So far, Jeff and I have focused solely on the presidential election in November, and granted, that is the single most important of the many elections coming up in November, but it is not the only crucial one. We will come back to the presidential election soon, but for today I want to talk about the Senate races.
There are 35 senate seats up for grabs on November 3rd, 23 of which are currently held by republicans. The current demographics of the Senate are 53 republicans, 45 democrats, and 2 independents who caucus with the democrats. So, the democrats, in order to gain a simple majority, will need to flip at least a net 4 of the 23 republican-held seats. Can they do it? I think there is a better-than-average chance that they can and will, but as we saw in 2016, it doesn’t pay to take anything for granted.
But before I get into the specific races that I think will be integral to re-gaining a democratic majority, let’s talk for just a minute about the down ballot, also known as the coattail effect. For those who may not be familiar with the term, it is the tendency for a popular political party leader to attract votes for other candidates of the same party in an election. For example, in the United States, the party of a victorious presidential candidate will often win many seats in Congress as well; these members of Congress are voted into office “on the coattails” of the president, as happened in 2016, giving Congress a republican majority in both chambers.
However, it also works in the opposite direction, and that may be to the democrats’ advantage this year, as Trump is almost certain to lose popularity the longer the pandemic crisis goes on, the more lives are lost due to his ineptitude, egomania, and continued disregard for the lives of the people of this country. Those republican senators like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham who have almost slavishly cast their lot in with Trump, are almost certain to suffer if Trump is falling in the polls, as I expect to see happen (fingers crossed).
Twelve of the twenty-three republican seats up for grabs are considered to be safe for the republican party, so at this time there isn’t much point talking about flipping those seats, so I will focus on the other eleven. They are …
- Martha McSally – Arizona
- Cory Gardner – Colorado
- Kelly Loeffler – Georgia
- David Perdue – Georgia
- Joni Ernst – Iowa
- Pat Roberts – Kansas *
- Mitch McConnell – Kentucky
- Susan Collins – Maine
- Steve Daines – Montana
- Thom Tillis – North Carolina
- John Cornyn – Texas
Martha McSally and Kelly Loeffler were never elected to their senate seats, but rather were appointed by their state’s governors to fill seats on the death of Arizona Senator John McCain and the poor health of Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson. Neither are particularly popular in their states, and both have been the source of some controversies, the latest involving Kelly Loeffler and insider trading when after a briefing by top government scientists about the coronavirus in January, she immediately sold stocks that later tanked. She then turned around and re-invested in Citrix, a technology company that offers teleworking software and whose share price is one of the few that has risen since the crisis began.
For now, in the interest of both time and space, I will focus only on the four races where democrats stand the best chance to take over a republican seat, and I will come back to the others in a future post.
In nearly every poll, McSally trails behind her democratic opponent, former astronaut Mark Kelly by a margin of between 5 and 12 points. Mark Kelly is very popular, and I personally don’t foresee McSally being able to pull a rabbit out of her hat. McSally is a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, but she uses that almost as a weapon sometimes, a bit too much to suit most people. She lost the 2018 election to democrat Kyrsten Sinema but gained her senate seat later that year after the death of John McCain. I do think this is one the democrats can flip with relative ease.
Turning our sights now to Colorado where Senator Cory Gardner has become so unpopular that his approval rating is a mere 37%. His democratic opponent is almost certain to be former Colorado governor and former presidential candidate, John Hickenlooper. There are few Colorado polls out at this time, but the most reliable one puts Hickenlooper 12 points ahead of Gardner. Another I think can be won by democrats, for even Trump has lost a good bit of his popularity in the state.
By all rights, Susan Collins should be a pariah, an outcast in her home state of Maine. Her democratic opponent, Maine state House Speaker Sara Gideon, is in fact leading in the polls, but by a small margin. Ms. Collins has been in the Senate since 1997 and like some of her fellow senators, namely Mitch McConnell, is the perfect example of the need for term limits. She lost some of her popularity when she referred to then-nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, as “an exemplary public servant, judge, teacher, coach, husband, and father”, despite credible accusations of sexual misconduct. She then added: “I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.” Then she plunged a bit further during the impeachment trial when, after having said a few months prior that Trump had made “a big mistake” in asking foreign countries for political favours, she turned around and voted not to convict Trump. She claimed she believed that Trump “has learned from this case”. Within days, it became obvious that he hadn’t, and Ms. Collins became the butt of many jokes. Currently, she is polling between 2.5 and 4 points behind Ms. Gideon and given that there are still some 200 days until the election, it is likely that she will say something else that proves her unfitness for her senate seat. We can hope, at any rate.
In North Carolina, the race between republican incumbent Thom Tillis and democrat Cal Cunningham is considered to be a toss-up at this point. Only two polls have rung in, one putting Tillis ahead with a two-point lead, the other in favour of Cunningham by 5 points. One thing that may help Cunningham is that North Carolina’s approval rating for Trump is only in the 43% range, and this may be where the down-ballot comes into play. I’m less certain of this one than I am Arizona, Colorado and Maine, but it is definitely one where anything could happen. Remember, there are 6+ months left …
Those are the four senate seats most likely to be flipped. Two others, Joni Ernst of Iowa, and Moscow Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, bear watching and, by some accounts, may be easily switched, and we’ll talk a bit more about those, as well as others at another time. Meanwhile, though, remember I said that to gain a majority in the Senate the democrats would need to gain a net 4 seats. So, if the democrats are able to persevere only in the above four states, they must also hold all their current seats for a majority. There is, fortunately, only one seat held by democrat Doug Jones of Alabama, that is in jeopardy, but it is a serious jeopardy.
Senator Jones earned his seat in a special election in 2017 to fill Jeff Sessions’ seat after Sessions became the Attorney General. At that time, Jones ran against the scandal-ridden infamous Roy Moore, racist extraordinaire. While at this time, there are three contenders for the republican nominee, and the primary has been postponed until July, most surveys are showing that any of the three, one being Jeff Sessions himself, could easily beat Jones. I think, realistically, this is one that the democrats will lose, giving them a net 3 new seats, and tying the Senate 50-50.
Now, one last thing. If, as most reading this are hoping, Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump for the office of president, a net 3 gain will suffice, for the vice president is the one who would break any ties. However, if Donald Trump should win his bid for re-election, and there is a tie in the Senate, the republicans would prevail, as they have for the past three years. One way or another, we must make sure this doesn’t happen.