By Jim Ellis
Dec. 14, 2018 — Looking ahead to the 2020 US Senate cycle, eight states are clearly in the first tier, but there is budding action occurring in a secondary set of places, also. Today, we look at the first group of prospects.
With Republicans having to defend 22 of the 34 in-cycle seats, six are at the top of their protect list: (in alphabetical order) Arizona special, Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner), Georgia (Sen. David Purdue), Iowa (Sen. Joni Ernst), Maine (Sen. Susan Collins), and North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis).
Democrats look to be defending two top targets: Alabama (Sen. Doug Jones) and New Hampshire (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen).
But developments are occurring, or could occur, in a series of other states, some of which could become highly competitive under the right circumstances.
• KANSAS: Sen. Pat Roberts (R) faced strong competition six years ago, and whether or not he decides to seek a fifth term is unclear at this point. With Democrats just winning the governor’s campaign here, it is possible there could soon be renewed interest in challenging for what is traditionally a safe Republican seat.
• KENTUCKY: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is on the ballot again in 2020. He won his last two competitive campaigns with 56 and 53 percent of the vote in 2014 and 2008, respectively. Potential candidates likely won’t come forward until the 2019 statewide campaigns, including the governor’s race, are completed.
• MINNESOTA: Appointed Sen. Tina Smith (D) was elected in her own right last month to serve the balance of the current term after replacing resigned Sen. Al Franken (D). Sen. Smith defeated state Sen. Karin Housley (R) with a 53-42 percent margin in a race that was originally thought to have competitive potential.
Republicans likely will take a long look at the 2020 race. Sen. Housley is certainly a potential candidate again, but others might have a desire to run such as defeated Rep. Erik Paulsen (R).
• MISSISSIPPI: Appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) topped former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi congressman, Mike Espy (D), 54-46 percent, in the special US Senate run-off at the end of November. After the election, Espy filed papers to run again in 2020 for the full term.
Sen. Hyde-Smith’s margin was sufficient to make her a strong favorite in the next campaign, surviving after making controversial racial comments that gave Democrats hope for an upset. Espy is a credible candidate who could again develop into a serious opponent.
• MONTANA: The parties have been seeing elections here end with close results, as Sen. Jon Tester’s (D) 50-47 percent November re-election victory margin attests. Sen. Steve Daines (R) stands for a second term, and Democrats are hoping that term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock will challenge the senator.
Gov. Bullock has already said he will not run for the Senate amid indications that he is considering becoming a presidential candidate. Should the governor change his mind about opposing Daines, this contest would immediately become a top-tier battle.