With Election Day just two weeks away, anticipation has reached a feverish pitch as Americans continue casting their ballots — often standing in lines longer than have been seen since Barack Obama’s first run for the White House in 2008 — in an election cycle turned upside down due to the coronavirus health pandemic.
And while the spotlight remains on the presidential race between President Donald Trump (R) and former Vice President Joe Biden (D), equal attention should be directed to this year’s U.S. Senate races which include more competitive showdowns between Democrats and Republicans than the nation has witnessed in the past five years. Further, with the possibility of the Democrats regaining control of the Senate, and the expectation that they will easily retain the majority in the House of Representatives, Americans could experience a rarely-seen paradigm shift in U.S. politics and policies.
There are 35 seats up for grabs in the Senate — 23 now held by Republicans and 12 belonging to Democrats. For now, with 53 senators, the Republicans have the majority but the Dems only need a net gain of three or four seats to recapture control. Specifically, they’ll need a trio of victories with a Joe Biden win — four will be required if Trump holds on for a second term.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have 45 senators with two independent senators who caucus with them.
Depending on which political pundits or reported polls you believe, the Democrats enter the final two weeks before Election Day with victories indisputably within reach in the following states: South Carolina, Kentucky, Arizona, Maine, Georgia, Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina and Montana with Alabama the furthest from their reach but still a remote possibility.
Democrats say they’re taking nothing for chance, despite Biden currently leading most polls by double digits over Trump — holding an 11 percent lead as of Oct. 19 — particularly after 2016 when Hillary Clinton held an equally impressive 10-point lead at the exact same juncture before Trump surged ahead for a surprise victory over the more established member of the Democratic political vanguard.
Past Trends and Races to Watch Today
Additionally and of great significance, the candidate who has won the popular vote in past presidential elections has tended to provide a boost for his party, with victory spilling over into a handful of hard-fought U.S. Senate races — resulting in a net gain for the winning party.
Ronald Reagan, who won the popular vote by a landslide in 1980, would be credited with assisting his party pull off an impressive net gain of 12 Senate seats. In 2008, Barack Obama, after taking the popular vote by a seven-point margin, helped his party secure eight additional seats. And in both the 2012 and 2016 elections, when Obama and Clinton won the popular vote by four and two points, respectively, the Democrats gained two more Senate seats in each election.
As for this year’s Senate races, the combination of voters willing to stand in hours-long lines to cast their voters in concert with the record-breaking number of absentee votes cast due to COVID-19 will yield a voter turnout percentage that not even the experts appear prepared to predict. It’s this uncertainty that has both parties more than a little concerned about their chances.
On Sunday, Oct. 18 on “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd and a team of respected political analysts agreed that the most competitive races include the states of Arizona, Colorado, Alabama and Maine with several others high on their radars.
In addition, two Senate races that continue to dominate the attention of voters, particularly among Black voters regardless of political affiliation, feature showdowns in the nation’s eighth-most populous state, Georgia, and South Carolina, currently led by Republican senators — Tim Scott, an anomaly as an African American who does not face reelection, and his colleague Lindsay Graham, first elected in 2003 and current chair of the powerful Senate Committee on the Judiciary whose future remains far from certain.
Opponent Jamie Harrison, who has dominated the incumbent in fundraising by a healthy margin and serves as the son of a Black single mother who made his way to the top with hard work while earning a reputation as an ideal family man, has found a way to better relate and speak to voters, stands on the precipice of a major upset.
Harrison, who has broken all records for fundraising by a Senate candidate, stands locked in a 48 to 48 percent tie with Graham based on a Quinnipiac University poll taken in late September. Both candidates have led in the polls at various times but only by a few points and the race has been predicted to go down to the wire.
The Peachtree State of Georgia has two Senate seats up for election, both currently held by Republicans. The race between incumbent David Perdue and his Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff — with no clear leader — could require a runoff if neither candidate garners 50 percent of the vote next month.
