By Jim Ellis
June 29, 2020 — As many pollsters have done, Siena College and their New York Times polling partner just released survey data for the Arizona, Michigan, and North Carolina Senate races. This is largely because those three states have attracted much attention in the Democrats’ battle to topple the Republican majority.
But a group of four other states may be a better indicator of whether the Senate will flip in November, and all are competitive.
As Siena/NYT found, Democrats Mark Kelly and Sen. Gary Peters are maintaining an approximate 10-point lead in their respective contests in Arizona and Michigan. The North Carolina race, as it typically does, will generally sway between a one to four-point edge for either candidate depending upon the pollster and the time in which the specific survey was conducted. In the Siena/NYT poll, Democrat Cal Cunningham holds a tenuous three percentage point lead over Sen. Thom Tillis (R). During the same polling period as S/NYT (June 8-18), Gravis Marketing (June 17) found Sen. Tillis ahead by one point.
The GOP majority firewall, however, contains four other states. If the Republicans, likely now in the person of retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, converts the Alabama seat, and Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Steve Daines (R-MT) all win their respective campaigns, the Democrats’ road to majority control becomes rocky. Therefore, watching this quartet of states should provide us a better clue as to which party will control the Senate in the new Congress.
Since February, 14 polls have been released in Arizona and 12 in North Carolina according to the Real Clear Politics polling archives. The Michigan total is 13 and began in March.
In the four actual firewall states, however, little polling attention has been paid. Since February, the Alabama and Maine Senate races have seen just three public polls, apiece. Montana has been surveyed three times since March, and Iowa four from April to the present time.
Let’s now look at the path to the majority if the Republicans win and/or hold their four firewall states. In summary, Alabama must first be converted back to the Republican column. This brings the GOP majority to 54. Additionally, the 54 number must include incumbent victories for Sens. Collins, Ernst, and Daines.
Now we look at the Democrats’ climb if the aforementioned is achieved, which, of course, is far from certainty. The one other current incumbent Democratic campaign in the competitive realm is that of Michigan Sen. Peters. If he wins, Peters becomes the 46th senator in the Democratic stable, but they must reach at least 50. Seven races then remain in the competitive realm, of which the Dems must win four if Joe Biden wins the presidency or five if Donald Trump is re-elected.
Two of the seven remaining states could quickly come off the board, and possibly a third depending upon the outcome of an Aug. 4 primary.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still must wait several more days until he finds out if he will face former Marine Corps helicopter pilot Amy McGrath or state Rep. Charles Booker (D-Louisville) as final unofficial counts are scheduled to be announced on Tuesday, June 30. Since the race is close, whichever candidate comes through the primary will be in a weakened political state, and particularly so for McGrath who began as the prohibitive favorite, to challenge Sen. McConnell. At this point, things are clearly breaking McConnell’s way.
The Texas race also has no Democratic nominee as yet and won’t until July 14. Sen. John Cornyn (R) is leading both of his potential opponents, retired Army helicopter pilot M.J. Hegar and state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), by 10 points apiece according to the aforementioned Siena College/NYT polls and, with the energy issue always being critically important in south and west Texas, a Green New Deal candidate is not likely to have great success.
Assuming Republicans hold in both Kentucky and Texas, we move to the open race in Kansas. Democrats believe they have a chance in what typically is a Republican stronghold if former secretary of state and 2018 failed gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach wins the party nomination on Aug. 4. Polling suggests the Democratic strategists are correct. If Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Great Bend) becomes the GOP nominee, the Democrats’ chances here wane.
Of the remaining four domains, clearly Arizona and Colorado are the two most obvious conversion opportunities, and the Democratic contenders enjoy polling leads in both states. If each is ultimately secured, the Democratic number moves to 48.
That brings us to the remaining three races in two states, Georgia (Seats A and the special election in B), and North Carolina.
The latter state will remain in toss-up mode all the way to Election Day. Though North Carolina voters have defeated more senators than any other state in the modern political era, they also tend to be a ticket state. Therefore, a high probability exists that whichever presidential candidate carries North Carolina, that party’s Senate candidate will also claim victory. This lends further credence to the hypothesis that the winning presidential candidate will also carry through his party to a Senate majority.
The Georgia races are still developing, and while a more politically competitive state than in past years, overcoming the GOP’s long-established trend is still an uphill battle for challenging Democrats.
Assuming this analysis proves correct, and the Republican firewall holds, the Democrats would be forced to win at least five brutally tough campaigns to gain Senate control. Therefore, without cracking at least one seat in the GOP firewall, the Democratic majority quest must evolve with a very thin error margin.