Just 50 days until the election and Democrats are gaining in optimism about their chances of retaking the Senate.
President Trump is the decided underdog against former Vice President Joe Biden and Democrats could end up expanding their House majority. However the final prize for the taking is the Senate
That leaves the Senate as the final barrier to unified control for Democrats in 2021.
By the Numbers
Based on the numbers, the odds are tough for Republicans controlling the Senate since they are defending 23 seats (including two occupied by appointed senators filling vacancies) while Democrats are defending just 12. Of those Democratic seats up for election, only one is vulnerable. That’s the seat held by Sen. Doug Jones, who won his seat in a 2017 special election following the resignation of Republican incumbent Jeff Sessions to become U.S. Attorney General.
With the Republicans holding a current three-seat majority, if they win back Jones’ seat, the Democrats must flip four seats if Biden wins and five if he does not. According to political pundits, the current map leaves multiple pathways for Democrats to reach their goal.
Seats Democrats Can Flip
The Arizona battle between Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and gun-control activist, and Republican incumbent Martha McSally, a firebrand conservative, has been leaning Kelly’s way for months. Kelly has name recognition as an astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords. He also has a reputation for being above partisan politics, observers say.
Kelly has out-raised McSally and still has $22 million in the bank, compared to her $10 million.
Still, Arizona is considered a reliably red state. It hasn’t voted for a Democrat in a presidential race since 1996, but recent polls have Biden up 4 points over Trump.
Colorado Republican incumbent Cory Gardner won his seat in 2014 by just 2 percentage points. In this race, he’s consistently trailed former Gov. John Hickenlooper in the polls up to double digits, but that margin has been shrinking. Gardner didn’t endorse Trump in 2016, but since then has voted with Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, pass the GOP tax cut plan and confirm U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Hickenlooper has seen a decline in the polls since it was revealed he had been fined $2,000 in June by the state’s ethics commission for illegally accepting flights, lodging and meals. The National Republican Senatorial Committee memo said its internal polling shows when it comes to Hickenlooper voters, “far and away” think of the former governor as someone who is “dishonest and corrupt.’”
Democratic contender Sara Gideon has four-term Maine incumbent Sen. Susan Collins on the ropes. Gideon, the Maine House speaker has been leading in every major poll since July. Despite being a moderate Republican, Democrats are making the race about Collins’ votes in which she’s sided with Trump, specifically confirming Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and acquitting Trump in the impeachment trial.
North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis upset Democrat Kay Hagan by a razor-thin margin of 1.5% in 2016. But he faces a tough reelection bid in a state where presidential contests have been close. An Aug. 11 poll had Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, a former state senator and Iraq war veteran, with a 3-percentage-point edge. Cunningham is attacking Tillis for his previous efforts to block Medicaid expansion in North Carolina.
Democrats’ Likely Loss
Spurred on by the power of the Black female vote, Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones squeaked out a 2017 victory over Republican Roy Moore, who faced accusations from multiple women who said he had made sexual advances toward them when they were teenagers.
He is now running in a state Trump won handily in 2016, facing a much more formidable and less controversial Republican nominee in Tommy Tuberville, a former Auburn University football coach who beat former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a GOP runoff.
Polls shows Tuberville leading by 17 percentage points and Trump leading Biden by 22 percentage points.
Georgia Two for One
Due to the resignation of former Rep. Sen. Johnny Isakson in Dec. 2019, Georgia has two Senate seats up for reelection, with the possibility of a two-seat gain for the Democrats. The seat held by Republican Sen. David Perdue was also up for reelection this year.
Jon Ossoff is in a good position against Perdue, a one-term incumbent. Ossoff is an investigative journalist, business owner, and Georgia native who lost a 2017 special election in Georgia’s 6th district. Perdue is a wealthy businessman who previously served as the CEO of Reebok athletics and Chairman and CEO of Dollar General, and is one of Trump’s closest allies in the U.S. Senate.
Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, was appointed in Dec. 2019 to fill Isakson’s seat until a special election was held in Nov. 2020. She’s running to keep her seat in what is called a jungle special election, where candidates from both parties compete on the same ballot and the top two advance to a runoff to be held in Jan. 2021. There are 21 candidates in the race.
Likely to advance will be Loeffler, billionaire who expects to spend $20 million of her own money on her race; Republican Congressman Doug Collins; Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta; Democrat Matt Liberman, a Democratic businessman and son of former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman; and Democrat Ed Tarver, former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
It’s hard to guess how this will come out, but with the Democratic vote so divided, there’s a possibility the two Republicans might advance.
While Georgia has been considered a safe Republican stronghold for decades, the tide in the state is shifting in Democrats’ favor thanks to the fast-expanding and Democratic-leaning Atlanta metro area. Trump now leads former VP Joe Biden by just 0.9 points on average in polls of the state. Polls have Ossoff closing in on Perdue.
Republican Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst finds herself in a close reelection contest as Trump’s support in the state dips. Trump won Iowa by a comfortable 10 percentage points four years ago, but he’s ahead of Biden by about 3 percentage points in a recent survey. Ernst, a first-term senator, has also seen her support soften a bit.
Democrat Theresa Greenfield was leading by 3 percentage points in a June poll conducted by the Des Moines Register. But Ernst bounced back in the Monmouth University poll released this month, leading by roughly 3 percentage points.
Montana Democrats recruited outgoing Gov. Steve Bullock to challenge Republican Sen. Steve Daines in a state Trump easily won in 2016. Daines is leading by roughly 6 percentage points in a most recent poll. He has hit Bullock, who briefly ran for president, on cultural issues such as gun rights, saying Bullock is “too liberal” given his poor rating from the National Rifle Association. Bullock fired back pointing out that Daines was praised by China’s ambassador to the U.S., who once called the GOP incumbent the foreign country’s “ambassador to Congress.”
Democrat Jaime Harrison is staging a competitive challenge to South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a race that has drawn national attention. A poll this month shows Harrison tied with Graham while another poll had the incumbent up by 1 point in a state Trump won by 14 percentage points in 2016.
Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath wants to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and she’s raised plenty of money toward that goal. McGrath, a retired Marine, has raked in $47.2 million, which according to the Federal Election Commission is the most of any candidate, incumbent or challenger, running for Senate this year. The Cook Report, a political analysis website continues to rank Kentucky as likely Republican and, given it is a state Trump won by 30%, Democrats face a mountain climb to make this race competitive.
McGrath has tried to appeal to those voters by arguing those who supported the president wanted a sea change in Washington and are equally fed up with McConnell, who is consistently ranked as one of the most unpopular senators in the country.