Control of the Senate hangs in the balance on Election Day. Here are key Senate races to watch

Savannah Behrmann

Nicholas Wu
 
| USA TODAY

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WASHINGTON – The presidential election isn’t the only critical race happening on November 3. Democrats and Republicans will battle across the country over control of the Senate. 

The Senate is currently split 53-47 between Republicans and Democrats. There are 35 seats up for election in the Senate, and of those, 23 belong to Republicans and 12 to Democrats. Democrats would need to win four seats for a majority, or three seats if Democrats win the White House.  

There are now nine Republican-held seats rated as either leaning Democratic or toss-ups by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, up from eight a few weeks ago.

Democrats are trying to flip the Senate in 2020: These are the seats considered up for grabs on Election Day

By contrast, they list only one Democratic seat as leaning Republican, and none as a toss-up. 

There are also a few Senate races making headlines that aren’t in the tossup or upset categories. 

Republicans have held a majority in the Senate since 2014, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday he believes there is a “50-50” chance of Democrats winning a majority in the Senate come Tuesday.

Here are where a few of these key races currently stand and issues in the races:

More: How will Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation battle affect Senate races?

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Maine race key to flipping control of U.S. Senate

Sara Gideon was leading a local town council less than a decade ago, but the Democrat is tapping anger with President Donald Trump and Sen. Susan Collin’s vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in her push to oust the Republican. (Oct. 22)

Leans Democrat

Arizona

Republican Sen. Martha McSally, a former military pilot who has aligned herself closely with President Donald Trump, faces a tough race from former astronaut Mark Kelly, a gun control activist whose wife former Rep. Gabby Giffords survived an assassination attempt in 2011.

McSally was appointed to the seat after the late Sen. John McCain passed away in 2018. She lost to Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. 

Arizona has long been considered a red state, but it has shifted in recent years to battleground states in the 2020 presidential election. If Kelly wins, both senators from Arizona will be Democrats for the first time since the 1950s.

Kelly is up about three points in RealClearPolitics’ polling average, falling a bit from a nearly eight-point lead a few weeks ago.  

‘Give me a break’: Sen. Martha McSally dismisses Trump’s treatment of her at Goodyear rally

A moment from Trump’s campaign rally in Arizona went viral Thursday, with him hurrying McSally on stage and telling her to speak quickly: “You got one minute! One minute, Martha! They don’t want to hear this, Martha. Come on. Let’s go. Quick, quick, quick. Come on. Let’s go.”

Colorado 

Colorado’s Republican incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner has faced a tough race against the state’s former governor, John Hickenlooper.  

Hickenlooper, who also ran for the Democratic presidential nomination this year, has consistently been polling ahead of Gardner. The latest polling shows Gardner down by 10. 

More: Colorado voters have changed since Gardner, Hickenlooper were last up for election

Gardner was elected to the Senate in 2014 by upsetting a Democratic incumbent senator, but the political foundation in Colorado has shifted significantly since then, driven by a demographic that dislikes Trump. 

Toss up

Georgia – special election 

Republican Kelly Loeffler, a millionaire Republican donor who, like McSally, was appointed to the U.S. Senate after the seat was vacated faces a tight reelection race against both sides of the aisle.

Loeffler, who was sworn in January of 2020, is currently running against Republican Congressman Doug Collins, a staunch Trump ally, Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock, and several other candidates in a special election.

Georgia poll: Joe Biden ahead of Donald Trump, Democratic Senate candidates lead among registered voters

Warnock is currently polling slightly ahead of the two main Republican candidates.

Many speculated that Loeffler would try appeal to moderate women in the Atlanta suburbs who might be drifting away from the Republican Party. But she has instead tried to depict herself as the most conservative candidate in the race. 

She has recently touted an endorsement from Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right Republican House candidate with ties to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, and said Wednesday night that she was “not familiar” Trump’s now-infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape where he described sexually assaulting women. 

GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler: ‘Not familiar’ with Trump’s infamous 2005 ‘Access Hollywood’ tape

More: Sen. Kelly Loeffler says she is ‘more conservative than Attila the Hun’ in new campaign ad

If no candidate gets 50 percent, a majority, the top two vote-earners go to a January runoff. 

Georgia – regularly scheduled contest

The race between Republican incumbent Sen. David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff is the latest addition to the toss-up list.

Perdue has had a rough few weeks politically after leading Ossoff for most of the campaign.

He faced criticism a few weeks ago after appearing to mock and purposely mangle Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris’ name at a Trump campaign rally.

More: Georgia GOP Sen. Perdue faces criticism after ‘mockingly’ mispronouncing Kamala Harris’ name

After, Ossoff announced a huge fundraising haul following the viral moment. Ossoff then had a viral moment of his own Wednesday after tearing into Perdue during a debate.

Perdue announced Thursday he would not debate against Ossoff again, and will instead rally with Trump on the date of the match-up.

A new Monmouth University poll released Wednesday shows Ossoff with a 49%-46% lead over Perdue. The last Monmouth poll showed Ossoff trailing Perdue by 5 points.

‘It’s not just that you’re a crook’: Ossoff attacks Perdue during Georgia Senate debate

The Real Clear Politics polling average only has Perdue ahead by 0.2%. 

Iowa

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst is in a close race with Democrat Theresa Greenfield.

Trump flipped Iowa to the Republican column in 2016, but his support has declined, leaving him in a virtual tie against Biden, and causing the senator to walk a fine line. 

Mike Pence at Des Moines rally: Joni Ernst is an ‘unwavering ally of President Trump and the MAGA agenda’

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed Trump leading by just 1% in the state. 

Ernst, who is serving her first term in the Senate, has been a close ally to Trump. She replaced a Democrat, Sen. Tom Harkin, who had served Iowa in the U.S. Senate for 30 years before retiring in 2014.

Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Iowa on Thursday, and said of Ernst: “She has been an unwavering ally of President Trump and the MAGA agenda.”

Maine

Republican Sen. Susan Collins has carved out a moderate lane in the Republican Party but faces a tough re-election match against Democrat Sara Gideon, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.

Collins was the sole Republican senator to vote against Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation, has criticized Trump on several occasions, and has declined to say if she is voting for Trump’s re-election. 

Poll: Susan Collins trails challenger Sara Gideon by small margin; Biden leading Trump statewide

Gideon has more than twice outraised Collins, according to federal campaign finance records, and recent polls show Gideon leading in the race. She, like many other Democrats running this year, has criticized the Republican incumbent for her party’s handling of health care and attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

The Supreme Court has played a role in the race, too. Collins’ vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh energized progressives, and her vote against Barrett still drew the ire of progressives like Gideon, who called it “nothing more than a political calculation.”  

Montana

Republican Sen. Steve Daines faces a tough re-election bid this year against Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. Although Montana has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992, the state tends to split its ticket, electing Bullock to two terms as governor and re-electing Democratic Sen. Jon Tester three times. 

Bullock has also outraised Daines this cycle, raking in $43.4 million to Daines’ $27.1 million, though Daines narrowly leads Bullock in RealClearPolitics’ polling average

More: Donald Trump Jr. says recent COVID-19 deaths are ‘almost nothing.’ More than 20K people died this month.

Bullock also ran for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, touting his record as governor and pledging to reform campaign finance. 

As in the presidential race, the COVID-19 pandemic looms over the Senate election. Bullock has campaigned on his statewide handling of the pandemic, whereas Daines argues the governor has not disbursed relief funds quickly enough. 

North Carolina 

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is running for re-election against former state Sen. Cal Cunningham in a state that has swung between Democrats and Republicans by narrow margins at the presidential level in the past several elections.

The highly competitive Senate race has become the most expensive congressional race in U.S. history, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Cunningham has outraised Tillis and led him in opinion polls, but the race seemed to narrow after Cunningham’s disclosure of an affair.   

