With the election five months away, a friend of mine asked me which Democratic Senate candidates he should donate to to flip the Senate blue, and I wanted to share my thoughts on it with all of you.
The way I see it, there are three locks (or near-locks, if you’re superstitious) for the Democrats to beat Republicans, and then second, third, and fourth tier elections, as well as one special case and one incumbent Democrat who needs our help (I think you can guess who it is — the others are all safe.) I would emphasize adopting at least one race in the locks, and devoting more attention to the second and third tiers, as those will be the ones that determine the size of our majority if we take back the Senate.
LOCKS/NEAR-LOCKS (The safest bets)
ARIZONA––Astronaut and Hank-from-Breaking-Bad-lookalike Mark Kelly was one of the first candidates to throw his hat in the ring and is already polling well ahead of Martha McSally. In my opinion, this race will be called as soon as the polls close on November 3rd.
COLORADO — Apart from McSally, Cory Gardner is the most vulnerable Republican this cycle, and he knows that former governor John Hickenlooper could beat him: he even challenged him to a debate, a sure sign of his weakness.
MAINE––State House Speaker Sara Gideon is giving the rapidly unpopular Susan Collins a run for her money, and is the front-runner for the nomination in July’s primary. At this rate, Collins should be “more than a little bit concerned,” to quote The Irishman.
SECOND-TIER (At least three of these will flip, possibly all five in a landslide.)
GEORGIA — Jon Ossoff, the former House candidate for Georgia’s 6th district in 2017, defeated his opponents by a wide margin, even if Georgia’s debacle of an election showed once again how broken this state is when it comes to voting. Polls show Biden is within striking distance of beating Trump here, and Ossoff may beat David Pedue on the Vice President’s coattails. The only trouble is that it’s Georgia, so if he wins the nomination, he will need all hands on deck to win.
IOWA — Theresa Greenfield won the nomination against Joni Ernst last week, who is of the least popular Senators in the country. Iowa’s horrible response to the Coronavirus could weaken her chances, even if the state goes red on the presidential level.
MONTANA — Outgoing Governor Steve Bullock will run against incumbent Steve Daines. Even though Montana is almost exclusively red in presidential elections, it’s almost exclusively blue for the Senate: Daines is one of only three Republicans elected since the end of World War II. Bullock is already outraising him, and with Trump already agreeing to campaign for him — a kiss of death — he could be out of a job soon.
NORTH CAROLINA — Thom Tillis beat Kay Hagan in 2014 in an upset fueled largely by dark money. He is one of the weakest incumbents going into this cycle, and North Carolina’s new status as a purple state gives challenger Cal Cunningham the edge, especially since he won the nomination on Super Tuesday, before primaries were delayed due to Coronavirus.
SOUTH CAROLINA — The toughest of these five races pits newcomer Jaime Harrison against “Leningrad Lindsey Graham,” who went from being one of Trump’s most vocal critics to one of his most loyal allies. South Carolina is safely in Trump’s corner, but Harrison is such an indefatigable campaigner that he might just pull out an upset. He’s one of my favorite Senate candidates in a long time, and I encourage everyone to read up on him.
THIRD-TIER (Maybe one or two of these happens at best)
ALASKA — When I originally published this article, I put this race in the fourth-tier, since Alaska has only had one Democratic Senator in the last 40 years, Mark Begich, who Dan Sullivan beat in 2014. However, the Cook Political Report just moved this race from “solid” to “likely” Republican because of independent candidate Al Gross, a doctor whose dad was a former state Attorney General and whose mother founded the Alaska League of Women Voters. He’s independently wealthy enough to self-fund much of his campaign, but even with that advantage he outraised Sullivan this last quarter, with more than $1 million on hand. This could end up being a much more competitive race than anyone anticipated, so watch this space.
