An Early Peak At The 2020 Senate Races

We are past Thanksgiving as I write this and past both Christmas and New Year’s as you read it. It’s the time for Senate retirement announcements along with declarations of candidacy for the presidency; both will impact the 2020 Senate elections. For the first business day of 2019 I’d like to offer a premature peak. Let’s explore.

As things stand going into 2019 the Republicans will have to defend 21 seats and the Democrats 12. It is pretty much the opposite of 2018; couple that with the higher voter turnout in presidential years and the Democrats look to be in good shape. Let’s dive deeper.

I’ll tackle the Democrats first because there is much less to look at. I don’t anticipate any retirements among the 12. I think Doug Jones of Alabama is extremely vulnerable. In fact unless he can get it close on his own if I were allocating the DNC’s resources I’d put them elsewhere.  The good news is that the other 11 seats look very defendable.

The biggest question mark I see for the Democrats is if Cory Booker of New Jersey will run for reelection or take a shot at the presidency. In either event I see this seat staying in the Democrats’ column. If they can get Robert Menendez reelected in a mid-term election I really can’t see the Republicans taking this seat.

Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander will be 80 in 2020 and the Republicans definitely have a chance of being in the Senate minority in the 117th Congress. At that point will he be interested in another six years? If he runs he should be able to win but Tennessee, while red, has a hint of purple.

The earthshattering retirement would be current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. I am anything but a McConnell fan but you have to give the devil his due and McConnell is a master of the Senate. His loss would be huge for the Republicans regardless of numbers! Mitch will be 78 in 2020 so an age driven retirement is questionable. The bigger questions will be if he thinks the Republicans will lose control of the chamber does he want to stick around along with what he thinks his chances of reelection are. Despite all the power he has in Washington, (and he has a lot!), he never wins in Kentucky by wide margins. If you are looking for one omen as to how the 2020 Senate elections will go watch what McConnell does. His biggest challenge will be just how long he defends an increasingly unpopular Donald Trump. By the way if McConnell turns on Trump, Trump is toast.

The third retirement possibility is Maine’s Susan Collins. From the progressive viewpoint Collins is often not the enemy. The way she handled the Kavanaugh confirmation earned her some enemies. Normally the Democrats don’t go full bore to try and defeat her. (I actually endorsed her in 2014.) Democrats (and rightfully so) view her as one of the few Republicans they can actually work with on a consistent basis. If Collins retires that seat becomes a very real pickup possibility for the Democrats.

There is one Republican Senator who is up in 2020 that harbors legitimate presidential ambitions and that is Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Regardless of what he does the Republicans should be favored to retain that seat. Kansas presents a somewhat similar situation with Pat Roberts. Roberts won’t run for president but he never has an easy time getting reelected. Again, there may be drama but when all is said and done I expect a Republican will be in that seat.

Polling out of Texas suggests that John Cornyn may be vulnerable. While powerful and at least somewhat popular in DC he is less popular than Ted Cruz in the Lone Star State. Beto O’Rourke came close to knocking off Cruz in a mid-term. A Cornyn-O’Rourke matchup could be interesting.

I’ll round out today’s discussion with three purple state Republicans I feel are vulnerable: Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. It was only a ton of Koch brothers’ money that got Ernst to the Senate in the first place; I have no idea what will happen on that front in 2020. Colorado may be purple but it is getting bluer by the minute. I have to like a strong Democratic candidate in a presidential year. (Are you listening John Hickenlooper?) I’m no longer part of the Democratic “machine” in North Carolina so I don’t have any inside information but the Democrats have a strong Attorney General in Josh Stein and a history of alternating Tillis’ seat between the parties.

Then there is just one flat out question mark: What is South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham going to do. I have no idea. If he decided not to run it would be a longshot but I could just possibly see an extremely strong African-American retail politician Democrat winning with enough GOTV resources behind them. Tom Perez is just the kind of guy to take a chance there in a year where he doesn’t have to spend a lot on defense.

It’s early and the numbers will change but by my count I think the Democrats may well have eight flip opportunities and the Republicans one. Remember it’s early but I gave you some things to looks for and ponder. Have a good 2019 now that you are back to work or “work”. Speaking of “work”; I should be back to my version of live blogging next week.

Please note: This article was written well in advance of publishing in order to accommodate my holiday travel and grandpa time schedule.

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