Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Republican Senate Majority is in Jeopardy

Earlier this year, the consensus among political analysts was that the Republicans would be able to retain a majority in the U.S. Senate.   Currently, the split is 53-47 in favor of Republicans.  (Two independent Senators caucus with the 45 Democrats.)  At the time it was unlikely that Democrat Doug Jones, who won his seat in Alabama in a special election, can win re-election in the heavily red-state.  Due to the Vice President Senate tie-breaking Republicans would have to pick up five seats if Trump wins the White House, four if Biden does.   Neither was consideed likely.

No more.

The expectation Alabama Senator Doug Jones will lose has not changed.  What has changed is how terribly things are going for Republican incumbents in Senate races.

First though let's dispose of the GOP's other shot at pick up a seat.  Besides Alabama, the one state the
GOP thought it could win a seat was in Michigan.   Incumbent Gary Peters is not well-known and he does not appear to be a strong candidate.  The Democrat is squaring off against Republican John James, an African-American who ran a strong race against incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenbow in 2018, a bad year for Republicans.  Having lost that race by 6.5%, it was thought the charismatic James, who has a strong resume, would fare better running again in 2020, this time against a weaker candidate in a presidential election year.  James decision to tie himself closely to President Trump has backfired big time as Trump's popularity in Michigan is in the dumpster. (Biden has led 16 straight head-to-head Michigan polls against President Trump)  A recent Fox News Poll has Peters up 10 points on James.  James has not led a single poll against Peters and is down by 6.8% in the Real Clear Politics average of recent Michigan polls.  The GOP is likely to give up on James and instead spend its money playing defense.

The top four Democratic targets to knock off Republican Senators have always been McSally in Arizona, Gardner (Colorado) Collins (Maine) and Tillis (North Carolina).  All four are trailing in the polls.

Winning those seats would bring, with the Alabama loss, the Democrats 1 or 2 seats from control of the Senate.  The thought, going into 2020, the Democrats would not have much of a shot of winning any other seat, leaving the party a seat or two short of a majority. That has changed.  The very popular Democratic Montana Governor, Steve Bullock, fresh off a presidential campaign that didn't go anywhere (unfortunately as he would have been a terrific general election candidate), reconsidered and agreed to run for the Senate against incumbent Steve Daines. A poll released this morning has Bullock up 7 points.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are trying to defend two Senate seats in Georgia.  Polling in the state is a bit convoluted because Georgia employs a "jungle primary" which takes place in November followed by a general election run-off if no candidate receives 50% in the primary.  Incumbent Kelly Loeffler is a gubernatorial appointee who is seeking to win the district in what is technically a special election.  Her popularity plummeted when she was accused of selling off stock for a hefty profit after being briefed early this year about the possibility of a pandemic.  Her Republican opponent, Doug Collins, is one of President Trump's staunchest, most outspoken supporters in the U.S. House.  That is a good thing in Collins' ruby red congressional district, but being that close to Trump is not necessarily a good thing in a Georgia general election.  The other Senator David Perdue, himself a strong Trump supporter who is facing re-election, is warning anyone who will listen that changing demographics and new voter registration puts Georgia in play for the Democrats.

While she was not originally a target, Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa has come onto the Democratic radar.  Iowa is a very rural state with a predominantly white population. That would seem to be Trump Country.  Indeed Trump won the state by 9.5% in 2016.  But Iowa has always had a liberal tinge that sometimes asserts itself  A poll released yesterday only has Trump up by 2% and Ernst up by 1.

Then there is Kansas.  Kansas???  Kansas has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932.  Trump won the State by nearly 21 points.  But former Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the frontrunner to win the GOP nomination. And Kobach is not popular in Kansas.  A devout Trumper with an abrasive personality, Kobach managed to lose Kansas Governor's race in 2018.  In a poll released in mid-April, Kobach trails the Democrat Barbara Bollier by 2 points.  Bollier left the Republican Party in December of 2018, saying the GOP had lost its moral direction.

The Democrats even have secondary targets that might come into play.  While President Trump is quite popular in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is less so.  In a February poll, McConnell only led his opponent, the well-funded Amy McGrath, by 3 points in the Bluegrass state.

While Kentucky is a state where the President is running well ahead of the incumbent U.S. Senator, the opposite is true in Texas.  Trump is not popular in Texas.  Two recent polls show Biden running even with Trump in Texas.  But the incumbent Senator seeking re-election in that state, John Cornyn, has a double figure lead over his two possible Democratic opponents, who are set to square off in a run-off for the nomination.  Unless Trump falters greatly in Texas, Cornyn is probably in okay shape.

Trump devotee, Lindsey Graham, however, might be in trouble.  A poll released in late March showed him up only 4 points against Jaime Harrison, a Democrat with a very strong resume who has outraised Graham so far in 2020.

As things stand today, the Republican Senate majority is most definitely in jeopardy.

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