The November elections are rapidly approaching and all eyes are on the presidential race. Billions of dollars have already been spent between the two main candidates.
However, what is not discussed as much are the down-ballot Senate races that are in my opinion, just as important. There have been many twists and turns in some key states already and now that primary season is coming to an end, the final match-ups for the fall are taking shape.
Before I continue, let it be known that the map above is just one of hundreds of predictions for the outcome of these elections. How they may actually turn out is anybody’s guess. The predictions below are based on current polling and political trends in the particular state. They do not include overarching factors such as the state of the Presidential race.
While there can be much said about all of the Senate contests, I believe it would be more prudent to cover the ones that will actually matter when it comes down to the question of who will control the chamber come January 2021. This will determine what direction the legislative agenda of the next two years will take.
Here’s an in depth look at the highlights and where things stand at this point in time for some of the most important races:
1. Arizona: The erosion of conservative support in the Sun Belt
It might not be too long from now that we see Arizona become one of the most reliably blue states in a presidential election. For now though, it remains a toss-up and Democrats have a lot of work to do in order to maintain their candidate’s current edge over incumbent Martha McSally (R-AZ).
Here’s the skinny: Arizona has become increasingly blue over the past few years, with this trend culminating in a victory in the state’s other seat for Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) two years ago. Oddly enough, Sinema actually faced and defeated McSally, who was later appointed to the other seat upon the death of John McCain. Sinema’s nearly 56,000 vote win marked the first time since 1988 that a Democrat won a Senate race in the state. She was able to do this largely by running up the vote in high populated Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix and its surrounding suburbs.
This county is not the conservative bastion it once was. With more people moving into cities such as Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tuscon, the state’s conservative nature is being fundamentally uprooted. Rural votes can no longer outnumber votes from the larger population centers and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Enter Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ). Polling has consistently shown Kelly with a decent lead, as high as 13% and as low as 4%. After Giffords near-fatal shooting in 2011, Kelly stepped in and left his post at NASA to support his wife. They now run a successful non-profit that fights for gun control initiatives, and were even able to outspend the NRA in the 2018 election cycle.
Kelly has often denied opportunities to run for political office in the past and has felt that his role is better served on the sidelines. Things are very different this year, as Democrats in suburban Arizona are revolting against President Trump and his party. The ongoing pandemic crisis isn’t helping Republicans either. A recent poll showed Governor Doug Ducey’s approval at 32%, most likely due to the fact that Arizona is now one of the coronavirus hotspots of the world.
The Democratic party in the state has taken notice. Dems have added 25% more registered voters since 2012. The majority of these new voters are Latino American, a voting bloc that heavily favors liberals. It is difficult to predict whether all these factors will culminate in a Democratic win this fall for Mark Kelly, but the odds are stacked heavily in his favor. If Martha McSally can lose once, there is a significant chance that voters will reject her once again.
2. Montana: Incumbent vs. Incumbent
In a normal year, Montana would not be seriously contested due to the state’s overwhelmingly conservative tilt. But 2020 is not a normal year, and Montana is shaping up to be closer than expected.
The incumbent Governor Steve Bullock decided back in March to run for the seat currently held by Steve Daines (R-MT) after almost a full year of denying any interest in serving in the Senate. Since his announcement, Bullock has been leading in every major poll taken within the state.
Beyond this, Governor Bullock has seen his approval rating rise due to his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, with one poll showing him at a 75% approval rating. Bullock was already popular before this; he won reelection in 2016 handily in a state that went for Trump by a margin of 20 points.
While it is true that Montana has always had a conservative history, it is indeed a uniquely mixed one, and something that is somewhat rare to see in the states that comprise the American west. Democrats have had a grip on the Governor’s mansion for the past 16 years, and the state’s other senate seat has been held by one for nearly 14 years.
There is no doubt that this race will be a fight to the finish because of Senator Daines’ built in advantage within the state. He also out-raised Bullock earlier in the year, spending around 3 million more dollars. But if all the current trends continue to favor Democrats, they can expect to add a new Senator from Montana to their ranks next January.
3. Maine: The last “moderate” Republican senator
In order to understand how Susan Collins (R-ME) went from re-election with 69% of the total vote in 2014, to being one of the most endangered incumbents this election cycle, we need to go back to October 2018.
Collins’ vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was a surprise to many people on both the left and right. In fact, Ms. Collins is widely known as the most liberal Republican in the Senate currently. The next strike came as she voted to acquit President Trump during the impeachment trial of last year.
If the people of liberal-leaning Maine needed another reason to distrust Collins’ claim as a moderate, it came in the form of yet another vote to pass the widely unpopular Trump tax cuts.
For these reasons, and because of the intense fundraising force of the Democrats this cycle, Collins is facing the most competitive race of her career. She is falling behind to the state House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-ME), who raised 1 million dollars within the first week of her campaign announcement back in November 2019.
When Democrats took over the state Senate and the Governorship after the 2018 midterms, Gideon was the primary force in getting Medicaid expansion and a form of paid sick leave all passed in the early months of the legislative session. In Maine, this bodes well for many voters who see themselves as moderates, but have grown wary of the recent lurch to the right that Collins has taken.
All of these factors paint a dire situation for the incumbent Republican, who has served since 1997. If this wasn’t enough, she has also isolated herself from the President and mentions him as little as possible on the campaign trail. Without support from the President, Collins risks losing most of her conservative supporters. WITH the backing of the President, Collins will almost certainly lose the moderates and liberals that have backed her in every election since 1996.
This constant tightrope walk highlights the extreme difficulty of being an elected moderate Republican in today’s times. Pollsters note that Collins has consecutively gained more of the vote percentage in each of her elections. However, almost no one is expecting this trend to continue.
4. Iowa: A potential playbook on winning rural voters
When it comes to analyzing contested political races, there are several key factors to look at. The most important is always the makeup of the constituency and in Iowa, it is a widely known fact that senior citizens comprise a large share of the voting population. Ultimately, this race will come down to who can appeal to this voting bloc the most.
Theresa Greenfield is hoping to be a new face in the Senate by running a campaign based on ideas of the past. The Democratic party used to cater heavily to working class people in rural states with programs such as Medicaid and Social Security being among the most popular. Greenfield is looking to take a page out of this textbook to defeat the incumbent Joni Ernst (R-IA), who famously ran an ad in her first campaign in 2014 that compared fixing problems in Washington to castrating pigs.
Fresh off a primary win, Greenfield is campaigning on saving social security from cuts and privatization. Ernst has not publicly expressed a desire to make these cuts or deregulate, but has not stated her unwillingness to do so either. In the political world, this typically means that anything is on the table. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also planned to use the ongoing pandemic as a reason to move forward with these cuts.
Most analysts who are overseeing the Iowa race say that Greenfield has already been able to connect with rural voters in the state better than Democratic candidates of the past. She has been able to do this because she has a personal story attached to her passionate defense: Greenfield’s husband died in an accident when she was just 24 and pregnant with their second child. She was able to stay afloat financially, because of the early payout from her husband’s social security and union benefits. She now tells this story at almost every campaign rally she attends.
Greenfield’s strategy is apparently paying off and it is starting to show. The RCP polling average shows her up by 2 points, although this is well within the margins of error. A more promising sign that this seat may be set to flip is that Democrats in Iowa have completely closed the gap in a voter registration deficit that plagued them in 2016.
The extraordinarily unusual times we live in heighten the anxiety and woes of financial distress in this country. With more people these days becoming increasingly concerned about their future, taking advantage of arguments that will calm these fears will certainly contribute to a victory. Greenfield appears to be well positioned in this regard, but anything can happen in the next few months.