Swing State Pres

Sunday, August 2, 2020

BTRTN 2020 Snapshot: Dems' Odds of Taking Senate Continue to Improve

Tom with a BTRTN update of the 2020 Senate races...remember, not a prediction, just a snapshot of where the races stand right now, and how they might turn out if Election Day were today.

THE LEAD

·        The primary season is nearly complete, with the pairings largely determined for the 2020 Senate races

·        Democrats are in good position to win the three  net seats required to gain control of the Senate, assuming Joe Biden wins the presidency.  They have excellent chances to flip Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina, while the GOP seems likely, as of today, to take back Alabama.  And the GOP is vulnerable in several other races, most notably Iowa, Montana and Georgia.

·        At this juncture – as of today – our BTRTN models suggest the Democrats have a 62% chance of taking control of the Senate, an increase from the 55% chance we noted in our last Senate snapshot on May 9.  We have changed ratings in five races, four of them moving more favorably for the Democrats.


WARNING:  No matter how good the numbers look at any given time, the Democrats will not win any election unless they work hard to earn it – registering voters, calling, texting, donating – throughout the summer and fall, up to and including Election Day.


BACKGROUND

Every two years, roughly one-third of the Senate is up for election; the winners are granted six year terms.  Currently the GOP holds 53 seats in the Senate, and the Democratic caucus, inclusive of two Independent senators who sit with the Democrats, holds 47.  

There are 35 elections this year.  Of the 65 seats not up for reelection, the Dems hold 35 and the GOP holds 30.  The election “map” is favorable to the Democrats, since 23 of the 35 races are for seats held by the GOP, whereas only 12 are for seats held by Democrats.

The Democrats need to win +3 “net” seats to control the Senate under a Biden administration, to get to 50 seats.  In the event of a tie, Biden’s VP would control the tie-breaking vote.  If Trump wins, the Democrats would need +4 net seats to get to a 51-seat majority – but one must recognize that if Trump wins the presidency, it likely speaks to an electoral mood where the odds of the Dems flipping seats lowers significantly.  In other words, a Biden win is nearly a condition for the Dems to take control of the Senate in 2020.


AS OF NOW

The odds of the Democrats taking control of the Senate have improved steadily in 2020, reflecting the increasing unhappiness of the electorate with the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.  The majority of Americans essentially believe Trump and the GOP were too slow to recognize the severity of the crisis, failed to lead a concerted effort to combat it, were unwilling to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to promote safe practices (including wearing masks), made a disastrous and premature decision to “re-open” the economy, and, finally, until very recently, refused to even acknowledge a massive resurgence of the virus. 

Only a few senior GOP leaders have not fallen in line with Trump, including Senator Mitt Romney, Governors Larry Hogan of Maryland and, at times, Mike DeWine of Ohio, former Ohio Governor John Kasich and a whole slew of ex-Bush administration officials.  Thus, the election, up and down the ballot, is largely a referendum on the Trump administration response to the COVID-19 crisis.  The GOP owns this one.

The Democrats now hold commanding leads in several of the flip target states, and the number of states “in play” has expanded.  The following chart gives our BTRTN breakdown as of now.  The Dems have eight elections they will surely win, while the GOP has twelve.  That gives the Dems 43 “solid” seats and the GOP 42, with 15 races that have at least some chance of being competitive.  It is the fate of those 15 seats that will determine control of the Senate.  We said the Dems need to flip a net of +3 seats (to get to 50) assuming Biden wins, and, as of now, we see them accomplishing that by flipping four and giving back one.  (Our models indicate that, at this point, Biden has an 82% chance of winning the presidency.)

BTRTN SENATE SNAPSHOT
BTRTN Rating
Seats
Flips
DEM TOTAL
50
4
Dem Holdover
35
0
Dem Solid
8
0
Dem Lean
6
3
Dem Toss-up
1
1
GOP Toss-up
3
0
GOP Lean
5
1
GOP Solid
12
0
GOP Holdover
30
0
GOP TOTAL
50
1

Since our last Senate update in early May, we have changed the ratings in five races, four of them in the Democrats’ favor.

Changes in BTRTN Ratings
State
May 9
July 29
New Mexico
D Lean
D Solid
Michigan
D Lean
D Solid
Montana
R Lean
R Toss Up
Georgia
R Lean
R Toss Up
Alabama
R TU Flip
R Lean Flip


THE ODDS

If the election were held today, we peg the odds of the Democrats winning control at 62%.  This is based on a seat-by-seat assessment of the Dems’ probability of winning, based on polling, fundraising, other factors, and judgment -- as well as an assessment of the odds of Trump winning.

Senate
% chance D takeover
62%
D/R split
50/50
Dem gain
D + 3 net seats

THE INDIVIDUAL RACES

We have the Democrats flipping four seats as of now:  Arizona, North Carolina, Colorado and Maine.   There has been a great deal of polling in the first two of these races, and several consistent polls in the latter two states as well.

