Trump Democrats? 10 Senators Face Voters in 2018 in Red States

  • Many eye alliance on trade, infrastructure and other issues
  • Chances for a Trump honeymoon may rest on winning them over

Senator Joe Manchin speaks on Sept. 8, 2016, in Washington.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s success in Congress for much of the agenda he campaigned on likely rests with 10 Senate Democrats facing re-election in 2018 in states he won.

Many of those potential Trump Democrats said in interviews over the past two weeks that they want to find ways to work with the president-elect on issues like trade, infrastructure, regulations and ethics -- centerpieces of the message that propelled him to the White House.

Sherrod Brown

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“Two days after the election I called their transition guy, head of trade, running trade, talked to him at length, sent him a letter about I’m willing to help renegotiate NAFTA and pull out of TPP and more aggressively do trade enforcement,” said Sherrod Brown, referring to the two major trade deals that Trump has promised to scrap or renegotiate. “I’ll work with him when I can.”

Take Trump’s threat of 35 percent tariffs to protect American jobs. Republican leaders were tripping over themselves to run away from the idea this week. But Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who represents a state Trump won by 42 points, endorsed the saber-rattling.

“Shake ’em up. I’m OK with that. I’d use that same tactic when I was governor. I’d use whatever I could -- every job was precious to me,” he said. ”And people say it’s just one job. Yeah, if it was your job, it’d be pretty precious to you, wouldn’t it. So he’s fighting for those, I appreciate that.”

Likewise, Democrats are unanimous in backing the idea of a big infrastructure package -- something they have been trying to get Republicans to support for six years.

Cabinet Candidates

Some, like Manchin or North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, could even end up in Trump’s Cabinet, potentially adding to the GOP Senate’s slim majority. While some of Trump’s plans can be passed solely with Republicans, most bills require 60 votes to advance in the Senate -- eight more than Republicans expect to have on Jan. 3.

Joe Manchin

Photographer: Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg

Manchin has been by far the most Trump-friendly senator on the Democratic side, and often seems more enthusiastic than some formerly never-Trump Republicans like Arizona’s John McCain, who often refuses to answer questions about the president-elect.

Manchin declared sight-unseen he intended to vote to confirm members of Trump’s Cabinet, and do what he can to get Washington to work again. But he’s far from the only one keen to work with the new president.

Heitkamp visited Trump Tower last week and could be in the running for a Cabinet post herself.

‘Common Interests’

“There’s certainly common interests in doing things in energy, doing things in agriculture. Rural America, I would think, is a high priority for the new administration,” she told reporters.

Heidi Heitkamp at Trump Tower, Dec. 2.

Photographer: Justin Lane/Pool via Bloomberg

A Heitkamp pick would trigger a special election, one Republicans would likely be favored to win given Trump’s blowout win in her state, and potentially boost their majority to 53-47. If Manchin leaves, Republicans would have a stronger chance of taking the West Virginia Senate seat in 2018, inching closer to the magic 60 votes needed to move most bills in the Senate.

Chuck Schumer of New York, the incoming Democratic leader, earlier this week dismissed concerns Trump picks could cost Democrats, saying there is nothing wrong with them talking to Trump.

The other vulnerable 2018 Democrats are mostly clustered in Rust Belt and heartland states -- Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana. Bill Nelson of Florida and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan also face voters in states Trump won.

While most talk about working with Trump on issues like trade and infrastructure, they’ve peppered their optimism with concerns over some of his Cabinet picks and advisers like former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon.

Trade Opportunity

Democrats are already looking to box Republicans in on trade, with Schumer announcing Tuesday that his caucus was compiling a package of get-tough-on-trade measures. Most Republicans want fewer barriers to trade, not more, and are opposed to anything that could reduce exports from their states.

If anything, Democrats are eager to hold Trump to his promises of getting tough on trade.

Joe Donnelly

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Donnelly, for example, thanked Trump for his efforts to keep jobs at Carrier Corp., which had planned to close a factory in Indianapolis. The president-elect championed a deal he cut with the company to save about 800 furnace-maker jobs, but Donnelly noted that hundreds more jobs will still leave Indiana for Mexico.

Donnelly will be one of the most endangered Democrats, having won in 2012 due in large part to the implosion of his opponent, after Richard Mourdock said pregnancies resulting from rape were "something God intended to happen." Donnelly will also be running in Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s home state.

And Baldwin said she hopes to work with Trump on her "Buy America" legislative efforts, which were struck from a water-resources bill earlier this week by House Republicans despite Democratic appeals to Trump to weigh in on behalf of American steel.

Carried Interest

She said she also wants to work with Trump on finally eliminating the carried-interest tax benefit enjoyed by hedge-fund managers -- an idea embraced by Trump in 2015 and long a priority of the left.

Jon Tester

Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Tester, who headed the party’s campaign arm this past cycle, pivoted quickly to bipartisan mode, saying he sees Trump as a potential ally on “draining the swamp, working on infrastructure, campaign finance reform.”

He said he hopes Trump focuses less on rolling back everything that the Obama administration accomplished.

“His outreach is going to be critical, because I can tell there’s a lot of Democrats who want to move the ball forward,” Tester said.

Brown also tempers talks of working with Trump with criticism of some of his Cabinet picks, particularly House Budget Chairman Tom Price of Georgia for the Department Health and Human Services and billionaire Betsy DeVos for the Education Department.

Medicare, Public Schools

“When he appoints a guy like Price, who wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and privatize it, when he appoints a Department of Education billionaire who’s used much of her family fortune to try to take money out of the public schools, where 90 percent of American students are, I won’t work with him,” Brown said. “So we’ll see.”

Claire McCaskill

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

McCaskill, who has defied the odds to win re-election in an increasingly Republican state, says she’s waiting to see what Trump does in the White House.

“I’m open,” said McCaskill. “Obviously job creation is really important and protecting the middle class is really important and protecting people that feel left behind in an economy that’s fairly rigged. I must say there’s an awful lot of Goldman Sachs in his Cabinet, so time will tell how serious and sincere he is about some of his populist tendencies.”

“If he actually is going to be part of reform and focusing on working folks,” she said, ”I’m in.”

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