Five senators are staring down serious political danger ahead of the November elections.
With less than three months to go until Election Day, the battle for control of the Senate hinges on five key states. Democrats are after four seats in particular – in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina – while Republicans are largely playing defense, but see an easy pickup opportunity in Alabama.
A handful of seats in states like Iowa, Montana and Michigan are also showing signs they may be in play.
Here are the Senate seats most likely to flip in 2020:
Doug Jones (D-Ala.)
Democrats are on the defensive in deep-red Alabama roughly three years after Jones defeated Republican Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreSessions fires back at Trump over recusal: ‘I did my duty & you’re damn fortunate I did” Roy Moore to advise Louisiana pastor arrested for allegedly defying ban on large gatherings Trump endorses Tuberville over Sessions in Alabama Senate runoff MORE in the state’s special election to replace former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump hits Biden and Obama in defense of his golfing Biden swipes at Trump: ‘Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart’ Trump says Sessions wasn’t ‘mentally qualified’ to be attorney general MORE. Jones was the first Democrat to win statewide office in Alabama since 2008, and the first Democrat to represent the state in the upper chamber since 1997.
Jones garnered about 50 percent of the vote in 2017, while Moore received about 48 percent. During the race, Moore had to contend with a cloud of controversy stemming from sexual assault allegations, which led to GOP leaders across the country calling for him to step down as the nominee.
However, Jones faces a totally different environment heading into the 2020 election. The Cook Political Report rates the race as “lean Republican” as Sessions and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville battle it out ahead of the July 14 GOP runoff.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump anti-reg push likely to end up in court Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel MORE, who has thrown his support behind Tuberville, is also relatively popular in the state with a 53 percent approval rating, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. Jones on the other hand, had a 41 percent approval rating, according to a Morning Consult survey released in January.
Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerFor safety and economic recovery, Congress must prioritize cannabis banking GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Pass the Primary Care Enhancement Act MORE (R-Colo.)
Gardner became the first challenger to unseat an incumbent in Colorado in roughly a generation when he defeated former Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallDemocratic presidential race comes into sharp focus Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado MORE (D-Colo.) in 2014.
But his state has shifted increasingly to the left in recent years. Former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhat does Joe Biden believe about NASA, space exploration and commercial space? The star of tomorrow: Temptation and a career in politics reporting Blair questions Trump approach to coronavirus pandemic MORE won the state twice in 2008 and 2012, and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonStakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff Poll: Biden leads Trump by 5 points in Minnesota Pelosi makes fans as Democrat who gets under Trump’s skin MORE carried it in the 2016 presidential election. In 2018, Democrats won control of the Colorado state Senate and held onto the governor’s mansion, giving them full control of the state government for the first time since 1936.
If that trend wasn’t enough to threaten Gardner’s prospects for a second term in the Senate, he faces an expectedly tough challenge from Colorado’s Democratic former Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency’s response to California water issues McConnell gives two vulnerable senators a boost with vote on outdoor recreation bill Abrams announces endorsements in 7 Senate races MORE, who jumped into the race last summer after an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination.
There hasn’t been much polling in the race, but a survey from the University of Montana Bozeman and the University of Denver conducted last month showed Hickenlooper with a 16-point lead over Gardner. Another Keating Research/OnSight Public Affairs/Melanson poll released earlier this month found Hickenlooper ahead by 18 points.
Hickenlooper outraised Gardner in the first quarter of 2020, raking in nearly $4.1 million to his opponent’s $2.5 million. Still, Gardner has the overall cash on hand advantage with $9.6 million in the bank.
McSally already lost a Senate race in 2018, when Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) eked out a narrow 2 point win. Only a few weeks after her loss, McSally was appointed to fill the seat of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhat does Joe Biden believe about NASA, space exploration and commercial space? The Memo: Activists press Biden on VP choice Biden takes page from Trump with public auditions for VP slot MORE (R-Ariz.).
Now, a little more than a year after she entered the Senate, she’s facing a challenge from Democrat Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and gun control advocate who is seen as one of his party’s top recruits of the 2020 cycle. Kelly raised a staggering $11 million in the first three months of 2020 and has some $19.7 million on hand. By comparison, McSally reported $6.4 million raised in the first quarter and $10.3 million in the bank.
There are also signs that Kelly is widening his lead over McSally in the race. A survey from the polling firm OH Predictive Insights released this week showed Kelly leading McSally by 13 points – up from a 9-point lead in a similar poll conducted in April. Republicans are hoping to seize on questions about Kelly’s business record in an effort to weaken him ahead of November.