·        Arizona.  This is a special election created by the death of John McCain in August, 2018.  The seat has had quite a history since then.  Governor Rob Ducey first named former Senator John Kyl to the seat, but Kyl resigned at the end of 2018, leading Ducey to turn to Martha McSally, who had just lost (in November, 2018) to Arizona’s Democratic Senator, Kyrsten Sinema.  (Still with me?)  The Dems have long had their eye on flipping this seat, not only because McSally is obviously vulnerable, never having won on her own, but because they believe they have the perfect presumed candidate, former astronaut Mark Kelly, who also happens to be the husband of gunshot victim (and former U.S. representative) Gabby Giffords.  There have been 11 separate polls in July, and Kelly has led in all of them, on average by +8 points.  Our BTRTN rating is Dem Lean Flip but that is being generous to McSally; she has a very big hill to climb.

·        North Carolina.  Thom Tillis is a first-term Republican who flipped the seat in 2014 by beating Democratic incumbent (and first-termer) Kay Hagan.  Tillis, initially thought to be a more moderate Republican, has basically pushed all his chips in on Trump, voting with him 93% of the time.  Cal Cunningham is a former State Senator who won the Democratic primary rather easily, and he leads Tillis on average by +8 points in 9 separate polls conducted.  This too is a BTRTN Dem Lean Flip.

·        Colorado.  Democrats have coveted Cory Gardner’s seat since the first-term Republican unseated incumbent Mark Udall in 2014 (by a narrow 48/46 margin).  Hillary Clinton carried the state in 2016 and the race to challenge Gardner began.  When popular former Governor John Hickenlooper dropped his presidential bid and threw his hat instead into the senate race, this transformed the odds for a flip here considerably.  Hickenlooper stumbled with awkward, uninformed responses to the Black Lives Matter protests, but still is in solid shape to flip the seat, as of now. Again a Dem Lean Flip.

·        Maine.  Susan Collins’ popularity in Maine has taken a beating after her votes in favor of naming Brett Kavanagh to the Supreme Court and acquitting Trump on impeachment charges.  This was a 1-2 punch in a blue state.  The four-term senator is now burdened with a 37% approval rating (well underwater, with 52% disapproval), and is being challenged by the very credible Sara Gideon, the Maine House Speaker.  The three July polls each have Gideon up by +4-5 points.  We have this as a Dem Toss-up Flip, meaning we consider it too close to call but all the signals are in Gideon’s favor.

The GOP is currently in position to flip one state as well, Alabama.

·        Alabama.  The Dems pulled off a bit of a fluke win in this deep red state in 2018, when Doug Jones beat the badly compromised Roy Moore in the special election to replace Jeff Sessions.  This was after Sessions had been named Attorney General, which seems like centuries ago.  Former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville stopped Sessions’ comeback in the GOP primary, and is running a campaign squarely based on his support for Trump.  Doug Jones is still reasonably popular -- +6 in net approval – but Tuberville, at this juncture, is well ahead in the two July polls, on average by +9.  We have this as a GOP Lean Flip.

There are a number of other Republican-held seats that have at least some level of vulnerability:

·        Iowa.  Incumbent GOP first-termer Senator Jodi Ernst is in a tough battle with the Democratic nominee, Theresa Greenfield, a political neophyte (businesswoman and farmer) who won the Dem primary easily.  There have been five polls in June and July and Greenfield holds a slight lead (+2 points on average), too close at this point to call a flip.  So we have this as a GOP Toss-up.

·        Kansas.  Incumbent Pat Roberts is retiring, and the primary to see who will replace him at the top of the GOP ticket is on Tuesday.  Kris Kobach is one of the contenders; he is the Trumpster who several years ago headed a commission that tried (unsuccessfully) to find evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election.  The leading Democratic contender appears to be State Senator Barbara Bollier, a former Republican who switched parties in 2018.  Sparse polling indicates a close race.  We have this as a GOP Lean.

·        Montana.  As in Colorado, the Democrats have come up with a popular former governor (also a former presidential candidate), Steve Bullock, to challenge a GOP incumbent, first-termer Steve Daines.  Three July polls are showing the race within the margin of error.  For now, we have this one as a GOP Toss-up.

·        Georgia.  First term Republican David Perdue is facing a strong challenge from Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s “regular” election (there is a special election in the state as well for the other Georgia Senate seat, see below).  While Perdue won the seat by +7 in 2014, and Trump won by +5 in 2016, Ossoff nearly pulled off a special election win in a high profile race for Georgia’s 6th District in 2017.  Perdue must be relieved that Stacey Abrams chose to sit this one out, hoping for a phone call from Joe Biden in the veepstakes, which seems unlikely at this point.  Four July polls all have Perdue ahead, by +4 points on average, and we thus have this as a GOP Toss-up.