More: Supreme Court leaves North Carolina’s Nov. 12 deadline for receipt of absentee ballots in place

As in other races, Cunningham has focused on health care, criticizing Tillis over Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and for Tillis’ role as State House Speaker in opposing the expansion of Medicaid. Tillis, for his part, has tried to link Cunningham to national Democratic controversies and attacked him for not immediately disclosing the affair. 

South Carolina 

South Carolina is another state where a Democratic challenger is relying on voters to pick a different party than they are at the presidential level. It has not voted for a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976, but Democrat Jaime Harrison, a former lobbyist and state party chair, is hoping for split-ticket support in his bid to oust Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.  

Harrison has raised over $100 million over the course of his campaign as both candidates’ campaigns are deluged in money, much of which comes from out of state

Graham led by six points in a New York Times/Siena poll from Oct. 9-14, or 46% to 40%.

The Supreme Court battle has factored into the race because of Graham’s position as the Republican chairman of the panel overseeing Barrett’s nomination. Harrison has cited Graham’s past comments about not wanting to confirm a Supreme Court nomination before the election. 

Graham, on the other hand, has touted Barrett’s confirmation as a win. 

Leans Republican

Alabama

Democrat Doug Jones is fighting to hold his seat against Republican candidate Tommy Tuberville, which currently leans Republican. Tuberville is a former Auburn University football coach who beat former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Republican primary runoff earlier this year, and has been endorsed by Trump.

Jones is considered the most endangered Democrat in the Senate this election cycle, as Alabama is solidly pro-Trump country.

His 2017 special election victory against Republican Roy Moore, who was accused by multiple women of making sexual advances toward them when they were teenagers, was a narrow one. 

Alabama Senate race poll: Tommy Tuberville holds double-digit lead over Doug Jones

According to a poll released Monday, Tuberville has a double-digit lead over Jones, 55% to 41%. 

At a campaign rally this week, Jones urged voters to look past Republican claims about him:  “I don’t want to defund the police. I’m not taking anybody’s guns away. I’m not for federally funded abortions,” Jones said. “Look at the record. I’ve got a record passing bipartisan legislation, working with Republicans, working with Democrats. I’ve got a record for doing things for teachers, for farmers, for our military, for Alabama.”

Other interesting races to watch

Three races in Alaska, Texas, and Kansas lean Republican and are seats currently held by a Republican, or are being vacated by a Republican senator.

One race in Michigan leans Democratic and is currently held by a Democrat. 

Alaska: Polls show a surprisingly close race between Republican incumbent Sen. Dan Sullivan and Democratic-backed independent candidate Al Gross. The Cook Political Report moved the race from “likely Republican” to towards Democrats to “lean Republican” last week, and both sides are pouring money into the race.

Texas: Democrats are hoping for a blue wave in Texas that goes further than the presidential election. Republican Sen. John Cornyn faces tough competition from Democrat MJ Hegar, a decorated Air Force veteran. She has outraised Cornyn nearly three times in the first part of October. While polls show Cornyn ahead of Hegar, the margin is much smaller than 2014, where he overwhelmingly won. 

More: Early votes in Texas surpass total cast in 2016 with Election Day still to go

Kansas: The race for an open Senate seat in a typically solid Republican state has Republican groups spending millions of dollars to boost their candidate Rep. Roger Marshall against Democrat state Sen. Barbara Bollier, though she has outraised Marshall more than four times. Republicans have not lost a Senate race since 1932 in Kansas, but Bollier, who is pitching herself as a centrist who switched party affiliations in 2018, is polling within the margin of error. 

Michigan: First-term Democratic Sen. Gary Peters faces a close race against Republican challenger John James, a businessman. James’ strong showing against incumbent Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018 spurred Republicans’ hopes they can flip the seat. Polls have shown a tight race in Michigan for the Senate race, though Biden leads Trump at the presidential level.

Contributing: Jeanine Santucci, Matthew Brown, USA TODAY; Brian Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser; Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Farah Eltohamy, Arizona Republic; Erin Sargent, Great Falls Tribune

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