But unlike Colorado, where Democrats hold power at the state level, Arizona’s state government is largely controlled by the GOP. What’s more, Republicans have won every presidential election in the state since 2000, though Trump carried it in 2016 by a smaller margin than the three Republican nominees before him.
Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsStakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill The other dangerous virus infecting our country MORE (R-Maine)
The moderate Republican is also facing an uphill battle to defend her spot in the Senate. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Collins three points behind Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon (D), who is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
Additionally, polling shows Maine voters could be souring on the incumbent senator. A Bangor Daily News poll released in April showed Collins with a 37 percent approval rating and a 52 percent disapproval rating.
Collins has been viewed in the past as a critical Republican swing vote, voting against 2017 GOP legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act. However, she has since received the ire of liberals for voting to confirm Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughStakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff Juan Williams: Justice Thomas seizes his moment in the Trump era Judge in Flynn case hires high-profile attorney to help with response to appeals court: report MORE to the Supreme Court as he faced sexual misconduct allegations in 2018.
However, the race will not necessarily be a cakewalk for the Democrats if Gideon gets the nomination. Collins has represented the state in the Senate since 1997, giving her an incumbent advantage. Additionally, her decisions to side with the Trump administration on a number of issues may not play badly with all voters. The state went Democratic in the last three presidential elections, but elected conservative Gov. Paul LePage twice.
Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisHillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting Lawmakers ask for briefings on Chinese targeting of coronavirus research Republicans push for help for renewable energy, fossil fuel industries MORE (R-N.C.)
Tillis is locked in a true tossup race to hold onto his Senate seat. The first-term senator is facing a tough challenge from Democrat Cal Cunningham and polls show the two candidates in a dead heat.
One survey fielded by Eastern Carolina University earlier this month showed Tillis narrowly leading Cunningham, 41 percent to 40 percent – well within the poll’s margin of error. But a Meredith College poll conducted late last month gave Cunningham a substantial lead in race, showing him ahead of Tillis, 44 percent to 34 percent.
Already, the race between Tillis and Cunningham is shaping up to be the most expensive Senate race of 2020. In March, Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), the super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic leaders say Trump testing strategy is ‘to deny the truth’ about lack of supplies Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff House members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes MORE (R-Ky.), booked nearly $22 million worth of fall advertising in the state, making up the largest part of a broader $67 million investment.
Soon after that, Senate Majority PAC (SMP), the top super PAC backing Democratic Senate candidates, reserved $25.6 million in fall ads in the state. That was also the largest portion of a nearly $70 million investment by the group.
Cunningham led Tillis in fundraising in the first three months of the year, bringing in about $4.4 million to his opponent’s $2.1 million. But Tillis has more than twice as much cash on hand as Cunningham, reporting about $6.5 million in the bank at the end of March.
Also in play:
Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstIowa Democrat tops Ernst in early fundraising report EPA’s Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: CDC Director Redfield responds to Navarro criticism; Mnuchin and Powell brief Senate panel MORE (R-Iowa)
For now, Ernst appears more likely than not to win a second term. But Democrats argue that the race is trending in their favor, pointing to polls fielded in recent months that show her approval rating ticking downward and The Cook Political Report’s decision in March to shift her race from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”
Polling in the race has been scarce, but one survey released earlier this month by the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling showed Ernst leading her top Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield by 1 point, tightening from 6 percent in a similar poll fielded in December.
Ernst currently has the cash advantage over Greenfield. She raised $2.7 million in the first quarter of the year, while Greenfield raked in about $2.25 million. But in the pre-primary reporting period between April 1 and May 13, Greenfield raised about $1.5 million to Ernst’s $1.2 million. Still, Ernst leads in cash on hand, with about $7 million as of mid-May.
The Cook Political Report rates the battle to replace retiring Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsState Department scrutiny threatens Pompeo’s political ambitions The age of handshakes may be over — so how to seal the deal now? Congress headed toward unemployment showdown MORE (R-Kan.) as “lean Republican.” However, the party will first have to contend with a crowded primary before taking on former Republican-turned-Democrat Dr. Barbara Bollier. There are currently six Republicans running in the contest, with former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Rep. Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallFamily Research Council endorses Roger Marshall in Kansas Senate primary Biden on Trump to taking hydroxychloroquine ‘What in God’s name is he doing?’ The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Mnuchin, Powell: Economy may need more boost; Trump defends malaria drug MORE leading the way.
