Could the Republicans Lose the Senate in 2020?
Author: Greg Valliere
August 30, 2019
ALL THE FOCUS ON U.S. POLITICS has been on the 2020 presidential race, but there’s been a little movement in the Senate this summer, giving Democrats some hope that they could regain control. Our bottom line: flipping the Senate is not out of the question, but the numbers still look good for the Republicans, as we explain below.
THE MATH: Republicans control the Senate by 53-47 and they have 23 seats up for re-election, compared to 12 for the Democrats. But there’s a very likely GOP pickup coming in Alabama, which means the Democrats would need a net gain of four seats to take the Senate (or five, if Donald Trump wins re-election, which would allow Republicans to maintain de facto control).
OBVIOUSLY THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE will have a huge impact on Senate contests; if Trump wins easily, the Senate almost certainly would stay Republican, and if he loses badly, the Democrats should capture the Senate. The most probable outcome — a very close presidential race — would most likely maintain the Republicans’ narrow majority.
WHAT’S CHANGED? The decision by John Hickenlooper to drop out of the presidential race and run for the Senate in Colorado puts that state’s incumbent GOP Sen. Cory Gardner on the vulnerable list. But we don’t think the other big change — a vacancy in Georgia, where Johnny Isakson (R) is retiring — makes the Democrats the favorites to win either of the two seats that are up for re-election there.
OUR FRIEND CHARLIE COOK, the best handicapper in the business, has three tossup Republican seats — Gardner in Colorado, Martha McSally in Arizona, and Susan Collins in Maine (we think the latter is the slight favorite). And Charlie has one pickup for the Republicans — the seat in Alabama, where Doug Jonesi (D) has an uphill battle. A net pickup of just one or two seats for the Democrats wouldn’t be enough; they would need an upset or two, perhaps in North Carolina or Iowa.
WHY THE SENATE ELECTION IS SO IMPORTANT: If the Republicans keep the Senate, there would be a powerful firewall — with Mitch McConnell calling the shots — even if a Democrat wins the White House. Any radical legislation — big tax hikes, Medicare for all, the Green New Deal, etc. — would die. And the rightward shift of the judiciary, with likely changes in the Supreme Court, would continue.
BOTTOM LINE: There’s a long way to go, and the Democrats are clear favorites to retain the House. But the numbers don’t quite add up for the GOP in the Senate, where there’s another enormously important number — 60, the number of votes needed to end filibusters. So even if the Democrats narrowly take the Senate, they still would be thwarted on virtually all issues, because McConnell and the GOP would filibuster endlessly.
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