As I discussed in a previous article of mine, the eyes of the nation (and indeed the world) are quite rightly fixed on the White House in this election cycle, with the race to determine its next occupant at fever pitch with 22 days to go. However, there is more up for grabs on Election Day than just the presidency. The House and the Senate are also up for grabs, as well as all your local positions too. Yet the race to determine which party controls the 117th Senate seems to have slipped under the radar as the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden intensifies. Here, we’ll take a look at the Senate races that the nation should also be casting its eyes over as the votes are counted on November 3rd.
As things stand with the current Senate makeup, Democrats would need to win four Senate seats to have outright control or win three Senate seats and the presidency for Vice-President Kamala Harris to break any 50-50 Senate ties.
If you’d have told the Democratic Party a few years ago that it was in with a serious shout of controlling not just one, but both Senate seats in the Grand Canyon State, they would probably have laughed at you. Fast forward to the 2020 elections and Democrats are exactly that position. They already control one, the seat won by Kyrsten Sinema in 2019, when she defeated Martha McSally in a special election. Now, the Democrats face McSally again, this time for the other Senate seat in Arizona. Mark Kelly, an astronaut and husband of Gabby Giffords, the former Representative of Arizona’s 8th District who was famously shot during an assassination attempt in 2012, is the Democratic candidate for the second Senate.
Polling has Kelly up on McSally by an average of eight points, with some polls showing Kelly holding a double-digit lead over his incumbent opponent. According to OpenSecrets, Kelly also holds a financial advantage over McSally, with almost $11m more in reserve to spend. While money is not the sole determining factor in an election, to hold such a cash advantage this close to Election Day is a major advantage, giving Kelly much more to play with between now and polling day.
The Senate race in Iowa sees one-term Republican incumbent Joni Ernst, the first female combat veteran ever elected to the Senate, square off against her Democratic opponent Theresa Greenfield, a businesswoman and former candidate for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District back in 2018. Polls suggest that Greenfield is up by around four points; indeed FiveThirtyEight hasn’t registered a poll showing Ernst in the lead since the end of August.
With Republicans controlling the other Senate seat in Iowa, in the form of 86-year-old Chuck Grassley (who suggested he might run again when his term expires in 2022), Democrats will look favorably on Greenfield as their chance to break the current Republican stranglehold on Iowa’s Senate seats.
Ah, Susan Collins. Perhaps the Senator the Democratic Party has been eyeing up to remove from office for the longest amount of time. She has tread carefully in pretty much every decision she has voted on, most notably the Senate confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh, which she voted for. Collins has been under pressure from Democrats looking to install one of their own in her Senate for a while now, and the party views 2020 as the perfect time to do it.
Sara Gideon, the former Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, is Collins’ opponent. Polling shows Gideon up around 3.5 points, but with two other third-party candidates in the running for the Maine Senate seat hoping to take votes away from the main two parties. Could they affect a Senate race that so far looks like it’s about to turn blue?
Much like the Democrats in Arizona, if you’d told the Republican Party that one of President Trump’s most loyal supporters, Lindsey Graham, would effectively find himself tied in his Senate race with just over twenty days until Election Day, they would probably have laughed at you too. But that’s also where we’re at. RealClearPolitics’ poll average has Graham and his Democratic opponent Jaime Harrison in a statistical tie.
This election pits three-term Senator, and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee (which is currently holding its hearings on Judge Amy Coney Barrett) Lindsey Graham, against the former Chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party Jaime Harrison. Harrison is also an African-American, and his victory would mean that both Senators from South Carolina would be African-Americans at the same time, a first for the United States.
It seems like the Carolinas are the place to watch if you want exciting Senate races in 2020! In a seat that was also considered safe Republican not so long again, one-term Senator Thom Tillis now faces a difficult battle in retaining his seat for himself and his party. His Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, a former lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves and Representative for the 23rd District in the North Carolina Senate between 2001 and 2003, is leading in polls by around five points.
However, news of an extramarital affair has dogged the Cunningham campaign in recent days but doesn’t yet appear to have had an impact on polling numbers. In a generally traditional and conservative state such as North Carolina, it will be interesting to see what impact this scandal could have on the Cunningham campaign, especially with it being so close to Election Day.
We couldn’t do an article about potential Senate surprises without mentioning Alabama and Doug Jones, whose victory back in 2018 over Roy Moore still shocks most Americans to this day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, coming from a state like Alabama, Jones is the Democrat most vulnerable to losing his seat to a Republican in this set of Senate elections. Polls currently are sparse but show Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville (who defeated former Alabama Senator and U.S. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions in a primary) holding a lead of around nine points over the incumbent Democrat.
If any Democrat is an almost sure-fire thing to lose their Senate seat in 2020, it’s Doug Jones.
In a set of Senate elections that see a lot of Republican incumbents squaring off against strong Democratic challengers, it remains to be seen whether enough Democrats can oust Republicans and secure the four (or three!) Senate seats they need. They are currently “slightly favored” to do so by FiveThirtyEight’s forecasting model, but as we’ve seen before, anything can go down on Election Day…
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