Senate Predictions for 2020

This time for America every four years- from early February when the caucuses start to the first Tuesday in November when a President is elected- can be compared to a pregnancy cycle for a woman. Both are subject to violent mood swings, last nine months on average, and often give painful results in the end.

This year will no doubt continue that cycle, so as it starts, I thought it would be fun to go ahead and give an early prediction of the 2020 elections, starting with the Senate. Republicans have 23 seats to defend to the Democrats’ 12 (including the two special elections in Arizona and Georgia) but that does not necessarily pose a threat to the Republican majority. It will certainly be hard for them to increase their majority but even more certainly it will be hard for them to lose it. They have a 53-47 advantage as of now so even if they lost the Presidency they would have to lose 3 senate seats and gain none in order to lose their majority. Right now that appears far from likely.

The seats that are the most volatile are Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina. 

Alabama has the most chance of flipping. Doug Jones, although one of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate, is still a blue dot in a red sea and is in one of the most Republican states in the country. He only won last time thanks to his Republican rival Roy Moore being accused of sexually abusing a minor- and even then Jones only won by 1% of votes cast. The only foreseeable and realistic chance he has at winning is if Roy Moore wins the Republican nomination again. Its rather cognitively outrageous that Roy Moore even has the audacity to try and run again as the nominee. Imagine being a Republican who loses a race against a Democrat for the Senate in Alabama and then says “I have the best chance at beating Doug Jones.” You clearly don’t. 

Arizona is a true tossup. Martha McSally has the advantages of incumbency as well as Arizona still being more red than blue (but drastically turning purple). But with the recent change from a Republican to Democrat majority in the US House of Representatives there and her still recent defeat by a margin of 2% in 2018 for Senate, things are definitely looking precarious. She also faces a strong opponent in astronaut Mark Kelly who is the husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. He is currently the front runner for the Democrats. If you put a gun to my head and told me to guess who would win then I would have to go with the Republicans but the ball is in both courts right now.

Colorado is the softest part of the underbelly for the Republican majority in 2020. Cory Gardner was the Chair of the National Republican senatorial Committee from 2017-2019 and thus has some considerable influence within the party. But power within the Republican Party certainly will not be enough to save him in a rapidly blueing state. He is one of two statewide elected Republicans in the state and things are looking grim for him. He still stands some chance at reelection but he is easily the most vulnerable Republican Senator in 2020 and my guess is next year he will be looking for another job.

Maine is rather volatile at the moment. Susan Collins won her reelection in 2014 at a cool 68.5%. The two reasons that she is in danger at all are her vote in favor of Brett Kavanaugh and her vote to not convict President Trump and instead acquit him. Those two are enough to pose major problems to her in a Democratic state. Although she champions herself as a moderate on such issues as abortion and the environment, her recent votes have seen a torrent of backlash on the left and renewed hope that she is more vulnerable than once thought. Given how soon it’s been since the impeachment it is hard to say how strongly that will affect her reelection efforts. I say for now that she can and will win in 2020 but her situation is much more vulnerable than it was a year ago.

Anything involving North Carolina is of particular interest to me, as that is my home state. Thom Tillis is not particularly beloved, but not particularly reviled either. Basic establishment Republican. Cal Cunningham is the frontrunner as of now for the Democratic nomination. I never heard of him until now, but he apparently was a state senator back in the day and was the Democratic nominee for the Senate in 2010. I believe that given North Carolina’s slight Republican tilt, Tillis’ incumbency and the fact that this election will coincide with the gubernatorial election and the presidential election Tillis will win. Otherwise it would be a pretty even fight.

Other states to keep an eye on but are less likely to change hands are Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, and New Hampshire. Iowa is known as a swing state and rightfully so, but given its recent Republican leanings and Joni Ernst’s relative popularity I wouldn’t put much effort into analyzing the unlikely. The only reason I think Kansas should be worrisome for Republicans is that the likely nominee for the Republicans is Kris Kobach, who is unpopular (this guy lost the gubernatorial race for Kansas to the Democrat in 2018, way to go Kris). Fun fact: the state with the longest streak in voting for a single party for both their senate seats belongs to Kansas, which started this trend for the Republicans in 1936. Michigan could be a potential upset for Democrats. Republicans have found a champion in John James who managed to get within 6.5% of winning the Senate race there in 2018, which was a bad year for Republicans (so imagine what he could do in a good or even mediocre year). Another note that could play into the favor of Republicans is that the current holder of the 2020 Michigan Senate seat is Gary Peters, who is actually the least known senator out of all 100 in the Senate, and thus a weaker contender than the one James faced in 2018. New Hampshire has recently been something of a white whale for Republicans. While they have successfully defended the governorship, they have recently lost both US house seats there as well as both Senate seats (they failed to pickup one seat in 2014- a year that saw them gain 9 Senate seats- and they narrowly lost the other in 2016 by a few thousand votes). Donald Trump also narrowly failed to capture its 4 electoral votes in 2016, by almost the exact same margin as the Senate election there. So while it is entirely possible for Republicans to win this seat, I would say they need a strong candidate and an even stronger national tide to sweep him or her in. For now I say the current holder of the seat Jeanne Shaheen has little to fear.

All things considered, the most likely scenarios are that the Republicans either gain 1 seat, keep their 53 seat majority, or lose 1-2 seats. Not many of the seats come from competitive states (I would argue that the number of competitive states is actually shrinking) and most of the the ones that do are rather predictable. Alabama and Colorado will likely switch parties, and there are a few other states each side is scrambling to convert, though I suspect few of those if any will change parties.

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