KANSAS —Almost as soon as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach announced his campaign to replace the retiring Pat Roberts, Republicans scrambled to find an alternative, given his polarizing politics and inability to turn out votes — he lost his race for governor by five points in 2018. Barbara Bollier, a moderate Kansas State Senator, is the front-runner for the nomination, and if she wins, she will be the first Democratic Senator from Kansas since the New Deal. Of the races in this category, this is the one where I believe Democrats have the best chance.
KENTUCKY — Despite a recent push for state representative Charles Booker, Amy McGrath is still the front-runner to take on Mitch McConnell this fall, and she’s already outraising him. Although she’s not beating him in the few polls that have been taken, he is losing ground in Kentucky: a recent survey gave him a 48% disapproval rating, and shows him only three points ahead of McGrath. Trump is still polling well ahead of Biden there, so whether or not McGrath can win depends on ballot splitting and turnout.
TEXAS —As Texas slowly becomes a toss-up state, with a great roster of local and federal Democratic candidates, M.J. Hegar has emerged as a rising star. She failed to win the nomination outright last March, but is favored to win the run-off election on July 14th. Cornyn is still the front-runner, with more name recognition and cash on hand, but he will not win by the double-digit margin he got last time.
FOURTH-TIER (Not very likely)
ARKANSAS — Tom Cotton has no Democratic challenger. Shame.
IDAHO — Democrat Paulette Jordan would be the first indigenous woman ever elected to the Senate if she wins this race, even if it’s unlikely. However, the influx of liberals moving to Idaho may make this state more favorable for Democrats — and her — in future elections. Of all the candidates in this category, she’s the one I’d keep a close eye on.
LOUISIANA — No Democrat has emerged as a significant challenger to Bill Cassidy, who is a clear favorite to win a second term even if he doesn’t clear 50% in the first round of Louisiana’s jungle primary.
MISSISSIPPI — Although Cindy Hyde-Smith barely beat Democrat Mike Espy in 2018, she won handily in the run-off and will do so again in their rematch this fall.
NEBRASKA —Originally Ben Sasse was going to run against Democrat and cupcake factory owner (yes, you read that right) Chris Janicek, but since the release of his sexist text messages, the Nebraska Democratic Party has withdrawn their funding of his campaign and he is being called on to resign. This race was never competitive anyway: even if the Democrats find a sacrificial lamb, Sasse is going to walk to victory.
OKLAHOMA — Jim Inhofe will be re-elected because it’s Oklahoma.
SOUTH DAKOTA — Mike Rounds will beat Democrat Dan Ahlers for a second term.
TENNESSEE — Whoever the Republicans nominate to replace the retiring Lamar Alexander will be the next Senator from Tennessee.
WEST VIRGINIA — What was once a solidly blue state is now becoming one of the reddest in the nation, and Shelley Moore Capito is a safe bet to beat Paula Jean Swearengin, who won the nomination yesterday.
WYOMING — Cynthia Lummis is the front-runner for the Republican nomination and will succeed Mike Enzi in the Senate this fall.
OUR MOST ENDANGERED INCUMBENT
ALABAMA — Doug Jones will probably not survive re-election due to an increase in turnout among Trump voters, but he’s been a great Senator and you should donate to him because I’m not looking forward to saying the words “Senator Tommy Tuberville” any more than you are.
WAIT AND SEE
GEORGIA SPECIAL ELECTION—Like Louisiana, Georgia’s special election will take the form of a jungle primary, and if no candidate gets more than 50%, the two top vote-getters will advance to a runoff next January. Kelly Loeffler, who replaced Senator Johnny Isakson when he retired, has been weakened by her insider trading scandals, giving Congressman Doug Collins an edge. The Democrat is Reverend Raphael Warnock, who has been endorsed by Stacey Abrams. It’s hard to tell what will happen with this race, as it has been under-covered by the media, but things could change. Watch this space.
Update: This article has been updated to reflect that Jon Ossoff has cleared the 50% margin in Georgia to avoid a runoff this August.