WASHINGTON – Amidst the constant political chaos of 2020, there were some similarities. One of them was a growing Democratic advantage in the fall Congressional races, particularly in the Senate.
For Democrats, the potential for pickups is growing and affecting some places where a tight general election race is not normal. From the mountain west to the south, the list of competitive Senate races for the GOP looks different this year.
When Republicans went into this election cycle, they knew they were going to defend a challenging card. This fall, there are 23 Republican seats on the ballot and only 1
In January – when the Cook Political Report published its first race ratings for the year – it showed that three Republican seats were rated “Toss Up” or worse, while Democrats had one seat that was “Toss Up” or worse.
In this rating list, Republican seats in Arizona, Colorado and Maine were listed as “toss-ups”. In addition, the GOP had seats in Kansas and North Carolina, which were listed as the “Lean Republican”. For the Democrats, their Alabama seat was listed as a “Toss Up”. They had an additional seat in Michigan that was listed as “Lean Democratic”.
The battlefield races made mostly sense.
The Republican “Toss Ups” states of Colorado and Maine went in 2016 to the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. And Arizona’s other Senate seat had just been democratically changed in 2018. On the GOP’s “Lean” seats, North Carolina statewide competitions have been tight for the past few cycles. And Kansas looked like an outlier, but the state had just elected a Democratic governor.
To the Democrats, it made sense that Alabama was at least a “toss up” since the state is usually solidly Republican. Democratic Senator Doug Jones won his race against a badly flawed candidate in Roy Moore. And Michigan, home of the Democratic lean seat, voted for President Trump in 2016.
But the latest Cook reviews now show a different landscape. For Republicans, seven Senate seats are very competitive, rated “toss up” or below, and still only one Democratic seat falls into that category.
For the Democrats, the only difference is that the Alabama headquarters have switched to Lean Republican. The Democrats’ “Lean” seat in Michigan remains in the same category.
For Republicans, however, the changes are more dramatic. The seats in Colorado and Arizona have moved from “Toss Up” to “Lean Democratic”. And now there are five GOP seats along with Maine, including those in Iowa, Georgia, Montana, and North Carolina – all of the states that Trump won in 2016.
There are also three seats for “slim Republicans,” including the other seat in Georgia, Kansas, and South Carolina. Trump won all of these states in 2016 with 5 or more points.
And some of these new republican “lean” states are characterized by battlefields. Look at South Carolina and Kansas.
In some ways, Senator Lindsey Graham’s South Carolina seat tells the most dramatic story for 2020. It has moved a long way in the Cook ratings since January. At the time, the seat was listed as a “Solid Republican,” in part because Graham apparently worked hard to attract Trump voters. The president won the state with 14 points in 2016, and no Democrat had won a Senate seat in the state for 15 years.
But the numbers show that Graham has received a lot less support lately. A Quinnipiac University poll in late September found the race to be dead, and every poll since September has it in the single digits. Additionally, Graham’s opponent Jaime Harrison is flooding the airwaves with campaign advertising and will outperform Graham 7-1 in the final month of the election.
The close race for the open seat in Kansas could tell a longer story of change. It has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1939, and the 20-point victory the state gave Trump in 2016 was largely in line with other recent GOP presidential victories.
When Kansas elected a Democratic governor in 2018, the results felt like a setback to the last eight years of Republican rule. That period brought the state extensive tax cuts and program cuts – including major cuts in schools. And now, recent polls in the state suggest the race is over.
A poll by a Republican company found that Republican Roger Marshall was at the top by about 4 points. A survey by a democratic company showed that the Democrat Barbara Bollier was 2 points ahead of the top. In both polls, Marshall was 43 percent. This is not where a Kansas Republican wants to be, especially not a month before election day.
The presidential race has dominated last week’s news – and indeed the entire cycle. Years of presidential racing tend to be like that, and President Trump only amplified the effect.
However, the shift in Senate ratings is a reminder that there’s more at stake in November than just the White House. And the past few months have shown a decidedly democratic bias down the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, some of which has come from places we don’t normally expect.