WASHINGTON – Amid the constant political chaos of 2020, there have been some consistencies. One of these has been a growing Democratic lead in the races in Congress this fall, particularly in the Senate.
For Democrats, the potential for recovery is growing and affects some places where a tight general election race is not a normal occurrence. From the west of the mountain to the south, the Senate competitive list for the GOP looks different this year.
By entering this election cycle, Republicans knew they would defend a challenging map. There are 23 Republican seats in the ballot this fall and only 1
In January – when the Cook Political Report released its first race assessments of the year – it showed three Republican seats that had been rated “Toss Up” or worse, while Democrats had one seat that was “Toss Up” or worse.
On that list of ratings, Republican seats in Arizona, Colorado and Maine were referred to as “Toss Ups”. Additionally, the GOP had seats in Kansas and North Carolina listed as “Lean Republican”. For the Democrats, their seat in Alabama was referred to as “Toss Up”. They had an additional seat in Michigan listed as “Lean Democratic”.
The races on the battlefield largely made sense.
The Republican “Toss Up” states, Colorado and Maine, went to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. And the other Arizona Senate seat had just overturned Democratic in 2018. In the GOP’s “Lean” seats, contests throughout the state of North Carolina they have been close for the past few cycles. And Kansas seemed a little anomalous, but the state had just elected a Democratic governor.
For 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 deeply flawed candidate in Roy Moore. And Michigan, home of the Democratic “Lean” seat, voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
But Cook’s latest assessments now show a different landscape. For Republicans, seven seats in the Senate are highly competitive, classified as “Toss Up” or worse, yet only one Democratic seat falls into that category.
For Democrats, the only difference is that the Alabama seat has been moved 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 went from “Toss Up” to “Lean Democratic”. And now there are five GOP “Toss Up” seats including those in Iowa, Georgia, Montana and North Carolina – all states Trump won in 2016 – along with Maine.
Additionally, there are three “Lean Republican” seats, including the other seat in Georgia, Kansas, and South Carolina. Trump won all those states by 5 points or more in 2016.
And some of those new republican “lean” states stand out as battlefields. Consider South Carolina and Kansas.
In a way, Senator Lindsey Graham’s seat in South Carolina tells the most dramatic story for 2020. It has moved a lot since January on Cook’s charts. At the time the seat was referred to as the “Solid Republican,” in part because Graham seemed to be working hard to win over Trump’s voters. The president won the state by 14 points in 2016, and no Democrat had won a Senate seat in the state for 15 years.
But the numbers show much less support for Graham recently. A late-September survey from Quinnipiac University found that the breed is dead, and every survey since September has it in single digits. Additionally, Graham’s opponent, Jaime Harrison, is flooding the airwaves with campaign announcements, and is poised to spend more than Graham 7-to-1 in the final month of the election.
The close run for the open spot in Kansas could tell a longer story of change. He hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1939, and the 20-point victory the state gave Trump in 2016 was broadly in line with the GOP’s other recent presidential victories.
But when Kansas elected a Democratic governor in 2018, the results felt like a pushback against the previous eight years of Republican rule. That time it led to large-scale tax cuts and program cuts, including heavy cuts to schools. And now the latest polls in the state suggest the race is near.
A survey conducted by a Republican company found that Republican Roger Marshall was leading by about 4 points. A poll by a Democratic society found Democrat Barbara Bollier to be leading 2. Both polls had Marshall at 43 percent, which isn’t where a Republican wants to be in Kansas, especially not a month after election day.
The presidential race dominated the news last week – and indeed the entire cycle. The presidential race years tend to be like this and Trump has only increased the effect.
But the shift in Senate ratings serves as a reminder that there is much more at stake in November than the White House. And the past few months have shown a strong Democratic lean across Pennsylvania Avenue, partly coming from places we don’t usually expect.