admitted that congressional Republicans aren’t likely to vote on an Affordable Care Act replacement this year as many expected.

“Looking at the calendar, looking at the difficulty we had in getting something done through reconciliation, I don’t see this happening during this final session of this Congress,” Wicker said.

Although many Americans are frustrated by the polarization and paralysis of the divided government in the nation’s capital, the White House and Congress have shown more comity of late and are making progress on delivering legislation to move the nation forward, Wicker said.

Many analysts have said a nontraditional GOP presidential nominee such as Donald Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas would spell trouble for Republicans in tight Senate races. Baker disagreed.

“No matter who the nominee is from our party,” Baker asserted, “they will be better than the undeclared socialist or the socialist of the Democratic communist party,” references to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, and Bernie Sanders, respectively.

Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton, did not respond to a request for comment.

In Republican Senate races rated as tossups by pundits, GOP incumbents Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin will prevail, Baker said. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

Baker downplayed concerns about Kirk’s health and said Ayotte was more popular with voters than her Democratic challenger, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan. He added that Johnson, a Wisconsin businessman, was better for voters than his challenger, Democratic former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, whom Baker described as a “career politician.”