These last 10 days before the election will be a blur of frantic activity by candidates. Donald Trump and Joe Biden will race around the country and — if one of them doesn’t call a “lid” on campaigning for the day — they are likely to hit 3 or 4 states in a single day.
The dozen or so still competitive House races are being fought in the trenches and on the airwaves as candidates spend the last of their millions on ads. Republicans almost certainly have no chance to win back the lower chamber and it will become even harder after Democratic Party activists at the state level redraw district lines following the 2020 census should Democrats flip enough legislatures. The GOP better get used to minority status in the House for a while.
But statewide races have always been a different story and in modern times, with the nation cleaved into two by the partisan divide, they have become horribly expensive and very close. That’s why even though Republicans won’t take the House in 2020, they may very well hang on to the Senate in what is shaping up to be a very Democratic year.
For Democrats to flip the upper chamber, they are going to have to win a net of 4 seats to gain control. There are about a dozen competitive races nationwide. Some of the more vulnerable Republicans like Corey Gardner of Colorado have already been written off by the national party. But most of the other contested seats are well within reach and with a little luck, Republicans could scrape by.
The GOP has a couple of things going for it. There are at least two Senate seats held by Democrats that the Republicans have a good chance of winning. Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama appears to be toast against Republican Tommy Tuberville and GOP candidate John James is giving Democrat Gary Peters all he can handle in Michigan. If Republicans prevail, Democrats will have to win 6 races — about half the contested contests — to take control.
That’s a tall order even in a Democratic year which is why Republicans may be worried, but not despondent. These 4 races may tell the tale between victory and defeat for Republicans in 2020.
The Gardner-Hickenlooper race in Colorado is a good example of why so many races have become battlegrounds; changing demographics, an unpopular president, and issues favoring the Democrats.
First-term Republican Sen. Cory Gardner rode a red wave to victory by 2.5 points 2014. But now he’s facing a daunting political climate in a state that has trended away from his party in recent years. He has struggled to cultivate a brand separate from an unpopular President Donald Trump and the national party, for whom Gardner has mostly been a reliable ally.
Colorado appears ready to tip all the way blue. Biden is ahead by double digits and Trump has pulled advertising and staff from the state, virtually conceding it. Hickenlooper, a popular former governor, is up comfortably over Gardner who couldn’t decide between embracing Trump or keeping his distance. It will cost him the seat.
In Arizona, despite running what many observers believe to have been a poor campaign, Republican Martha McSally is hanging in there against former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly.
McSally, who lost a Senate race in 2018 and was soon appointed to fill an open seat, is facing similar problems now: A difficult political climate, a moderate Democratic opponent, and an alliance with Trump that is alienating the state’s growing suburban and Latino populations. And she has made some similar missteps this time around, such as misleading statements on her health care record.
The health care issue is very big in Arizona given the number of retirees. And the Latino vote has been trending up for Democrats in the last 3 elections. But Arizona is still a Republican state and McSally may be able to hang on.
Everyone has Sen. Susan Collins in Maine in deep trouble. But despite her sometimes opposition to Trump and her vote on confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Mainers are an independent lot and like politicians who stand on principle.
But the 24-year veteran has made too many enemies and may go down to defeat this year.
Collins, who is running as a pragmatic legislator, has come under fire for failing to stand up to Trump and voting most of the time with a president who is unpopular in Maine, including on high-stakes questions such as his impeachment and the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She has broken with him on some issues, like filling a Supreme Court vacancy on the eve of the election, and was recently slammed by him on Twitter for it.
Collins faces an acute version of a dilemma vexing many Republicans: They have no path to victory without the votes of Trump’s followers — but aligning with him alienates crucial independent voters.
And Trump voters in Maine have had about enough of her inconstancy and many will probably stay home on election day.
Finally, in North Carolina, Republican incumbent Thom Tillis is in a neck and neck battle with Democrat Cal Cunningham. Despite Cunningham being discovered cheating on his wife, the race appears unaffected by the scandal.
The North Carolina race is seen by some forecasters as a bellwether for Senate control. It may also be a bellwether for whether old-fashioned sex scandals still matter in an age where a thrice-married Republican president who was once a New York City tabloid fixture, and has been linked to extramarital affairs and dalliances with adult film stars, is beloved by evangelical Christians.
The race is a dead heat going into the home stretch.
Most analysts give Republicans less than a 50-50 chance of hanging onto control of the Senate. I think they’re slightly better than that because both sides are so energized by the national race. Democrats believe a record turnout will favor their candidates. I think that’s wishful thinking and Republican voters are likely to prove that in a couple of states.