The Senate Races to Watch this Year

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Claire Rudinsky

With 13 Democrats and 23 Republicans up for reelection in the Senate this year, there are several closely contested races. Democrats are looking to turn at least four seats in order to get the Senate majority in their favor; The Cook Political Report, an online nonpartisan newspaper that analyzes elections and campaigns, has rated 14 of the races as either toss up, or only a slight lean Democrat or Republican. Several of these are in stereotypical battleground states, but there are also close races in Texas, Georgia, and North and South Carolina, typically more red states. 

There are two seats up for election in Georgia and both are considered a toss up. In the special election (meaning there is no primary), the Republican party is split over two increasingly far right candidates, the current Senator Loeffler and challenger House Representative Collins, while the Democrats are united behind one nominee, Raphael Warnock. The other Republican seat is currently held by Senator Perdue, but he is in a deadlock race with his Democrat opponent, Jon Ossof, who has raised $21.3 million in the last quarter alone, placing a new record for Senate campaign funding. The GOP is concerned about both of these races and their importance not only in holding the Senate majority, but in the presidential election, as Georgia is increasingly becoming a toss-up state. 

Another fierce battle is happening in Maine, with the current Republican Senator Collins and the Democrat State House Speaker Gideon. Collins has positioned herself as a moderate Republican, who believes in LGBTQ rights and abortion access, but this image has been shattered as she continues to support Trump’s policies and nominations to the Supreme Court. Gideon is another impressive fundraiser, outraising Collins substantially in the most recent quarter, and she is currently seven points ahead of Collins in the latest polls. 

Iowa is a surprise toss up Senate race, as usually this state is dependably red. In the most expensive race yet in Iowa, the Democratic nominee, Theresa Greenfield, has put more than $100 million into this race, and has led (by a small margin) in all of the most recent polls compared to Republican incumbent Joni Ernst. One section of voters the Republican Party has struggled heavily with, not just in Iowa, but across the country, is with white suburban women. Most political strategists tie the fate of the Iowa election with both the Senate majority and the presidential election – meaning that Ernst would mostly likely stay or fall with her party. 

The Montana Senate race is also home to huge spending on television ads, with the combined total between two candidates expected to reach $184 million – with a surprising amount of out-of-state spending on both sides. A former senior advisor to Paul Ryan pointed out that“in this race there are essentially two incumbents,” making the race that much tighter. Republican Steve Daines has served for one term as a Senator and previously as a House Representative, whereas Democrat Steve Bullock has been the governor for two terms, following two terms as attorney general. 

Tied with Iowa for the most expensive Senate race is North Carolina, where Republican incumbent Tillis faces off against Democratic nominee Cunningham. Cunningham is slightly favored in this race, polling with a 67 out of 100 chance of winning, even after an extra-marital affair was revealed in the news a week ago. On the other hand, Tillis polls with a 33 out of 100 chance of winning. This race is still highly competitive though, as voters could be swayed by the recent Cunningham scandal. 

In South Carolina, Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jaime Harrison are in a political deadlock. The attention has turned to Senator Graham in recent months due to his prominence in the replacement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as he is the head of the Judiciary Committee, but many voters view him as a man of shifting opinions, as his policies and decisions change when he enters reelection year. On the other hand, Democrat Harrison has never held an elected political office and therefore has no record to judge, but he promotes a centrist view similar to Joe Biden. This race will be extremely close, as South Carolina has a large population of Black voters who are more likely to vote Democratic; however, the majority of white voters vote dependably conservative. 

Texas is another surprisingly close Senate race, because although it has been categorized as “leaning Republican,” the polls remain tight between Republican incumbent Cornyn and Democrat Hegar. While Cornyn remains in the lead by eight points, Hegar has been running a tough race, claiming that Cornyn’s three terms in the Senate have shown that he no longer represents Texas. Cornyn has been attempting to paint Hegar as a radical Democrat, but Hegar continues to state that she is focused on making Texas better, not furthering a national agenda. Hegar, a former Air Force helicopter pilot, is doing fairly well with Black and Hispanic voters, and has received tremendous financial support from the Democratic Super PAC, which has helped close the gap in the polls. The main issue between the two has been on the subject of healthcare, as Cornyn backs Trump’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), whereas Hegar believes in a Medicare-for-all-who-want-it option, similar to Biden. Given that Texas was one of the states hardest hit by the coronavirus, healthcare is an extremely important part of this election. 

Alaska, a state where most people are registered as independents, is also facing a close race. This state typically leans Republican, and the Republican incumbent Sullivan is currently up eight points in the polls, but his independent challenger Gross has caught national attention and support from the Democratic Party. Gross is from a coastal part of Alaska, and as a surgeon, has used a lot of his own money, along with out of state funding, to gain momentum in the race. He supports a public option for healthcare and continuing oil drilling in Alaska, and is fighting to establish himself as a moderate against his opponents attacks on his association with the Democrats. 

In Kansas, a former Republican is now running as a Democrat against the Republican Senator Roger Marshall. Barbara Bollier, running as a moderate Democrat, says she left the GOP in 2018 due to the increasingly far right policies and toxic political environment, and that while her views are the same, the Republican party is not the same as it used to be. She does not support Medicare for All or the Green New Deal, and is pushing back on Marshall’s attempt to brand her as a liberal, even praising several of Trump’s policies for rural broadband. Bollier has outraised Marshall significantly in the last quarter, with money surging in not just from Kansas, but from out of state and Democratic Super PACS, forcing the Republicans to try and match the funds. 

Alabama is one of the Democrat Senate seats up for reelection this year, and the only one that leans Republican, with incumbent Doug Jones touting his bipartisan record and independent voice as key points for the issues. The Republican challenger Tuberville has enjoyed a strong endorsement from Trump as well as having no previous legislative record to attack. In the last election, Jones won in part due to his opponents numerous scandals and large monetary support from out of state actors, and while he still has a cash advantage over Tuberville, he faces a tough battle in this traditionally red state. 

Colorado has often switched between Republican and Democratic control, and currently, the Republican Senator Cory Gardner is facing a tough election against former governor Democrat John Hickenlooper, with the polls showing Hickenlooper with 51 percent of the vote compared to Gardner’s 42 percent. The Democratic Party is counting on gaining this seat in order to flip the Senate, and they appear confident enough to pull major Super PAC funding from TV ads in the final weeks. Hickenlooper hardly needs the out of state money, as he raised $22.6 million in the last quarter compared to Gardner’s 7 million. 

The GOP remains hopeful that the Michigan Republican candidate, John James, is in a tight race with Democrat incumbent Senator Gary Peters. The polling shows Peters only five points ahead of James, and with major spending from both parties, it’s clear that Michigan is an important state in reclaiming, or keeping, the Senate majority. James has been focusing on his background as a veteran and businessman, while Peters has attacked him for his stance on healthcare, abortion and Great Lakes’ protections. 

Arizona remains one of the deciding battleground states in not only the presidential election, but Senate majority as well. Between Republican incumbent McSally and Democrat challenger Kelly, this race has proved to be one of Arizona’s costliest, coming out to $130 million between the two candidates. Although early voting is just beginning, already this election is having record breaking voter turnout. One important issue in Arizona is on gun rights – McSally has been dubbed the “Second Amendment Senator,” whereas Kelly’s wife survived a mass shooting and founded a gun-rights group known as Giffords. Kelly advocates for red flag laws and universal background checks and promises to stand up to the NRA. 

Overall, the Democratic party has been enjoying a wave of donations and monetary support from across the nation, which has been put to use in Senate races across the country. With 14 races considered too close to call, the future of the Senate majority hangs in the balance of the American voters.