How Is the Democrats’ Race to Take Back the Senate Looking?

They could win as many as 12 seats in the upper chamber. They’re only favored to lose one.

There hasn’t been much polling out of Colorado recently, but a Democrat-sponsored survey at the beginning of May found Biden leading Trump there by 20 points, and John Hickenlooper ahead of incumbent Republican Senator Cory Gardner by a 54-36 margin. For context, Hillary Clinton won Colorado by five points and Obama carried it by nine in 2008. In Montana, an April poll found Biden trailing by six, but incumbent Republican Senator Steve Daines trailing Governor Steve Bullock by seven. In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Montana by over 20 points. The only time Arizona has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1948 was in 1996. A poll out today, however, has Biden leading there by seven points and Democrat Mark Kelly ahead by 11 against appointed-incumbent Senator Martha McSally.  These aren’t normal numbers, and if they hold it will mean three Democratic pickups in the U.S. Senate.

The last five polls out of Florida have show Biden ahead, although there is no Senate race there in 2020. More relevant, a Civiqs survey out of Georgia released Tuesday shows appointed-incumbent Kelly Loeffler being slaughtered by 13 points against Raphael Warnock, 12 points against Matt Lieberman and 11 points against Ed Tarver. That’s polling for the special election, but incumbent Sen. David Purdue is trailing Jon Ossoff by three points in that regularly scheduled election. Should those polls also hold up, it would mean five Democratic pickups in the U.S. Senate.  One poll out this week shows Biden trailing in Georgia by two points and another shows him leading by one.

Here’s some more food for thought. An early May poll found incumbent Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa in a dead heat against businessman Eddie Mauro, and a separate survey found her leading Theresa Greenfield by a single point. The latest presidential poll has Trump up there by two, but of course he won Iowa in 2016 by almost 10 points — a bigger margin than he enjoyed in Texas.

There’s been scant polling in Maine this year, but incumbent Republican Senator Susan Collins has been narrowly trailing in both surveys that have been released. We’re now up to a potential Democratic pickup of seven U.S. Senate seats.

May polls out of North Carolina all concur that incumbent Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is cruising to reelection, but they disagree about whether Biden or Trump is leaning there. Two polls show Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham leading incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis by nine points. One recent survey has Tillis up by two.

The last poll out of Kansas showed the Democrats winning that seat as well, should Kris Kobach be the Republican nominee. With these last two races looking competitive, the potential pickup of U.S. Senate seats is up to nine.

Then there is Senator Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. A late-March survey of the Palmetto State had him leading Jaime Harrison by a narrow 47-43 margin. I’m hesitant to include this race in the list of potential pickups because my intuition says it’s a bridge too far, but it has to be considered within the realm of possibility.

Before I finish the potential upside of a blue wave, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn’s races. The last polls of Kentucky were in January, but one showed Amy McGrath tied with McConnell, and the other showed her trailing by a mere three points. In my book, that’s a potential pickup. Matchups for Cornyn were polled in early May and showed him leading two challengers by 11 and 13 points, but also failing to top 40 percent. The presidential numbers are probably more instructive. One May poll had Biden even with Trump, and another had him down by only four. For now, Cornyn doesn’t look too vulnerable, but the high level of undecided voters should concern him.

It looks to me like the Democrats have a legitimate shot at winning 10 Senate seats in 2020, with the potential for that to grow to twelve. But, of course, some of their own incumbent senators could lose. Doug Jones of Alabama, for example, has an uphill climb with a February survey showing him down big to all comers and Trump projected to have a 20 point lead there. Senator Jones may be the only truly vulnerable Democratic incumbent up for reelection, however, since Gary Peters of Michigan and Tina Smith of Minnesota have shown a strong lead in all surveys.

To win control of the U.S. Senate, the Democrats only need to net three seats if Biden wins and four if he loses. If I had to bet today, I’d put my money on them getting that done. Trump is looking very weak, and the same can be said for his party’s Senate candidates. This is exacerbated by their refusal to break with him. A lot can change between now and November, but I don’t think we’ll see much change on the Republicans’ part. Most likely, things will only get worse for them.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com