2020 Senate Review – Part III

By Jim Ellis

March 27, 2019
— The third and final segment of our three-part Senate review covers the races alphabetically from North Carolina through Wyoming, with a re-visit to the new open seat in New Mexico:

  • New Mexico – Sen. Tom Udall (D)Open Seat – Since our Senate review began, Sen. Udall, who looked to be a lock for election to a third term, announced he will not run in 2020. Democrats will be favored to hold the seat, but Republicans have won statewide races here as late as 2014, so the potential for a competitive 2020 campaign exists.
    So far, Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) and US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-Nambe/Santa Fe) both confirm they are considering running, as is 2018 Republican nominee Mick Rich. Two individuals have already said they will not enter the Senate race: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber (D). Many more potential candidacies from both parties are being discussed. Currently, this open seat earns at the very least a Lean Democrat rating but is realistically Likely Democratic.

  • North Carolina – Sen. Thom Tillis (R) – This will be a top-tier race, as are almost all North Carolina Senate races. Sen. Tillis ousted then-Sen. Kay Hagan (D) in 2014 in a state that has re-elected only one senator since the days of Sam Ervin (D) and Jesse Helms (R).
    The Democrats failed to recruit their top target in Attorney General Josh Stein (D), and so far, their field is second tier. Only Mecklenburg County commissioner-at-large Trevor Fuller (D) and state Sen. Erica Smith (D-Gaston) have declared their candidacy.
    Sen. Tillis received pushback for originally opposing President Trump’s emergency border declaration, which has fueled rumors of a potential primary challenge. Therefore, the North Carolina campaign is in a state of flux. Much will change here in the coming year to affect the outcome. Currently, rate this seat as Lean Republican.

  • Oklahoma – Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) – The major discussion surrounds whether 84-year-old veteran Sen. Inhofe will retire. If he runs, the election campaign may be slightly more competitive based upon the 2018 Oklahoma results, in which the Democrats made some significant gains. Even if they continue to build momentum, their chances of winning a statewide election in the Sooner State still remain slim. Likely Republican until it becomes clear whether or not Sen. Inhofe will seek re-election.

  • Oregon – Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) – Originally, Sen. Merkley’s plan was to run for president, but he needed the legislature and governor to follow New Jersey’s lead and change the state election law to allow individuals to appear on the ballot for more than one office. They did not, so Sen. Merkley decided against the national race and is headed toward winning a third term in the Senate next year. Safe Democratic

  • Rhode Island – Sen. Jack Reed (D) – Sen. Reed has clear sailing in both the Democratic primary and 2020 general election. He is a cinch for a fifth term. Safe Democratic

  • South Carolina – Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) – Republicans were gearing up for a major primary challenge to Sen. Graham, but an upgraded standing within his base over the Justice Kavanaugh confirmation and continuing to become a conservative spokesman on Fox News has quelled much of the discord against him. Since his approval ratings have previously been rather low, Sen. Graham can expect a bit more competition than usual for a Palmetto State Republican, but his political position has improved considerably. Likely Republican

  • South Dakota – Sen. Mike Rounds (R) – First-term Sen. Rounds sees no opposition brewing either in the Republican primary or general election at the current time. His first five years have been without controversy, so little reason exists to believe he has any political trouble. Safe Republican

  • Tennessee – Sen. Lamar Alexander (R)Open Seat – Sen. Alexander announced just after Christmas that he would not seek a fourth term, and very little has happened to determine a successor. No Republicans have yet announced, presumably waiting to see if former Gov. Bill Haslam decides to run. Haslam promises to make a decision sometime in April.
    Democratic attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler, who briefly ran for the Senate in 2018 until former Gov. Phil Bredesen entered the race, is the only credible announced Democrat. Despite not being in the ’18 race very long, he was quickly able to assemble over $1 million in his campaign account. With Tennessee moving decidedly to the right in the last several years, the eventual GOP nominee should win against any Democrat. Likely Republican that becomes Safe if ex-Gov. Haslam decides to run.

  • Texas – Sen. John Cornyn (R) – Democrats were buoyed by Beto O’Rourke’s performance against Sen. Ted Cruz (R) last year when he held the first-term incumbent to a three-point win. The national Democratic leadership was unable to convince O’Rourke to challenge Sen. Cornyn, as he instead opted to run for president.
    Now they are attempting to recruit Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) into the race, and it appears they may succeed. Sen. Cornyn, assuming he runs for a fourth term, will likely find the 2020 political landscape rougher this year, but he is still a strong favorite headed into another re-election bid. Likely Republican, but competitive if Rep. Castro runs.

  • Virginia – Sen. Mark Warner (D) – With Virginia moving further toward the Democrats, Sen. Warner appears set to win a third term. But, that was also the prognostication at this time in 2013, and he barely escaped with a 2014 victory margin of less than one percentage point. Republicans are searching for a candidate but have yet to find anyone of substance. Defeated Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Virginia Beach) is mentioned as a recruitment possibility, but he would not likely be strong enough to give Sen. Warner any serious problem. At this point, rate this seat as Safe Democratic.

  • West Virginia – Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) – With most of the West Virginia Democrats’ attention focused on unseating Gov. Jim Justice (R) next year, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) appears set to win a second term. West Virginia was President Trump’s strongest state in 2016 (69 percent), and he could even exceed his previous performance in next year’s election. This means the Democrats will be hard-pressed to run a competitive effort against Sen. Capito. Safe Republican

  • Wyoming – Sen. Mike Enzi (R) – The main political topic is whether or not the 75-year-old Sen. Enzi will seek a fifth term. If he does, he should have little trouble winning re-election. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wilson), who briefly challenged Enzi in 2014 but has since won the at-large House seat, is unlikely to make a move on the incumbent this year. She would clearly become a Senate candidate if Enzi decides to retire, however. In any event, this seat will remain in Republican hands from a state where President Trump could approach 70 percent. Safe Republican

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