But in the second race, a special election with an open primary, several candidates have a good chance at victory including two Republicans, incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock — the current leader in the polls among Democrats who has mustered an impressive campaign as a political novice and bears a storied history as the longtime pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The church has a historic legacy with its pulpit once held by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The race has been called a toss-up, leaning in favor of the GOP according to the highly-respected, nonpartisan Cook Political Report in its latest poll on Oct. 7. However, if no candidate can garner 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face one another in a runoff — even if they’re from the same party. But with either one or both seats potentially going into a runoff, the outcome of the Senate could remain unknown for several weeks after Election Day on Nov. 3.
The widespread and frequent number of protests led by people of color across the U.S. which have surged since the Trump Administration took control of the White House, fueled by citizens demanding police reform and an immediate end to alleged racial discrimination initiated by law enforcement, have impacted the platforms of those seeking election in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Both Sen. Mark R. Warner, the favored candidate and Democratic incumbent, and his GOP challenger, Daniel Gade — moving far afield from the position maintained by most Republicans, most notably the president — have voiced their support for the Black Lives Matter movement — even criticizing each other for being too soft on racism.
Virginians have also turned out in impressive numbers at early-voting sites, while also requesting mail-in ballots in unprecedented numbers and besting Republicans in fundraising efforts among the commonwealth’s most competitive and coveted districts.
Looking at all 35 Senate races, Cook Political Report has predicted that eight Republican-held seats stand as either leaning Democratic or toss-ups — listing just one Democratic seat as leaning Republican and none as a toss-up.
Alabama, a state which Trump dominated in 2016, features Democrat Doug Jones battling Republican Tommy Tuberville — the favored candidate and former Auburn University football coach who defeated former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the GOP primary runoff earlier this year. Endorsed by Trump who has frequently spouted off messages of exuberant support via Twitter, Tuberville currently enjoys a double-digit lead — 54 to 42 percent based on an early October poll conducted by Auburn University-Montgomery.
Polling data assembled by RealClearPolitics concurs with Cook Political Report, ranking Arizona, a state high on Trump’s list of required wins in his quest for reelection, as a race which favors the Democrats with an eight-point margin currently held by the challenger.
In the one Senate seat up for grabs — a special election to fill the remainder of the term previously held by the late Sen. John McCain — the incumbent, Sen. Martha McSally, a veteran with close ties to Trump, faces stiff competition from Democrat Mark Kelly — an advocate for gun control and the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an attempt on her life in 2011 and currently leads McSally by about eight points.
If Kelly can hold on and win, it will result in the Democrats controlling both Senate seats in Arizona for the first time since the 1950s.
Iowa voters gave the nod to Trump in 2016 but his support has since declined leaving him in a virtual tie with Biden based on average state polling data. Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, an unabashed ally of Trump serving in her first term, remains in an extremely tight race with Democrat Theresa Greenfield. Both of Iowa’s senators are Republicans but Ernst, who replaced a Democrat, Sen. Tom Harkin after he retired in 2014 after a 30-year career, trails by three percentage points according to a recent Des Moines Register Iowa Poll.
Another race to watch closely — Maine where Republican Sen. Susan Collins who’s been in office since 1997 has all she can handle with Democratic challenger Sara Gideon. Gideon has pulled ahead slightly in recent polling, seizing upon growing criticism lodged against the incumbent including her decision to support the president’s Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and to vote along party lines in his acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial held earlier this year.
Finally, North Carolina counts as another nail-biter, considered another toss-up among Republican-held seats. GOP Sen. Thom Tillis faces a difficult reelection bid against challenger Cal Cunningham, a former state senator and Iraq war veteran. And despite a shakeup in the Democrat’s campaign after reports of an extramarital relationship came to light, the scandal has done little to hurt his run for office. In one Oct. 8 poll conducted by SurveyUSA, Cunningham held a lead of 10 percentage points over Tillis while 61 percent of the voters said in a survey that the challenger’s indiscretions would not affect their vote.