Senate Sleepers in Minnesota
and South Carolina

By Jim Ellis

Are incumbents Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in re-election trouble?

Sept. 8, 2020 — At the beginning of the 2020 election cycle, it appeared that Sens. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were set for re-election. That no longer appears to be the case.

Polling is now consistently showing close races in the two states, and Sen. Smith’s recent comments about the police have seemingly moved her re-election campaign closer to the toss-up category according to a just-released Harper Polling survey.

Looking at the HP data (Aug. 30-Sept. 1; 50 likely Minnesota voters via live interview), Sen. Smith’s ballot test edge has dropped to just 43-41 percent over former US Rep. Jason Lewis (R).

In May, Harper found Sen. Smith posting a 46-35 percent advantage over Lewis. After this release, Public Policy Polling forecast a 48-39 percent split toward the end of July. Lastly, Emerson College published what appears to be precursor data to the latest Harper findings. The Boston-based university poll (Aug. 8-10; 73 likely Minnesota voters) found a three-point split between the two contenders, 48-45 percent, again in Sen. Smith’s favor.

To the southeast of liberal Minnesota, in conservative South Carolina, veteran Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) has also fallen into a competitive contest with former state Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison, who had raised an incredible $29 million for his smaller state race through the end of June.

The most recent poll we have seen from the Palmetto State was released at the beginning of August. Quinnipiac University (July 30-Aug. 3; 91 registered South Carolina voters) detected a 44-44 percent tie between Sen. Graham and Harrison. From mid-July through the beginning of August, six surveys were conducted, including the Quinnipiac study, and Sen. Graham’s average lead was only 2.8 percentage points.

Though each state’s voting history suggests that both Sens. Graham and Smith should still be favored for re-election, there is no doubt that each are now in competitive territory and the two states must be added to the contested national map.

Overall, we now have active races going in 16 of the 35 Senate campaign states, including New Hampshire, which should produce a credible opponent for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) on Tuesday. To maintain at least a bare majority, the Republicans must win nine of the 16 if President Trump is re-elected and 10 if he is not, whereas Democrats would be required to take seven if Joe Biden captures the national election and eight if the president survives.

Of those 16 competitive states, Republicans currently hold 12 of the seats as compared to the Democrats’ four, meaning the latter party has many more offensive opportunities. On the other hand, the most likely seat of this entire group to switch parties comes in Alabama where 2017 special election winner Doug Jones (D) must stand for a full term in a state that promises to be one of President Trump’s top three performers in the nation.

The latest Alabama poll was completed in early August, and the Auburn University at Montgomery data gave retired head football coach Tommy Tuberville (R) a 52-35 percent advantage, and he has led in all seven 2020 election cycle polls that have covered the contest.

While the South Carolina race had begun to trend more competitive for some time, the Minnesota race has only begun to change. The unrest in Minneapolis may be a contributing factor, particularly as it relates to public sentiment about the effort to defund the city’s police department.

Harper Polling questioned their survey universe about Sen. Smith’s statements saying, “we need to reimagine the police,” and that something is “dangerously wrong with the role police plays in society.” Harper found that by a 48-28 percent margin, the respondents said they would be less likely to vote for Sen. Smith after hearing those comments.

Regardless of the reasons for serious competition emerging in both of these states, the Minnesota and South Carolina races are changing the national Senate map and projecting which party will capture the Senate majority in November now becomes a bit more intriguing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.