The race for the White House has garnered most of the political news coverage but equally important (and arguably more important) is control of the Senate. Today I’d like to give you a less than crystal clear look at what that looks like. Let’s explore.
Currently the Senate is in control of the Republicans by a margin of 53-47. (Just to cover the bases, the Democratic caucus consists of 45 Democrats and two independent Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) that caucus with them. Of the 35 seats on the 2020 ballot 23 are currently held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats. I have selected 15 close races and have rated them as holds, flips or tossups.
Maine: Susan Collins (R) Sara Gideon (D) – Flip D+1
Texas: John Cornyn (R) M. J. Hegar (D) – Hold
Montana: Steve Daines (R) Steve Bullock (D) – Tossup
Iowa: Joni Ernst (R) Theresa Greenfield (D) – Tossup
Colorado: Cory Gardner (R) John Hickenlooper (D) – Flip D+2
South Carolina: Lindsey Graham (R) Jamie Harrison (D) – Tossup
Kentucky: Mitch McConnell (R) Amy McGrath (D) – Tossup
Georgia: David Perdue (R) Jon Ossoff (D) – Tossup
Kansas: Roger Marshall (R) Barbara Bollier (D) – Tossup (Pat Roberts’ seat)
Alaska: Dan Sullivan (R) Al Gross (i) (committed to caucus with the Democrats) – Tossup
North Carolina: Thom Tillis (R) Cal Cunningham (D) – Tossup
Arizona (special to fill McCain/Kyl seat): Martha McSally (R) Mark Kelly (D) – Flip D+3
Georgia (special to fill Johnny Isakson’s seat): Kelly Loeffler and Doug Collins (R’s) Matt Lieberman and Rev. Ralph Warnock (D’s) – tossup almost destined to go to a January 5th runoff matchup of two candidates.
Alabama: Doug Jones (D) Tommy Tuberville (R) – Flip D+2
Michigan: Gary Peters (D) John James (R) – Hold
One of the problems with predicting control of the Senate is that the “goalposts” are not easily discernable. The Democrats need a net pickup of three seats for a 50-50 Senate. In that case Joe Biden would have to win for them to gain control. It gets more complicated.
Let’s assume that Biden wins and that Doug Jones loses in Alabama. Now the Democrats need to flip a fourth seat. If Biden and Jones both lose (a possibility) then the Democrats need to net five seats.
The key is the 11 seats I have rated as tossups. Some are more likely to flip than others. But the fact that the Republicans are defending 10 of the 11 speaks volumes. The least likely of the 11 to flip is Kentucky. Mitch McConnell controls the Republican Senate reelection money and will spend it “at home” before he helps his people. The fact that he is in jeopardy speaks volumes and sucks up money that other embattled Republicans could use. In defending himself Mitch will almost inevitably sacrifice one of more seats elsewhere.
With the Republicans defending Alaska, Georgia (two seats), Kansas, South Carolina and Texas in addition to Kentucky that is a lot of money being spent in places Republicans view as safe ground.
In my predictions I’m conceding Alabama. Despite the fact that I’m only “guaranteeing” a Democratic net of plus 2 with a Biden win a net gain of four or more is very possible. I just don’t know where specifically. My most likely guesses (in no particular order) are Steve Bullock in Montana, Theresa Greenfield in Iowa and Cal Cunningham in North Carolina.
One race to watch particularly because it is an early closing state is South Carolina. If Harrison pulls off the upset it may be the sign of a blue wave. There is one turnout demographic and one sub demographic statistic that I’m most interested in. The size of the African-American turnout is the turnout number I feel will be a major predictor. Harrison cannot win without a huge African-American turnout. If there is a large African-American turnout in South Carolina it may predict national African-American turnout.
The sub-demographic I’m interested in is how the white women’s vote breaks. Trump lost the overall women’s vote in 2016 but narrowly won white women. If they leave him and the GOP by even a few percentage points it will be extremely difficult for him or many vulnerable Republicans to win. Unfortunately we won’t have that number early on election night and South Carolina is not necessarily a national barometer of it.
We may well not have an answer to control of the Senate on Election Night but we may get some clues. In any event I’ll be glued to the TV and at least one computer.
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