For one minute, forget the Trump-Biden battle. Let’s talk about the Senate.
Republicans now hold a 53-45 margin in the U.S. Senate, but the two independents — Sen. Angus King of Maine and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — caucus with Democrats, so it’s really 53-47.
A few weeks ago, there were 10 races that pollsters deemed toss-ups. But a few of those are no longer viewed as up in the air.
For instance, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville is now expected to take over the seat held by Democrat Doug Jones, who eked out a win in 2017 against Republican Roy Moore shortly after Moore was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with minors. The most recent poll, coincidentally done by Auburn’s Montgomery Department of Political Science, showed Tuberville leading Jones by nearly 12 percentage points.
The Texas seat now held by Republican Sen. John Cornyn, also once considered a toss-up, likewise appears safe. A running average of all polls tallied by RealClearPolitics (RCP) puts Cornyn up by 8 points, and the latest New York Times survey says the Republican holds a 12-point lead. The races in Colorado and South Carolina no longer appear to be close.
But let’s step back for a minute and look at some broader polls. FiveThirtyEight, a website that focuses on poll analysis, says in 76 of 100 scenarios, Democrats take control of the Senate. That means Republicans have just a 24% chance of holding onto control.
There are 35 Senate seats up for grabs on Nov. 3, and Democrats hold a distinct advantage — 23 seats are currently held by Republicans, just 12 by Democrats. Most appear to be in solid control of the incumbent: FiveThirtyEight says in 15 races, the incumbent has a 99 out of 100 chance to win on Nov. 3. A total of 20 incumbents have a 90% chance or greater to hold onto their seats. In the end, just nine races feature candidates who have less than an 80 out of 100 chance to win: the senatorial contests in Iowa, North Carolina, Maine, Montana, South Carolina, Kansas, Arkansas and two in Georgia.
Of those nine, only six appear to be truly close. Here are the closest races.
Both Senate seats in Georgia are up for grabs and both races are too close to call.
Businessman David Perdue, a Republican, is a first-term incumbent and faces Democrat Jon Ossoff who, like Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke, has been made famous by the media on the back of an electoral defeat. Perdue is a Trump loyalist, but the state — which hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992 — is becoming more liberal as the demographics change. For instance, Joe Biden this week made two campaign stops in Georgia.
- RCP AVERAGE: Perdue — +0.6%
- 538: Purdue wins in 57 of 100 scenarios
The other race is a special election. Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler was appointed to serve out the term of former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired for health reasons. Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman, is running for the seat but faces a Republican challenge from Rep. Doug Collins. With the two Republicans splitting the vote, Democrat Raphael Warnock appears in the lead. If no candidate gets at least 50% — which is unlikely — the top two vote-getters go to a Jan. 5 runoff.
- RCP: Warnock — 33.4%; Collins — 22.2%; Loeffler — 21.8%
- 538 — Democrat — 54 of 100
The Hawkeye State has a long history of electing both Democrats and Republicans, and Trump’s approval rating has been steadily dropping in the state. Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, a first-term incumbent, is running against real estate developer Theresa Greenfield. This is one of the states Democrats are hoping to flip to their side. “I call it ‘anyone’s guess who’s going to win,’” Kelly Winfrey, an elections expert and assistant professor of journalism at Iowa State University, told the Globe Gazette.
But Ernst has trailed for most of the race — 10 of 14 polls taken since April showed her behind. But the junior senator trailed in her first race in 2014, with the RCP average giving her just a 2.3% edge. She went on to win by 8.5%.
- RCP: Greenfield — +2.2%
- 538 — Greenfield — 58 in 100
This is another seat Democrats are eying to take over.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins, 67, has held the seat since 1997. Often considered by conservatives as a RINO (Republican In Name Only), Collins faces pressure from a left-leaning base that is growing in the state. She irked some Mainers with her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, and then irked others by being the only Republican to vote against Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. In the end, Collins is a moderate centrist, but in the age of Trump, that may not play this time around.
State House Speaker Gideon, a Democrat, is running a well-funded race against Collins and could profit from Maine’s unusual system of “ranked-choice voting,” in which votes are reallocated if neither Collins or Gideon receive a majority. Collins’ fate may be tied to how voters feel about Trump. And for the record, Collins has trailed in all 13 polls taken since February.
- RCP: Gideon — +4%
- 538: Gideon — 62 in 100
Republican incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis is locked in a tough battle with Democrat Cal Cunningham, and the race has featured some bizarre fireworks. Cunningham, a former state senator, became embroiled in a scandal regarding the exchange of “sexually suggestive texts with a woman who is not his wife,” as Politico put it.
North Carolina is a notoriously difficult place to win re-election in the Senate, and Tillis will hope to buck that trend. Democrats see this state as a bellwether, predicting that a win here will bode well for the party across the rest of the U.S. As NPR put it: “Cunningham had all the advantages, but late-breaking reports of marital infidelity will test whether old-school political scandals still register with voters.”
- RCP: Cunningham — +1.6
- 538: Cunningham — 64 in 100
This is the last state that FiveThirtyEight says is less than 70 in 100 for one candidate or the other. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is running to knock out Republican incumbent Steve Daines. Montana is deeply red on a presidential level, with Trump defeating Hillary Clinton 55%-35% in 2016. The last time a Democrat won the state was 1992, when Bill Clinton got 37.6% of the vote to George H.W. Bush’s 35.1%. H. Ross Perot split the vote, coming in at 26.1%.
Bullock is attempting to use the modest buzz gained during his don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it presidential campaign and significant statewide attention from his handling of Montana’s COVID-19 response to beat the odds.
- RCP: Daines — +3.3%
538: Daines — 65 in 100
What happens on Election Day is anyone’s guess — the pollsters got it mostly wrong last time around.
In the view of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), when all is said and done the GOP has a “50-50″ chance to hold on to control.
“Well, as I’ve said repeatedly for six months, it’s a 50-50 proposition,” he said this week. “We have a lot of exposure. This is a huge Republican class because it’s the class that took the majority in 2014 and now there are a lot of people up. Twenty-three Republicans, only 12 Democrats. There’s dogfights all over the country. I’ve said for years it’s a 50-50 proposition. It still is.”
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