Senate 2020: The Second Tier – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 17, 2018 — Friday, we covered the first part of the group of under-the-radar Senate races that could develop in 2020, but where current action is noteworthy.

The eight top-tier competitive states of Alabama (Sen. Doug Jones), Arizona (special election), Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner), Georgia (Sen. David Purdue), Iowa (Sen. Joni Ernst), Maine (Sen. Susan Collins), New Hampshire (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen), and North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis) will be discussed repeatedly throughout the coming election cycle.

Yesterday’s column, however, looked at Kansas (Sen. Pat Roberts), Kentucky (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), Minnesota (Sen. Tina Smith), Mississippi (Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith), and Montana (Sen. Steve Daines). Today, we cover the latest news in Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

• OREGON: Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D) seat comes before the voters in 2020, but the two-term incumbent may have other plans. Sen. Merkley confirms that he is considering entering the presidential campaign and is in the process of attempting to convince legislators to change state law to allow him to simultaneously run for president and the US Senate.

The legislative leaders don’t appear motivated to make such a change, however, and neither does Gov. Kate Brown (D). Therefore, the senator will face a decision. He could enter the early primaries, and then still file for the Senate in case his presidential candidacy never gains momentum, or eschew re-election altogether and go “all-in” for the presidential race. The first option is his most likely course of action.

• SOUTH CAROLINA: It’s probable that veteran Sen. Lindsey Graham won’t be heavily challenged in the general election, but he is concerned about potential serious Republican primary competition. Former gubernatorial candidate John Warren, who forced Gov. Henry McMaster into a Republican run-off earlier this year, is waiting in the wings and is clearly a potential candidate. Expect Sen. Graham to continue moving toward the right in order to secure re-nomination.
There is no question the senator is favored to win again, and especially right now when he has made clear overtures to the most conservative elements in the South Carolina GOP, but his popularity among Republicans has waned over the years. After spending four terms in the House, Graham was elected in 2002 to replace senatorial legend Strom Thurmond.

• TENNESSEE: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) is in strong re-election position but has also not yet formally announced whether he will seek a fourth term. He has, however, released a survey brandishing his strong statewide approval ratings. The senator says he will make his political plans public before the end of this year. Most believe the 78-year-old incumbent, ex-governor, and former US cabinet secretary will seek a fourth term.

• TEXAS: Sen. John Cornyn (R) is preparing to run for a fourth term. The big question is whether Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D), just rebounding from a close 51-48 percent loss to Sen. Ted Cruz (R), decides to run again. Clearly, he would be the Democrats’ strongest candidate, but is also faring well in early presidential polling. Therefore, Sen. Cornyn may avoid a race with O’Rourke if the latter man decides to enter the national campaign. Without Rep. O’Rourke as their Senate nominee, Democratic prospects in Texas considerably fade.

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