All eyes may be on the top of the ticket on election night — but with a U.S. Senate majority within reach for Democrats, the outcomes of Senate races across the country will prove key in deciding which party really has control in Washington.
Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. Democrats need a net gain of just four seats to flip the chamber blue — an outcome achievable by outright winning four seats, or by taking three seats and the White House, as the vice president breaks a tie.
“Republicans are defending about two-thirds of the seats that are up, and the last time this map was up was in 2014, which was a very anti-(President) Obama year, so some Republicans may be overexposed,” said political analyst J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, adding that Democrats “don’t have as much area to defend.”
One race in either direction is widely assumed to flip, with the incumbents down double digits in many polls — Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado is trailing to former state Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Alabama’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones is expected to lose to former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, a Republican.
Here’s an assortment of others that bear watching:
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican with an independent streak that’s long endeared her to voters in the Pine Tree state, is locked in a tight race with state House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat. Collins has cleaned up in past elections in the state that normally votes Democrat for president, but Gideon has held a large cash advantage, and has hammered her in commercials.
Real Clear Politics, which aggregates polling, has Gideon up by around 4%. ABC’s FiveThirtyEight, which weights polls and includes other factors like the economy and demographics, on Saturday evening was giving Gideon a 60% chance at winning.
Democrat Theresa Greenfield, a businesswoman, and Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst are locked in a tight and expensive race in the Hawkeye State, which is also a presidential swing state. RCP has Greenfield up 47.2% over on the first-term senator’s 45.7%, and FiveThirtyEight has the race essentially as a tossup, with Greenfield having a 54% chance of winning.
Democrat Cal Cunningham is trying to weather a scandal over sending sexual text messages that broke in October as he takes on GOP U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. Cunningham has been running ahead of Tillis for months, and while polls did appear to tighten after texts leaked from Cunningham to a woman who’s not his wife, the Dem — buoyed by mountains of cash — is still up in what’s a swing state for president, too. RCP has Cunningham up 48% to 44.8%, and FiveThirtyEight gives the Army reservist a 65% shot.
Republicans are trying to defend both of Georgia’s Senate seats in two elections that both could head to future runoffs. U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a Republican from a family of high-profile Georgia politicians, and investigative journalist Jon Ossoff are embroiled in a bitter fight for one of Georgia’s two seats. Polling has shown this race tighten significantly as Election Day approaches, and RCP now has Ossoff, who had been down for most of the campaign, up by a tiny .7% margin on average. FiveThirtyEight still has Perdue with a 57% chance of winning in what could be a vanishingly close race. If neither candidate receives above 50% of the vote, it goes to a runoff in which the two face each other again, without third-party candidates.
Georgia also has a special election to fill the rest of the term of former GOP U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned a year ago due to health concerns. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, was appointed to the seat, and is running to hold it, but she’s in the midst of a brutal nonpartisan “jungle”-style election. Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, is leading, but polling has him below 50% of the vote, with Loeffler and fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins are splitting the GOP vote. If no one breaks the 50% mark, this too goes to a runoff. RCP has Warnock at 37%, Loeffler at 22.8% and Collins at 21.8%, and FiveThirtyEight gives Warnock a 64% chance of taking the seat one way or another, though the site shows a particularly wide margin of error given all of the uncertainty.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, who was appointed to the Senate following the death of John McCain, is trailing in the polls to retired astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat who’s married to former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head in an assassination attempt in 2011. This Senate matchup between two former combat fighter pilots — McSally in the Air Force, and Kelly in the Navy — is considered to favor Kelly in a state that’s increasingly turning blue. RCP has Kelly up 49% to 45% in a race that’s narrowed slightly down the stretch, and FiveThirtyEight has Kelly at a 81% chance of winning.
In what’s essentially the Republicans’ only offensive opportunity besides Alabama, businessman and Army vet John James, a Republican, is making a play for the seat currently held by Democrat U.S. Sen. Gary Peters. Peters has consistently polled several points ahead, and it appears that lead has widened in recent days, according to RCP. The polling aggregator has him up 50.2% to 42.6%, and FiveThirtyEight gives Peters and 83% shot at winning.
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