Sen. Cory Gardner Senate campaign attack ads hitting former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper hard (see COLORADO writeup below)
By Jim Ellis
June 18, 2020 — Next to discussion of the presidential race, the political contests attracting the most political attention and debate are the 2020 US Senate campaigns.
As we know, Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority, meaning the Democrats will have to convert a net three GOP seats if Joe Biden wins the presidency, or four if President Trump is re-elected. Many believe that the winning presidential candidate will also sweep in a Senate majority for his party.
Below is an update of the key races:
• ALABAMA: In many ways, this could be the most important race on the board. Republicans must convert this seat back to their column in order to provide a greater cushion toward protecting their chamber majority. Sen. Doug Jones (D), who scored a fluke special election win in 2017, stands for a full six-year term in November.
Republicans are in a runoff election that will be decided on July 14, postponed from the original March 31 date. In the March 3 primary, retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville placed first over former attorney general and ex-Alabama senator Jeff Sessions within a field of seven total candidates, 33-32 percent.
Runoff polling, however, gives Tuberville a large lead as the contenders enter the last month of the secondary election campaign. The May 26-27 OnMessage survey gave Tuberville a 49-43 percent edge, down considerably, however, from the 55-32% margin the former coach posted in a Cygnal research group poll conducted over the May 7-10 period.
Tuberville, with President Trump’s endorsement and running an ad saying Sessions’ appointment as AG is the president’s top regret since taking office, clearly has the advantage. In the general election, this race is a must-win for the GOP. If converted, the Republican majority expands to 54, which will be critical for their chances to hold.
• ARIZONA: Things continue to break retired astronaut Mark Kelly’s (D) way in the early going opposite appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R). Being one of the top national fundraisers with $31 million raised and millions more coming into the state in the form in independent expenditures, Kelly is the favorite to convert the seat in November. He has led in the last 11 publicly released polls, the latest coming from the Civiqs organization, polling for the Daily Kos Elections website (June 13-15), which posts Kelly to a 51-42 percent advantage.
• COLORADO: Sen. Cory Gardner (R) seeks a second term, and with the state’s electorate moving decidedly to the left since the incumbent’s original election in 2014, the Colorado race sets up well for Democratic conversion.
There is some weakness developing, however, surrounding Sen. Gardner’s likely Democratic opponent, former governor and presidential candidate John Hickenlooper. Recently, the Colorado Ethics Commission ruled that Hickenlooper, while governor, twice violated the state’s gift ban, which has caused him negative statewide publicity.
Now, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has launched an ad campaign underscoring the commission finding just as the former governor approaches his June 30 primary election against former state house speaker Andrew Romanoff. Sen. Gardner also is on the air in a new ad highlighting Hickenlooper’s statements during the presidential campaign when he was quoted extensively as saying he didn’t want to be a US senator. Taking this into consideration, more people are looking toward the Democratic primary, in which Romanoff is gaining some momentum. This general election is a must-win for the Democrats.
• GEORGIA: Investigative documentary film maker and former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff won the Democratic primary on June 9, and a post-election survey from Public Policy Polling (June 12-13) sees the new nominee posting a one-point, 45-44 percent, edge over Sen. David Perdue (R). It is likely this will be a close race, and the post-primary bump is not surprising. Sen. Perdue is favored, but we can expect an expensive and hard-fought campaign to immediately begin.
• IOWA: Real estate executive Theresa Greenfield won the Democratic primary on June 2, and several polls find her opening with a 2-3 point lead over first-term incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst (R). Again, it is not surprising to see a post-primary bump, but there is no doubt that the Democrats have already elevated this race into a top-tier challenge contest. Iowa is one of three Republican firewall states for the Republican majority, with Maine and Montana being the other two. Another expensive and tough campaign is expected, and a Republican loss here would almost assuredly mean a new Democratic majority.
• KENTUCKY: The Democratic primary is next week, on June 23, and a new poll suggests that presumed nominee Amy McGrath is in a tighter than expected battle with state Rep. Charles Booker (D-Louisville). A Booker internal YouGovBlue poll finds him trailing only by 10 percentage points even though McGrath has already spent over $20 million on the race.
The winner challenges Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in what promises to be another competitive contest, at least in the early going. A similar pattern appears to be emerging in what occurred during in the last two McConnell re-election campaigns where the incumbent polls close early, and then pulls away in the last 10 days. The Majority Leader is favored, but Kentucky voters will witness another very expensive political campaign.
• MAINE: Presumptive Democratic nominee Sara Gideon, the state house speaker, is a formidable candidate and outside groups have already been well underway with attacks against Sen. Susan Collins (R) and counterattacks against Gideon. Another expensive race is unfolding before a small electorate. Gideon has forged a polling lead in three of the last four publicly released surveys.
Sen. Collins’ normally strong favorability rating took a hit over the Justice Kavanaugh confirmation fight and President Trump’s impeachment vote. This is another of the Republican three firewall races to protect the Senate. Losing any one of them means Democrats assume the Senate majority.
• MICHIGAN: Republicans have hopes of their presumed nominee, manufacturing company owner and retired Army Ranger John James, scoring an upset win over first-term Sen. Gary Peters (D) here, but the last 14 publicly released polls all find the incumbent with a definitive lead. One survey, from Michigan pollster EPIC-MRA (May 30-June 3) even projected the Peters advantage as high as 51-36 percent.
• MONTANA: Democrats were able to convince Gov. Steve Bullock to challenge first-term Sen. Steve Daines (R) as candidate filing closed. The governor just launched his first campaign ad, one that emphasizes his bipartisan approach and attacks corporate political action committees. Sen. Daines has been advertising for a number of weeks. President Trump will run strong in Montana, which should give Sen. Daines a momentum push. This will be another tough campaign, but Daines has more weapons in his corner than does Bullock. This is the third Republican firewall race that the GOP must win.
• NORTH CAROLINA: No state defeats more incumbent senators than North Carolina. Since 1974, only Jesse Helms and Richard Burr have won re-election to the Senate from this state. Democratic former state senator Cal Cunningham won the party nomination back on March 3, so his general election operation against first-term Sen. Thom Tillis (R) has been underway ever since.
Polling shows this race going back and forth, which is the typical pattern in a Tar Heel State race. Expect this to continue all the way to Election Day. Chances are, President Trump or Joe Biden carrying the state in the presidential race brings along his Senate candidate. This, too, is a typical pattern in North Carolina politics.