Winter may be coming for Mitch McConnell.
No, he (probably) doesn’t have to worry about losing his reelection campaign in Kentucky, but his Senate majority is in greater peril than at any point since the GOP swept to power in the chamber in 2014.
“There is a massive advantage for Democrats and there are a lot of states in play,” a Democratic insider boasted. “There are a lot of different factors here that compliment each other.”
For starters, Republicans are facing a math problem. The 2020 Senate election will have the GOP defending 23 seats, while the Democrats will only need to guard 12. Republicans currently hold a 53-47 advantage, meaning Senate Democrats would need a net gain of four seats to ensure control of the chamber (or three if they manage to take the White House. Should Biden become president, his vice-president would be able to cast the deciding vote in a 50-50 Senate.)
As embattled Republicans across the country face popular, well-financed opponents and grim poll numbers, the opportunity for Democrats is extensive. At a minimum, DNC insiders are extremely confident they can prevail against Republicans in Senate races in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina. All four races are rated as “toss up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which currently lists no races with a sitting Democrat in the same column.
And yet, the Democrats face a few challenges. The party is largely expected to lose Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat, who won in a fluke special election in 2017 against accused pedophile Roy Moore.
Depending on the results of a July GOP primary runoff, Jones will face either former Sen. and Attorney General Jeff Sessions or ex-Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. A February poll from AL Daily news and Mason Dixon showed Jones trailing both men in potential head-to-head matchups.
“Right now he’s getting ‘thoughts and prayers’ support. No money from the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee],” a second Senate insider not authorized to speak told The Post about Jones.
Sessions is attempting to take back his old seat — an effort that’s been complicated by President Trump, who remains furious about his former AG’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe. The two men have frequently sparred on Twitter and the rift has been exploited by Tuberville, who is backed by Trump.
The Senate source said the Democratic party’s biggest hope is Sessions sewing up the GOP nomination and then being undermined by Trump.
Further afield — and with a bit of luck — the Democrats believe they can be competitive in Montana, Iowa and at least one Georgia seat, all currently held by Republicans. In the Peach State, Sen. Kelly Loeffler continues to face questions about why she sold millions of dollars in stock in January and February — just before the stock market crashed due to COVID-19. The sales took place after Loeffler attended a private Senate briefing on the coronavirus.
Montana Democrats, meanwhile, are hopeful that Steve Bullock, a popular former governor, will knock off incumbent Sen. Steve Daines. A Montana University poll shows Bullock leading Daines by seven points. And in Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst has watched her approval ratings and polling decline in recent months and is now virtually deadlocked with Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield, who has also proven to be a prodigious fundraiser.
There is a massive advantage for Democrats and … a lot of states in play.
– Democratic Senate insider
The fortunes of GOP senators will be impacted by the man at the top of the ticket, whose own reelection hopes have darkened since January. Where once Trump seemed destined to cruise to victory on the strength of historic economic growth, he now faces the worst unemployment numbers since the Great Depression, a global health pandemic that has now killed almost 110,000 Americans, and racial unrest not seen since the 1960s.
“I think Republicans could hang on by a fingernail, if [the election] were today,” Larry Sabato, a longtime political handicapper and professor at the University of Virginia, told The Post, while adding that November is a long way off. “This whole election is going to be determined by how people interpret mainly President Trump’s handling of the virus or the pandemic and the economy.”
Here are the four biggest opportunities for the Dems to seize the Senate …
Incumbent: Martha McSally (R) Challenger: Mark Kelly (D) Incumbent GOP Sen. Martha McSally has never been the most popular person in her state. She lost a Senate race to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in 2018 by more than 50,000 votes and only ended up in the Senate after the death of Arizona icon John McCain allowed Gov. Doug Ducey to appoint her to the seat. Facing the voters for a second time, McSally will be going up against another Arizona icon — Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut and husband to Rep. Gabby Giffords, a popular former congresswoman. Polls currently show Kelly crushing McSally by an average of nine points. “For astronauts, the stars always align,” said the second insider, citing the successful elections of senators Bill Nelson and John Glenn.
Incumbent: Susan Collins (R) Challenger: Sara Gideon (D) National Democrats vowed revenge against Susan Collins after the moderate Republican cast what was almost certainly the deciding vote confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Challenger Sara Gideon, the current speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, has already been leaning into the vote in her attacks against Collins. Democratic party energy at both the state and national level is also behind Gideon, who raised more than $7.2 million in the first quarter of 2020 — more than twice the amount raised by Collins during the same period. And if all else fails, Gideon can always ask for further support from author Stephen King, who has 5.9 million Twitter followers and has already endorsed her.
Incumbent: Cory Gardner (R) Challenger: John Hickenlooper (D) Though he flamed out as a 2020 presidential candidate, John Hickenlooper is considerably popular in his home state of Colorado, where he spent eight years as governor. Now the odds are heavily in his favor as he faces off against GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, where a poll this month from Keating-Onsight-Melanson has Hickenlooper up by 18 points. (Biden leads Trump in the state by a similar margin, and Hillary Clinton won the state by 4.9 percentage points in 2016.) Gardner, a first-termer, only narrowly came into office during the GOP wave of 2014 and is seen as increasingly out of step in a state where Democrats control the state Legislature, the governor’s mansion and the other Senate seat.
Incumbent: Thom Tillis (R) Challenger: Cal Cunningham (D) Sen. Thom Tillis has been going to great lengths to distance himself from President Trump and court moderate voters as polls show a neck-and-neck race between him and his opponent Cal Cunningham. Roll Call has called him one of the most vulnerable Republicans seeking reelection. Once a conservative bastion ruled for decades by Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina has become a hotly contested purple state, which went for Obama in 2008, Trump in 2016 and elected a Democratic governor in 2017. Tillis’ immediate predecessors in the Senate — one Democrat and one Republican — both served just one term before being ousted. Tillis will no doubt also face awkward questions about his North Carolina colleague Sen. Richard Burr, who is facing allegations of insider trading and last week was forced to step down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Burr’s seat won’t be in play until 2022 and the senator has said he will not seek reelection.
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