For the first time, you don’t have to squint to see it: Democrats have a plausible path to retake the US Senate majority this year.
If they do, it may mean they’ve hit the trifecta.
With less than 100 days before the Nov. 3rd election, Democrats maintaining control of the US House is nearly assured and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has a commanding lead over President Trump in the race for the White House. (The latest CBS/YouGov poll has Biden up 51 to Trump’s 41 percent nationally among likely voters.)
Control of the Senate has always been the trickiest part for Democrats. Most of the Senate seats up this year are held by Republicans and in traditionally Republican states from Kansas to Arizona to Montana to South Carolina.
Now the contests in those states, which all involve Republican incumbents, are close contests, if the polling is to be believed.
The reason why this is happening is pretty clear and consistent in polling. The impact of the coronavirus is dominating American life and changing the way citizens live, work, learn, recreate, and even socialize. At the same time, Americans by and large do not approve of the way that Trump has handled America’s response to the pandemic.
Further, the latest polls find that Trump is losing in what was his strongest category: his handling of the economy. A poll out this week from the financial network CNBC found that by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin, Americans trust Democrats more to help the economy recover from the impact of the coronavirus.
“The presidential race is tipping in Joe Biden’s favor and if the current numbers hold then there is a very good chance that Democrats can capture the Senate control along with the presidency,” said Jessica Taylor, a Senate race analyst at the respected, nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “In particular for the Senate races, Republicans are hampered with a lot of things going wrong, while Democrats recruited well and are raising a lot more money.”
Indeed, the five most vulnerable Republican incumbents up for reelection this year were outraised by their Democratic challengers by $18.5 million, according to the latest campaign finance reports out earlier this month.
To gain a majority, Democrats need to flip either three or four Senate seats, depending on who wins the presidential race and will subsequently have a vice president to cast tie votes. The latest projections from the Cook Political Report show that it isn’t necessarily that certain seats are now considered Democratic locks, but that more seats are in “tossup” status, which gives Democrats more paths to retake the majority.
For example, in April, there were four tossup states. Today there are six and all of them are held by Republican incumbents. The six places where the battle will be waged the fiercest: Maine, North Carolina, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, and Montana. In addition, Georgia’s other Senate seat is also up this year and is now listed alongside an open seat in Kansas as only “leaning Republican.” Completely off the table: Republican hopes earlier this year to make Senate races in Minnesota, New Mexico, and Michigan very competitive.
Taylor has found in her research that since 1980 these tossup Senate races tend to be decided in waves one way or the other. Put another way, who wins is more dictated by the national mood than by individual circumstances in each states. In 2014, when this current class of Senators was elected, Republicans won every competitive Senate race in the country except in New Hampshire, where Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen narrowly held off Republican Scott Brown, who moved there from Massachusetts to run for the seat.
Looking at the map, two races appear to cancel each other out. Republicans appear poised to retake a Senate seat in Alabama, and Democrats will flip a Senate seat in Arizona. The easiest path for Democrats now appears to be:
- Win in North Carolina, where Democrat Cal Cunningham was up between 9 and 15 points in the latest polling over Republican incumbent Thom Tillis.
- Win in Colorado, where Democrat John Hickenlooper was up 6 points in the latest polling over Republican incumbent Cory Gardner.
- Win in Maine, where Democrat Sara Gideon has led Republican incumbent Susan Collins by 5 points in the last two polls.
- Then either win the presidency or one other state. That other state could be Montana, where Governor Steve Bullock, the Democratic candidate, has been consistently leading polls there, though still within the margin of error. He is the only sitting governor running for Senate this year and many, including him, are seeing poll numbers bump up for their handling of the coronavirus. In addition to Montana, Senate races in Iowa and Georgia are also too close to call.
All of this means that for GOP donors, there is a growing emphasis on refocusing efforts to keep the Senate in the hands of Republicans, who could act as a final stopgap from preventing Democrats from being able to cleanly pass a number of progressive laws and appoint liberal judges to federal courts.
Last week, Sheldon Adelson, the GOP’s biggest donor, contributed $25 million to a SuperPAC helping Republican Senate candidates. He has yet to make a contribution to Trump’s reelection.