April 14, 2020 — Following our Overview of the Senate races yesterday, today we look at the 10 most competitive campaigns. At this point, just one toss-up appears on our board, the North Carolina race featuring Sen. Thom Tillis (R) and ex-state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D). Six seats fall into the “lean Republican” column, while three trend Democratic.
• Thom Tillis (NC) – Over the years, the North Carolina electorate has defeated more incumbent Senators than any state. Therefore, all incumbents seeking re- election are almost always placed in a toss-up situation. The 2020 race is no exception. First-term Sen. Thom Tillis (R) and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D), who easily won the Democratic primary on March 3rd, advance to what will become one of the premier general election campaigns in the country.
• Doug Jones (AL) – Sen. Doug Jones (D) won his seat three years ago in what can be described as an “accidental victory” when Republican Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court Chief Judge who was the party’s 2017 special election nominee, self-destructed. Now, Sen. Jones stands for a full term and he will either face retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville or former US Attorney General and Alabama senator, Jeff Sessions.
The Republican runoff will be decided July 14, after the original secondary election schedule was moved from March 31. With President Trump leading the Alabama ballot in what will be one of his strongest states, it’s hard to see a scenario where Sen. Jones wins re-election now that Judge Moore has been eliminated from further competition.
• Kelly Loeffler (GA) – Appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler appears to be in deep political trouble. With her sale of more than $18 million in stocks and making COVID-19-related investments just after receiving virus-related Senate briefings, the new incumbent has seen adverse publicity tank her personal favorability rating, regardless of whether her story of not being directly connected to the transactions is true or not. Today, it appears difficult to foresee a path back to competitiveness for the novice politician.
That’s not to say the Republicans will lose the seat, however. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) leads every jungle primary poll by substantial numbers and looks to be in the best position to win the seat. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already endorsed Baptist pastor Raphael Warnock over Atlanta businessman Matt Lieberman, son of former Connecticut senator and 2000 vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, and ex-US Attorney Ed Tarver. The jungle primary runs concurrently with the Nov. 3 general election. If no one captures a majority of the vote in the primary, the top two finishers advance to a Jan. 5, 2021 runoff election.
April 13, 2020 — Taking advantage of the lull in active campaign time because the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in effect around the country yields a relatively stable political picture, we have developed early ratings for this year’s 35 US Senate races. Of course, this comes with the understanding that great unknowns associated with the virus after-effects on the US and world economies will certainly alter the political climate.
As we know, 33 in-cycle Senate races are on the board for November along with two special elections, one in Arizona and the other in Georgia. In this cycle, Republicans must defend 23 of the states hosting Senate races as compared to just 12 for the Democrats. This is almost a complete reversal of the 2018 political map when Democrats were forced to defend 26 of 35 electoral contests.
To review, appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) must run in November to attempt to secure the remaining two years of the late Sen. John McCain’s (R) final term. In the Peach State, appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) will be on the ballot in hopes of winning her first election, which would yield her two more years of service in replacing resigned Sen. Johnny Isakson (R).
Looking at the entire Senate picture after reviewing all 35 races, it appears that 18 of the 35 campaigns can be considered safe for the incumbent party (10R; 8D). The GOP has five “Likely Republican” races and six more that lean their way today. The Democrats have two “Likely Dem” contests and three more that currently tilt in their direction. We consider only one race a toss-up at this point in the election cycle.
Already in this cycle, we project three conversion situations landing in the “Lean” category for the challenger party, two R to Ds, and one D to R. And, we will take a closer and more expansive look at these “Toss-up” and “Lean”-rated situations in an update tomorrow.
April 9, 2020 — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) suspended his presidential campaign yesterday, therefore making former vice president Joe Biden the Democratic Party’s unofficial nominee. Biden, still 766-bound delegate votes away from clinching a first-ballot victory is now unencumbered in his bid to become the party standard bearer. It is likely that he will secure the 1,991 bound first-ballot delegate votes once the June 2 primary — now featuring 10 states — is held.
