With Election Day less than six months away, the battle for control of the Senate hinges on five key states: Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina. Democrats could flip all five seats and send Mitch McConnell back to the minority.
Here are the Senate seats most likely to flip from red to blue in 2020:
Arizona: Sen. Martha McSally (R) already lost a Senate race in 2018, when Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) defeated her in a heated race. Only a few weeks after her loss, McSally was appointed to fill the seat of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Now, a little more than a year after she entered the Senate, she’s facing a challenge from Democrat Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and gun control advocate who is seen as one of his party’s top recruits of the 2020 cycle. Kelly raised a staggering $11 million in the first three months of 2020 and has some $19.7 million on hand. By comparison, McSally reported $6.4 million raised in the first quarter and $10.3 million in the bank.
There are also signs that Kelly is widening his lead over McSally in the race. A survey from the polling firm OH Predictive Insights released this week showed Kelly leading McSally by 13 points – up from a 9-point lead in a similar poll conducted in April.
Colorado: Sen. Cory Gardner (R) Gardner became the first challenger to unseat an incumbent in Colorado in roughly a generation when he defeated former Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) in 2014.
But the mile-high state has shifted increasingly to the left in recent years. Former President Barack Obama won the state twice in 2008 and 2012, and Hillary Clinton carried it in the 2016 presidential election. In 2018, Democrats won control of the Colorado state Senate and held onto the governor’s mansion, giving them full control of the state government for the first time since 1936.
If that trend wasn’t enough to threaten Gardner’s prospects for a second term in the Senate, he faces a tough challenge from Colorado’s Democratic former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who jumped into the race last summer after an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination.
A survey from the University of Montana Bozeman and the University of Denver conducted last month showed Hickenlooper with a 16-point lead over Gardner. Another Keating Research/OnSight Public Affairs/Melanson poll released earlier this month found Hickenlooper ahead by 18 points.
Iowa: Sen. Joni Ernst (R) is hanging on to 1-point lead over her Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield. But Democrats argue that the race is trending in their favor, pointing to polls fielded in recent months that show her approval rating ticking downward and The Cook Political Report’s decision in March to shift her race from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”
Ernst currently has a cash advantage over Greenfield. She raised $2.7 million in the first quarter of the year, while Greenfield raked in about $2.25 million. But in the pre-primary reporting period between April 1 and May 13, Greenfield raised about $1.5 million to Ernst’s $1.2 million. Still, Ernst leads in cash on hand, with about $7 million as of mid-May.
Maine: Sen. Susan Collins (R) is also facing an uphill battle to defend her spot in the Senate. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Collins three points behind Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon (D), who is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
Additionally, polling shows Maine voters could be souring on the incumbent senator. A Bangor Daily News poll released in April showed Collins with a 37 percent approval rating and a 52 percent disapproval rating.
Collins has been viewed in the past as a critical Republican swing vote, voting against 2017 GOP legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act. However, she has since received the ire of liberals for voting to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court as he faced sexual misconduct allegations in 2018. Additionally, her decisions to side with the Trump administration on a number of issues may not play badly with all voters.
North Carolina: Sen. Thom Tillis (R) is facing a tough challenge from Democrat Cal Cunningham. A Meredith College poll conducted late last month gave Cunningham a substantial lead in race, showing him ahead of Tillis, 44 percent to 34 percent.
Already, the race between Tillis and Cunningham is shaping up to be the most expensive Senate race of 2020. In March, Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), the super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), booked nearly $22 million worth of fall advertising in the state, making up the largest part of a broader $67 million investment.
Soon after that, Senate Majority PAC (SMP), the top super PAC backing Democratic Senate candidates, reserved $25.6 million in fall ads in the state. That was also the largest portion of a nearly $70 million investment by the group.
Cunningham led Tillis in fundraising in the first three months of the year, bringing in about $4.4 million to his opponent’s $2.1 million. But Tillis has more than twice as much cash on hand as Cunningham, reporting about $6.5 million in the bank at the end of March.
Georgia: Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) was appointed late last year to replace retired Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), but because of Georgia’s so-called “jungle primary” system, she’ll face multiple challengers in November, including from within her own party, making the race for Loeffler’s seat is more complicated than others up for a vote in 2020.
Her top challenger on the right is Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), a staunch Trump ally who leads Loeffler in most recent polls. At the same time, Loeffler has come under fire in recent months for her stock trades, which critics say appeared timed to avoid the economic turbulence brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Loeffler has denied wrongdoing, noting that her stock trades are made by a third-party adviser.
Meanwhile, national Democrats are backing the Rev. Raphael Warnock in the race for Loeffler’s seat. But there are other credible Democrats vying for the seat, including entrepreneur Matt Lieberman.
Under state rules, if no candidate scores at least 50 percent of the vote in the November all-party election, it will trigger a runoff election between the two top vote-getters, currently slated for January 2021.
Democrats are more hopeful about their chances in a runoff election, believing it will allow them to consolidate support around a single candidate in a head-to-head matchup against a Republican.
Montana: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) will likely take on incumbent Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) in that state’s Senate race. Bullock was re-elected to a second term as governor in 2016, the same year Trump won the state. Additionally, the state’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester (D) won reelection in 2018 by roughly 4 points.
Moreover, Bullock is leading the field in fundraising and polling. A Montana State University poll released earlier this month showed Bullock with 46 percent support in the state, while Daines garnered 39 percent support.
On the fundraising front, Bullock brought in $2.5 million over the past six weeks, while Daines raised $1.3 million in the same period. Bullock and Daines have each raised a total of $5.8 million and $9.2 million, respectively, for their campaigns.
Also in play:
Kansas: The Cook Political Report rates the battle to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) as “lean Republican.” However, the party will first have to contend with a crowded primary before taking on former Republican-turned-Democrat Dr. Barbara Bollier. There are currently six Republicans running in the contest, with former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Rep. Roger Marshall leading the way.
If Kobach wins the primary, the news would likely be welcomed by Democrats. The former Kansas secretary of state does not have the support of the party’s establishment, and faced criticism from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) after he announced his intent to run last year. Additionally, Kobach lost his last statewide race to Gov. Laura Kelly (D) in 2018. A poll released in April from Public Policy Polling showed Bollier beating Kobach by two points in a hypothetical matchup.
Meanwhile, a number of nervous Republican leaders, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) have signaled that they would be in favor of former Kansas congressman and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to run for the spot.