Mitt Romney's travails are not just his problem. As the Republican nominee scrambles to salvage his presidential campaign, GOP candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives are getting worried that Mr. Romney could take them down with him.
New polls this week showed that Republican hopes of picking up or holding on to Senate seats in Wisconsin, Virginia and Massachusetts have dimmed considerably as Mr. Obama racks up larger leads over Mr. Romney in those states. While the GOP once banked on gaining control of the Senate this fall, it has lowered its sights in recent days and might be satisfied just keeping the same number of seats – 47 – that it now holds.
"The presidential thing is bound to have an impact on every election," former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson, who is running for that state's open Senate seat, told a local TV station. "You know, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, if your standard-bearer for the presidency is not doing well, it's going to reflect on the down ballot."
Republicans had been counting on picking up the Wisconsin seat, left vacant by the retirement of Democratic Senator Herb Kohl. But Mr. Thompson's once solid lead over his Democratic rival Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay Senate candidate, has evaporated. A Marquette University poll released Wednesday, had Mr. Thompson trailing Ms. Baldwin by nine percentage points among likely voters. Other surveys showed a tighter race, but one with the momentum clearly on Ms. Baldwin's side.
Four of five polls out this week in Massachusetts showed Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren ahead of incumbent GOP Senator Scott Brown by as much as five percentage points. Though a fifth poll gave Mr. Brown the lead, the two had been tied until now.
Mr. Brown, who won a 2010 special election to fill the late Ted Kennedy's seat, is hampered by his party affiliation and Mr. Romney's unpopularity in his home state.
Since a secretly taped video emerged this week of Mr. Romney making disparaging comments about the 47 per cent of Americans he considered "dependent on government," Mr. Brown has moved even further to distance himself from the GOP nominee.
"I don't agree with him on everything but that's what being an independent senator is about: criticizing my party when it's appropriate and then praising people when they have an opportunity to do something well," Mr. Brown told The Hill.
In their first televised debate on Thursday night, Ms. Warren warned that re-electing Mr. Brown – who favours abortion rights – could lead to the suppression of such rights. Noting that Mr. Brown voted against the appointment of President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, Ms. Warren suggested a Republican-controlled Senate could put the court in the hands of judges hostile to abortion.
"This really may be the race for the control of the Senate and the Supreme Court may hang in the balance," she said. "It's not just about Senator Brown's vote. This is about the vote of all the Republicans."
\In Virginia, new polls out this week showed former Democratic governor Tim Kaine pulling comfortably ahead of GOP rival George Allen, also a former governor and ex-senator. Both the presidential and Senate races in Virginia had been neck-and-neck for months. But as Mr. Obama builds a lead over Mr. Romney in Virginia, he also appears to be lifting the fortunes of down-ticket Democrats in the state.
Until recently, Republicans had been looking to Virginia to gain the seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Senator Jim Webb. But Mr. Kaine has built up a huge lead among women and in the northern part of the state near Washington, D.C., making a GOP pick-up increasingly unlikely.