The primary’s outcome could be a deciding factor in the general election. If Kobach wins the primary, the news would likely be welcomed by Democrats. The former Kansas secretary of state does not have the support of the party’s establishment, and faced criticism from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) after he announced his intent to run last year. Additionally, Kobach lost his last statewide race to Gov. Laura Kelly (D) in 2018. A poll released in April from Public Policy Polling showed Bollier beating Kobach by two points in a hypothetical matchup.
Meanwhile, a number of Republican leaders have signaled that they would be in favor of former Kansas congressman and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOpen Skies withdrawal throws nuclear treaty into question Former British governor: China has betrayed Hong Kong The other dangerous virus infecting our country MORE to run for the spot. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pushed Pompeo to consider the opportunity.
“There’s not been a development yet,” McConnell told Politico. “But he would obviously be my first choice and he has been for months.”
Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerThe Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden seeks to tamp down controversy over remarks about black support Loeffler says she won’t drop out of Georgia Senate race after stock trade controversy The Hill’s Campaign Report: Trump, Biden campaigns rein in spending during pandemic MORE (R-Ga.)
The race for Loeffler’s seat is more complicated than others up for a vote in 2020. She was appointed late last year to replace retired Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonLoeffler says she won’t drop out of Georgia Senate race after stock trade controversy Kelly Loeffler’s husband donates million to pro-Trump group Poll shows tight races for president, Senate in Georgia MORE (R-Ga.), but because of Georgia’s so-called “jungle primary” system, she’ll face multiple challengers in November, including from within her own party.
Her top challenger on the right is Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLoeffler says she won’t drop out of Georgia Senate race after stock trade controversy Kelly Loeffler’s husband donates million to pro-Trump group Poll: Trump and Biden running neck and neck in Georgia MORE (R-Ga.), a staunch Trump ally who leads Loeffler in most recent polls. At the same time, Loeffler has come under fire in recent months for her stock trades, which critics say appeared timed to avoid the economic turbulence brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Loeffler has denied wrongdoing, noting that her stock trades are made by a third-party adviser.
Meanwhile, national Democrats are backing the Rev. Raphael Warnock in the race for Loeffler’s seat. But there are other credible Democrats vying for the seat, including Matt Lieberman, an entrepreneur and the son of former senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Democrats are more hopeful about their chances in a runoff election, believing it will allow them to consolidate support around a single candidate in a head-to-head matchup against a Republican.
Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel Memorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry House to consider amendment blocking warrantless web browsing surveillance MORE (R-Mont.)
Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency’s response to California water issues Bullock outraises Daines in Montana Senate race Trump cites ‘Obamagate’ in urging GOP to get ‘tough’ on Democrats MORE (D) will likely take on incumbent Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) in that state’s Senate race, which The Cook Political Report rates as “lean Republican.” However, Bullock was reelected to a second term as governor in 2016, the same year Trump won the state. Additionally, the state’s Democratic Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterMemorial Day during COVID-19: How to aid our country’s veterans Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections Senators request emergency funding for postal service in next coronavirus bill MORE (D) won reelection in 2018 by roughly 4 points.
Moreover, Bullock is leading the field in fundraising and polling. A Montana State University poll released earlier this month showed Bullock with 46 percent support in the state, while Daines garnered 39 percent support.
On the fundraising front, Bullock brought in $2.5 million over the past six weeks, while Daines raised $1.3 million in the same period. Bullock and Daines have each raised a total of $5.8 million and $9.2 million, respectively, for their campaigns.
Gary PetersGary Charles PetersThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Trump threatens coronavirus funds for states easing voting Pelosi blasts Senate GOP subpoenas Senate Republicans issue first subpoena in Biden-Burisma probe MORE (D-Mich.)
Republicans are rallying around businessman John James in their bid to unseat Peters in November. James outraised the first-term in the first quarter of the year, and Republicans are continuing to tout Trump’s unexpected victory in the state in 2016. However, James has never won a statewide election, losing to Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowBipartisan senators introduce bill to make changes to the Paycheck Protection Program Democrats press USDA on worker safety at meat processing plants Michigan Republican Senate candidate notes places ‘I disagree with’ Trump MORE (D-Mich.) in 2018.
Peters, on the other hand has been a player in Michigan’s political scene for years. He was elected to the state Senate in 1994 before he went on to become a U.S. congressman in 2008. He has served in the Senate since 2014.
Polling also shows Peter with a clear advantage. A Fox News poll released last month showed Peters leading James by 10 points. The Cook Political Report rates the race as “Lean Democratic.”
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