2020 Senate Review – Part I

By Jim Ellis

March 25, 2018 — Only nearing the end of March in the off-year, already a great deal of early 2020 Senate action has occurred. Thus, it is a good time to begin reviewing all 34 statewide federal races that will adorn next year’s ballot in a three-part series. Today, we look at the first dozen in alphabetical order:

  • Alabama – Sen. Doug Jones (D) – From the Republican perspective, this could be the most important race in the country. The GOP must convert this seat in order to provide a better cushion to protect their Senate majority.
    The 2017 special election became a debacle for the Republicans that allowed Sen. Jones to unexpectedly slip past politically wounded former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Already, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile) and state Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) have announced their 2020 Senate candidacies. Judge Moore claims to be seriously considering running again, which could again create the same adverse situation that previously plagued the Republicans. Toss-up

  • Alaska – Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) – At this point, there seems little in the way of opposition developing either in the Republican primary or general election against Sen. Sullivan. Safe Republican

  • Arizona – Appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R) – Another critically important Senate race that has already featured substantial action. Sen. McSally’s appointment came after her defeat in the 2018 Senate race and she faces a difficult campaign ahead to win the 2020 special election. Whoever wins next year serves the remaining two years of the late Sen. John McCain’s (R) final term. The seat next comes in-cycle for a full six-year term in 2022.
    Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Tucson), has already announced his candidacy and will be a major candidate. In early April, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix), whose ex-wife, Kate Gallego, was just elected Mayor of Phoenix in a special election, is expected to enter the Democratic primary. Since Arizona holds a late August primary, a tough Democratic nomination fight would benefit McSally just as her difficult 2018 Republican primary played to Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s advantage. Toss-up

  • Arkansas – Sen. Tom Cotton (R) – First term Sen. Cotton appears in strong shape for re-election. At this point, there appears to be no Republican primary threat. With a secure GOP/right-of-center base, Sen. Cotton should romp to a second term. Safe Republican

  • Colorado – Sen. Cory Gardner (R) – This is another premier 2020 Senate contest as Sen. Gardner attempts to hold the seat he won in 2014 despite his state moving further leftward. So far, Democratic recruitment has been disappointing. Ex-Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Democrats’ top choice to challenge Sen. Gardner, is instead running for President and expressed disdain for serving in the Senate.
    Announced candidates are former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff who has lost races for both the Senate and US House. Ex-state Sen. Mike Johnston is also in this race, but he placed a distant third in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Former US Attorney John Walsh confirms he is considering becoming a candidate. Today, Lean Republican, but likely a Toss-up in the Election Year

  • Delaware – Sen. Chris Coons (D) – So far, this appears to be an easy re-election run for Sen. Coons, who seeks a second full term. Coons succeeded Joe Biden in the Senate, winning a special election in 2010 after Biden resigned to become vice president. Safe Democratic

  • Georgia – Sen. David Perdue (R) – The big question here is whether 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D) decides to challenge Sen. Perdue. She may join the presidential campaign instead, or even wait until 2022 in order to take another run at the governorship. With Abrams as his opponent, Sen. Perdue will be in a tough race. Otherwise, the senator looks to be a clear favorite for re-election. Today, Likely Republican

  • Idaho – Sen. Jim Risch (R) – Sen. Risch is positioned for an easy run to a third term. Safe Republican

  • Illinois – Sen. Dick Durbin (D) – Sen. Durbin has little to fear from a Republican challenger in a state that has lurched toward his party throughout the 21st Century. Durbin does, however, face a Democratic primary challenge. State Rep. Anna Stava-Murray (D-Downers Grove) announced that she would oppose the senator even before she took office as a freshman state representative. The veteran incumbent should have little trouble getting past her in the 2020 primary, should Stava-Murray continue with the statewide effort. Safe Democratic

  • Iowa – Sen. Joni Ernst (R) – Democrats claim they will make a major effort to unseat first-term Sen. Ernst, but so far, no credible candidate has come forward. The Democrats’ first choice, former Gov. Tom Vilsack who served in the Obama Administration as Agriculture Secretary, has already said he won’t run. The second choice, freshman Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Des Moines), is more likely to seek re-election. Iowa is always competitive, but Sen. Ernst appears to be in good position to secure a second term. Lean Republican

  • Kansas – Sen. Pat Roberts (R) With Sen. Roberts deciding to retire after serving what will be 40 years in Congress when this session ends, this Kansas seat will be open for the first time in a quarter of a century. Speculation still abounds that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will return to Kansas and run for the Senate despite his repeated denials. The state primary isn’t until August of 2020, so much time remains for people to make decisions.
    Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Great Bend) is likely to enter, but potential candidates seem to be waiting for a more definitive declaration from Pompeo. Republicans are favored to hold. Likely Republican

  • Kentucky – Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) – Majority Leader McConnell has faced significant competition in his past two elections but comfortably won both contests. It’s likely we won’t see any movement here until after the 2019 competitive gubernatorial campaign concludes in November. Democrats appear to be looking at defeated House candidate Amy McGrath as a potential Senate challenger, but it is probable that she would have a more difficult time running statewide than in her 6th District loss. Currently, Likely Republican

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