Sen. Sanders conceded that he could not overcome Biden’s strong lead but stopped short of endorsing him, though it is clear that he eventually will, and called for the Democratic Party to pull together in order to defeat President Trump.
How will a Trump-Biden general election campaign unfold? Very likely, the race will come down to what happens in about 10 states. In 2016, President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton with an Electoral College margin of 306-232, giving him a 36-vote cushion against Biden. This is a relatively substantial margin, but when remembering that three critical states containing 46 electoral votes came down to an aggregate vote spread of just over 77,000 votes, such a gap could quickly dissipate.
To win again, President Trump must keep intact five states that he carried as part of his 2016 coalition, three of which are giving signs of moving closer to the political center since the last election, and two that are always in the swing category. Arizona, Texas, and Georgia are must-wins for the Trump campaign, but these states are no longer locks for the Republican nominee. Though they should still remain part of the 2020 Trump coalition, they cannot be taken for granted.
Florida and North Carolina are always swing states, and any Republican presidential nominee must carry them in order to win the national election. The Democrats, because they win most of the other big states, can claim a national victory without Florida and North Carolina but a Republican cannot.
April 8, 2020 — Voting throughout the Badger State occurred yesterday as ordered, but the tabulation results can’t be released until April 13 under a previous court ruling. Therefore, even though the election is complete, we won’t know if former vice president Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders carried the day until next Monday.
Dating back in this COVID-19-spurred election scheduling controversy, Democrats quickly began urging Gov. Tony Evers (D) to initiate action with the legislature to postpone the presidential and statewide primary as a part of the virus precautions.
Gov. Evers failed to act swiftly and did not go to the legislature until late last week when the majority Republican leadership turned down his request to postpone the April 7 vote. Democratic Party leaders then went to court in an attempt to extend the absentee ballot deadline and were successful until the Republicans asked the US Supreme Court to step in and negate the timeline ruling.
The lower court directive that included the prohibition on reporting vote totals was consistent with the ruling to extend the absentee ballot return deadline, otherwise vote totals would be made public before a large number of individuals had cast their ballots.
In the meantime, Gov. Evers declared a state of emergency and attempted to unilaterally move the election to June 9. Republicans argued that a governor has no such power even under an emergency order and petitioned to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court to strike down the Evers move.
On Monday, both the US and Wisconsin Supreme Courts ruled that the election would continue under its present schedule with original deadlines. Interestingly, however, the SCOTUS did not reverse the entire lower court ruling, and the section about directing county clerks not to report the election returns until April 13 remained intact. Thus, a quirk in the high court decision is now causing an unnecessary delay in seeing the outcome of the presidential primary and the state Supreme Court judicial election, that latter of which is actually the centerpiece of this election and at the heart of the scheduling controversy.
April 8, 2020 — Whether or not the Wisconsin primary would be held as scheduled took rulings from two Supreme Courts to decide, but we will see voting today throughout the Wolverine State.
The Democratic presidential primary is interesting since the Wisconsin electorate will be the first to vote post-March 17, and so far, becomes the only group to cast ballots during the COVID-19 lockdown situation. How this affects today’s vote in terms of turnout and candidate loyalty will be interesting to analyze.
Whether or not this election would even happen today has been a point of discussion for the past two weeks. Many Democratic strategists were lobbying Gov. Tony Evers, a fellow Democrat, for several days to move the election, but he was slow to act. Late last week, Gov. Evers decided to ask the legislature to pass a bill changing the election date, but the Republican majority leadership in the two chambers refused. Gov. Evers then made a last-ditch effort to declare a state of emergency and attempted to move the election.
The latter action drew the Republican leadership’s ire, and they immediately petitioned the state Supreme Court arguing that the governor has no power to arbitrarily move an election. They also went to the US Supreme Court attempting to get a lower-court ruling to extend the absentee ballot return deadline past the original election schedule countermanded.
At the heart of the election date becoming a political football was not the presidential race, but rather an important state Supreme Court election. Though the race is ostensibly nonpartisan, it is clear that Democrats believe chances for the candidate they are backing improve in a later election, while Republicans think the appointed incumbent they support fares better in a quicker, and presumably lower turnout contest.