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2020 U.S. Senate Races

Picture from NBC News Andrew Harnik Getty Images

The 2020 election cycle will go down in history as one with numerous developments. This year, the U.S. Senate is the chamber Republicans have the greatest chance to win. Although Republicans are defending more competitive seats due to their impressive gains in the 2014, they have a few targets as well. Listed here are a few highlights that might interest you, though this list is by no means exhaustive.

Alabama: Republican gain

Freshman Democrat Doug Jones is facing Republican Tommy Tuberville, a former football coach. Alabama’s partisanship is a telling sign, and in a presidential election year where President Trump will comfortably carry the state (and when there is far less ticket-splitting than in previous decades), Tuberville is almost certain to pick up this seat for the GOP, as foreshadowed by the fact that Tuberville often leads by double digits in the polls. Jones has not really moderated himself in office either, being more of a reliable Democratic vote than a swing one, meaning his incumbency is unlikely to significantly help him in this campaign.

Georgia (Regular): Republican hold

Freshman Republican David Perdue is running against Jon Ossoff, the Democratic nominee for a U.S. House seat in 2017. Perdue was elected in 2014 by 8 points, but in 2020 this race is more competitive. Perdue may have a slight edge given his incumbency and Georgia’s conservative lean, but many polls show both candidates exchanging leads which may pull this race towards the tossup category.

Key to this race will be the state’s demographics. The rural areas are rock-solid Republican, while Georgia’s large minority population and growing Atlanta metro anchor the Democratic coalition. The Atlanta suburbs may prove key: Gwinnett and Cobb counties have experienced rapid population growth but have shifted bluer since 2004, and the shift is exemplified by Georgia’s 6th and 7th House districts which are historically Republican but quite competitive this year. Whoever wins the suburbs and turns out voters in this inelastic state will likely win the election.

One quirk in Georgia is the runoff system, where if no candidate wins 50% of the vote, the top two compete in another election in January. This may ultimately give Republicans an edge.

Michigan: Democratic hold

Freshman Democrat Gary Peters is attempting to win another term against Republican John James, a military veteran and candidate for Michigan’s other Senate seat in 2018. James is a strong challenger, having come within 6.5 points of winning in 2018 despite the Democratic-leaning environment. In 2020, James has often kept within mid-single digits of Peters (although some polls give Peters a larger lead), and has a real chance of pulling an upset.

Michigan is a state that exemplifies the blue-collar appeal Trump demonstrated in 2016. While historically Democratic, Trump’s populist appeal for jobs and trade protection in this economically hard-hit industrial state caused large swings towards Republicans among working-class voters and gave the state to the GOP for the first time since 1988. Republicans must attempt to hold working-class votes and retain traditionally conservative voters in the suburbs and Grand Rapids to overwhelm Democratic margins around Detroit.

Unlike other races this cycle, James has often rivalled Peters in fundraising, indicating his strength as a candidate and the real possibility of Republicans winning. Given that there are more Republican seats in 2020 than Democratic ones, Michigan presents an opportunity that Republicans may want to seize upon.

Iowa: tossup

Freshman Republican Joni Ernst is facing Democrat Theresa Greenfield. Ernst won by 8 points in 2014, but the race is likely to be closer this year. Greenfield currently leads by low single-digits in the polls, but the race is extremely competitive and thus is classified as a tossup.

Iowa’s electorate is demographically distinctive but also extremely elastic, meaning that there are many swing voters who can vote one way or another. The state’s urban centers are Democratic and the western area is heavily Republican, while many rural counties in the east are competitive. While a purple state, Trump’s populist image swung the state hard to the right to a nearly 10 point victory in 2016 although Ernst may have difficulty carrying as many populist voters as Trump. Both candidates will have to work to persuade voters to support them, although in recent weeks the polls have been consistently close. Iowa may also see some split-ticket voting between the Presidency and Senate.

North Carolina: tossup

Freshman Republican Thom Tillis is running against former state senator Cal Cunningham. Tillis was narrowly elected in 2014 by 1.5 points, and has to fight hard again to retain his seat. Cunningham has led by low to mid-single digits in the polls, but Tillis retains a real chance of victory.

North Carolina is an inelastic swing state, meaning that elections depend on turning out the party base rather than voter persuasion. The state’s rural areas, especially in the west, heavily favor Republicans while the urban centers, minority voters, and the Research Triangle support Democrats.

New developments include revelations of Cunningham’s extramarital affair and his envelopment by a sexting scandal, although it remains to be seen if this has truly shaken up the race. Overall, this race remains quite a tossup.

Montana: Republican hold

Freshman Republican Steve Daines is facing the Democratic governor Steve Bullock. While Daines benefitted in 2014 from the Democrats having to replace their candidate after plagiarism allegations, Daines is facing a stronger challenge this year and is leading by single-digits against Bullock. Republicans will probably hold Montana, but it’s a closer fight.

Montana is a conservative state, but is historically more competitive than its other Great Plains neighbors. Republicans generally sweep the rural areas, but Democrats retain some strength in the larger counties. In addition, Montana has historically elected independent-minded, “prairie populist” Democrats and Steve Bullock is similarly attempting to use his personal popularity to carry the state. Nonetheless, the state’s red hue and the fact that Trump is likely to win here means that Daines is favored.

Author: Alvin Zhang

The views expressed are the author's alone and are not an official statement of GWCRs

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