Handicapping the Senate

By Jim Ellis

June 22, 2020 — Senate control in the succeeding Congress is a major discussion point in the 24-hour news media and within political circles, therefore it helps to organize an election scorecard.

As we know, Republicans hold 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats, but they must risk 23 of their positions in the coming election. Democrats, on the other hand, defend just 12 of their 47 seats. In 2018, the fortunes were reversed as the Dems were forced to protect 26 of the 35 Senate contests in that election year, and the lopsided margin helped Republicans gain two seats and chamber control even in what proved a bad election year for them at the ballot box.

Let’s start with the 2020 safe seats for both parties. To hold the majority with 51 senators, Republicans must win any 21 of the 35 races. We will include those considered as likely winners in this category:


• Alaska – Dan Sullivan
• Arkansas – Tom Cotton
• Idaho – Jim Risch
• Louisiana – Bill Cassidy
• Mississippi – Cindy Hyde-Smith
• Nebraska – Ben Sasse
• Oklahoma – Jim Inhofe
• South Carolina – Lindsey Graham
• South Dakota – Mike Rounds
• Tennessee – Open Seat (Sen. Lamar Alexander retiring)
• Texas – John Cornyn
• West Virginia – Shelley Moore Capito
• Wyoming – Open Seat (Sen. Mike Enzi retiring)

Total – 13 | Remaining wins needed to reach 51: 8 of 22 contests

Clearly, several incumbents in this category will face competitive races – Lindsey Graham, for example, opposes a Democratic nominee, Jaime Harrison, who has already raised $19 million – but looking at the states’ political trends and incumbent vote history, and considering how the presidential race will affect turnout in each domain, all of the aforementioned GOP officeholders and candidates in the open states will almost assuredly hold in November.

Should any one of these individuals be upset, count on the Democrats winning the majority.


• Delaware – Chris Coons
• Illinois – Dick Durbin
• Massachusetts – winner of Sen. Ed Markey/Rep. Joe Kennedy Dem primary race
• Minnesota – Tina Smith
• New Hampshire – Jeanne Shaheen
• New Jersey – Cory Booker
• New Mexico – Open Seat (Sen. Tom Udall retiring)
• Oregon – Jeff Merkley
• Rhode Island – Jack Reed
• Virginia – Mark Warner

Total – 10 | Remaining wins needed to reach 51: 6 of 12 competitive contests


• Alabama – GOP nominee must defeat Sen. Doug Jones (D)
Most Recent Poll:
Mason-Dixon (Feb. 4-6) Tommy Tuberville 50%; Sen. Jones 42%
Mason-Dixon (Feb. 4-6) Jeff Sessions 54%; Sen. Jones 41%

Total – 14 | remaining GOP wins needed to reach 51: 7 of 11 competitive contests


• Arizona – Mark Kelly (D) must defeat Sen. Martha McSally (R)
Most Recent Poll:
Civiqs (June 13-15) Mark Kelly 51%; McSally 42%

• Colorado – Dem nominee must defeat Sen. Cory Gardner (R)
Most Recent Poll:
Keating Research (May 1-3) John Hickenlooper 54%; Gardner 36%

Total – 12 | Remaining Dem wins needed to reach 51: 4 of 9 competitive contests


Republicans need to win 7 of the following 9 races to hold a 51-seat majority. Democrats need 4 of the 7 to capture Senate control. The party that wins the presidency will see a Senate majority with one less win among the following nine most competitive contests.

• Georgia A – Sen. David Perdue (R) vs. Jon Ossoff (D)
Most Recent Poll:
Public Policy Polling (June 12-13) Ossoff 45%; Sen. Perdue 44%

• Georgia B – Jungle Primary – Nov. 3, 2020. Runoff if no one reaches 50%: Jan. 5, 2021

• Iowa – Sen. Joni Ernst (R) vs. Theresa Greenfield (D)
Most Recent Poll:
Selzer & Co (June 7-10) Greenfield 46%; Ernst 43%

• Kansas – Open Seat – Partisan Primaries: Aug. 4

• Kentucky – Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) vs. Amy McGrath or state Rep. Charles Booker
Most Recent Poll:
Civiqs (June 13-15) Sen. McConnell 53%; McGrath 33%
Civiqs (June 13-15) Sen. McConnell 52%; Booker 38%

• Maine – Sen. Susan Collins (R) vs. Sara Gideon (D) – presumed July 14 primary winner
Most Recent Poll:
Victory Geek (May 13-18) Gideon 51%; Sen. Collins 42%
Tarrance Group (late April) Sen. Collins 48%; Gideon 47%

• Michigan – Sen. Gary Peters (D) vs. John James (R) – presumed Aug. 4 primary winner
Most Recent Poll:
Marketing Resource Group (June 12-15) Sen. Peters 36%; James 30%
TIPP (June 9-12) Sen. Peters 47%; James 35%

• Montana – Sen. Steve Daines (R) vs. Gov. Steve Bullock (D)
Most Recent Poll:
Progress Campaign (April 14-21) Gov. Bullock 49%; Sen. Daines 46%

• North Carolina – Sen. Thom Tillis (R) vs. Cal Cunningham (D)
Most Recent Poll:
Public Policy Polling (June 2-3) Cunningham 43%; Sen. Tillis 41%

As you can see from the polling, almost all of these nine races are in toss-up mode or close enough where each trailing candidate can still reverse the outcome. It is in these nine battlegrounds where Senate control will be determined.

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