As the 2020 Presidential Election is simply beginning to look like a repeat of 2016, we thought we'd focus on something a bit more interesting this week. We just saw the dwindling field of 2020 Democratic hopefuls fracture, with pretty much everyone bowing out and throwing their support behind Joe Biden, crippling Sanders and leaving him with a sizable gap in delegates between the two contenders.
But, 2020 isn't just about the Presidential race. There are also an entire slate of House races, numerous Governor races, and my personal favorite, 35 US Senate races. Trump and Republicans are hoping to consolidate their majority in the Senate, while Democrats are hoping to turn the tide and continue their “blue wave” momentum from 2018. The Senate map is MUCH different this year than it was in 2018. There more than 20 incumbent GOP Senators defending their seats—many of which they took from Democrats in 2014. Democrats have only to defend a dozen of their own seats, so in terms of party composition, this Senate map is almost the exact opposite of 2018.
Incumbents have a massive advantage, and with four Senators in this batch retiring at the end of this term, all the others will have the advantage of at least ten months of incumbency, with the latest Senator having just been appointed in January. Of the twelve Democratic seats up for reelection, I would say that only half of the are really safe. Leaving six potential flips to the GOP. However, with 23 GOP seats, several of them are vulnerable, as well. Of the 23, 20 are pretty secure, leaving three vulnerable GOP Senators. Thus, we have nine Senate seats to watch in this race.
1. Alabama. In 2017, there was a special election to fill the seat formerly held by Jeff Sessions. Democrats poured resources into the race to elect Doug Jones, who was the first Democrat to win election to represent Alabama in the US Senate in 25 years. He won by a razor-thin margin because Republicans nominated Roy Moore, who faced several allegations of sexual abuse (including underage victims). If Republicans nominate a candidate without that sort of baggage in 2020, they are almost assured to win back this seat in ruby-red Alabama.
2. Arizona. This election is to determine who will sit in the seat formerly held by the iconic John McCain. After his death, John Kyl and then Martha McSally were appointed to hold the seat. McSally is running for the seat this November, but it's not going to be an easy win. Arizona is increasingly a purple state, and McSally's likely opponent in the general election is retired astronaut Mark Kelley, whose wife is Gabby Giffords, who survived a mass shooting in 2011. He appears to have a strong coalition to flip the seat.
3. Colorado. Incumbent Cory Gardner flipped his Senate seat red in 2014, winning with less than 49% of the vote (third party candidates had actually taken over 5% of the vote). Democrats will invest a lot in getting this seat back, as Colorado's other Senator is also a Democrat, who won his most recent race by over 5%.
4. Michigan. This has the potential to be one of the LEAST interesting races of 2020...or the most interesting. Incumbent Senator Gary Peters won by over 13% in 2014. However, he is likely to face John James, retired Army officer and businessman who lost to Peters' Senate colleague Stabenow by less than 7% in 2018, the closest margin to represent Michigan in the US Senate by a Republican in 18 years. Although this race is on the safe side for Democrats, we can expect both parties to pour funds into making it a battleground.
5. Minnesota. Another state that is likely to remain blue, Senator Tina Smith is running for her first full term in the seat she won in a special election after initially being appointed to it when it was vacated by the disgraced former Senator Al Franken. She did win by over 10% in 2018, but if Republicans put forward a strong candidate, it could certainly prove to be a competitive race.
6. New Hampshire. New England is a particularly hostile place for GOP contenders, but New Hampshire has been increasingly purple as of late. Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton hit 50% of the vote in 2016. The incumbent, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, won by about 3% against ex-Senator Scott Brown in 2014. With a strong GOP candidate, New Hampshire will be a Senate battleground state.
7. New Mexico. Despite New Mexico having one of the bluest Congressional delegations out there, there is a glimmer of hope for Republicans in the announcement of Tom Udall's retirement. He did win by 11% in 2014, but the fact that Democrats will have a non-incumbent vying for the seat is the best news that a Republican contender could hope for. Expect both parties to pour money into the race.
8. North Carolina. This state is on the reddish side of purple, but incumbent Senator Thom Tillis won by less than 2% in 2014, with third party candidates taking nearly 4% of the vote. While he has a good chance of keeping his seat, he is probably the second most vulnerable Republican in this set of races.
9. Virginia. While this is certainly a more bluish-purple state, the newly Democratic-dominated state legislature has been taking a lot of liberties with their legislative agenda, alienating and mobilizing Virginian Republicans. Incumbent Senator Mark Warner won by less than 1% in 2014, so he is certainly among the more vulnerable Democratic candidates for Senate in November.
If all of these seats flip, the GOP would gain three seat in the Senate. The absolute best case for Democrats is if they successfully defend their weak candidates AND pick up the three weak GOP seats, giving the house an even 50-50 split. Best case scenario for Republicans is defending their weak seats and picking up six new ones. This would give them an nine seat majority in the Senate.
The most likely outcome I see for these races is as follows:
Democrats retain Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Virginia.
Republicans retain North Carolina.
Democrats flip Arizona and Colorado.
Republicans flip Alabama and New Hampshire.
The end result being that the partisan composure of the Senate will likely not change, and in 2021, its likely to still be a 53-47 split. Granted, there are many variables that may change things between now and November, but it is hard to see a path for Democrats to take a majority in the Senate. But at the same time, it's difficult to see Republicans build on their majority. Quite possibly, this will be the most expensive set of Senate races in history, with many competitive races and tensions high as candidates align for or against President Trump. Hopefully we will provide coverage and analysis of the House, gubernatorial, and presidential races as we draw closer to November.