·        Kentucky.  Can Mitch McConnell really be toppled by challenger Amy McGrath?  The polls have been all over the place, showing anywhere from a tight race to a McConnell blowout.  McGrath, a former fighter pilot, is well-funded, and McConnell is underwater in Kentucky voter approval, 37/50, so McConnell knows he has a fight on his hands.  For now we have this one as a GOP Lean.

·        South Carolina.  And is Lindsey Graham on the hot seat as well?  Graham has been walking the high wire as Trump’s closest Senate confidante on the one hand, but sometime detractor on the other.  He is being challenged by establishment Democrat Jaime Harrison, a longtime John Podesta aide, a DNC vice chair, and the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party.  Three July polls have Graham ahead of Harrison by only +4 points on average.  Another GOP Lean.

·        Georgia’s special election.  This is the crazy one – hold on tight as we go through this one.  When veteran Senator Johnny Isakson decided to retire last year, Governor Brian Kemp (yes, that one, the first to re-open his state, unleashing a torrential outbreak of new cases in Georgia) appointed Kelly Loeffler, a businesswoman, to the seat, over White House objections.  Their favorite, Trump impeachment defender Representative Doug Collins, shortly thereafter announced he would challenge Loeffler for the seat in 2020, and he has been running ahead of her in the polls.  (Loeffler was briefly hounded with a potential insider trading scandal but that investigation was dropped.)

But there will be no normal primary to settle on a single GOP candidate.  Instead, there will be a “jungle primary” on Election Day itself, November 3, when Loeffler, Collins and a raft of others from all parties will appear on the ballot.  The Democrats leading candidate at this juncture appears to be former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman’s son, Matt, but he trails both of the leading Republicans in the latest poll.  It seems unlikely that anyone from either party will reach the 50% mark required to win outright, which will force a runoff among the top two candidates on January 5, 2021.  If Lieberman can make it into second place (or win), control of the Senate may hang in the balance until then.  And if so, that race will be the most prominent Senate race of the century.  We have this one as GOP Lean.

Recent history suggests there are a few Democratic seats that could theoretically be in play, but information thus far suggests otherwise,

·        Minnesota.  Tina Smith was appointed to the seat in early 2018, replacing Al Franken when he resigned.  She then won the primary and general election, by +11 points over Republican Karen Housley, in 2018 to fill out Franken’s term.  Now she is running for reelection and a full six-year term.  She has a net approval of +13.  This is a state that Trump lost by only two points in 2016 and is trying to flip in 2020.  There is no polling as yet in the Senate race and no clear opposition frontrunner, pending the August 11 primary.  Another Dem Lean for now.

·        New Hampshire.  Second-term Senator Jeanne Shaheen won by only +3 in 2014, and Trump lost the Granite State by less than one point in 2016.  But Shaneen is popular with a +16 net favorability rating, plus a brand new poll has her leading both of the GOP contenders (to be decided in a September primary) by +19 points.  We have this as Dem Lean but this one may become Dem Solid soon.

·        Virginia.  Like New Hampshire, Virginia features a popular incumbent, second-termer Mark Warner (+19 net approval) who won a close race in 2014 to Ed Gillespie, in a state where Trump was competitive (he lost by five points).  But the current GOP contenders do not have the stature of Gillespie, and Warner, like Shaheen, appears pretty safe.  Again, we have this as Dem Lean for now.

The rest of the races are "solid" for either the Democrats (eight of them: Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Rhode Island) or Republican (twelve of them:  Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming).

Here is a summary chart:

SENATE SNAPSHOT
State
Inc. Party
Dem Nominee (pending primary)
GOP Nominee (pending primary)
2014 Margin
2016  Pres Margin
Primary Date
Recent Polls Avg
BTRTN         Rating as of 8/1
Dem Seats not up for reelection in 2020 (35)
Solid Dem (8): Delaware (Coons), Illinois (Durbin), Mass (Markey, the incumbent, or challenger Kennedy), New Mexico (Lujon), Michigan (Peters), New Jersey (Booker), Oregon (Merkeley), Rhode Island (Reed)









MINN
D
Smith
(tbd)
D + 11*
D + 2
8/11
D +11
D Lean
VA
D
Warner
Gade
D + 1
D + 5
held
n/a
D Lean
NH
D
Shaheen
(tbd)
D + 3
D + 0.4
9/8
D +19
D Lean
COL
R
Hickenlooper
Gardner
R + 2
D + 5
held
D + 9
D Lean Flip
ARI
R
(Kelly)
McSally
D + 2*
R + 3
8/4
D + 8
D Lean Flip
NC
R
Cunningham
Tillis
R + 2
R + 4
held
D + 7
D Lean Flip
MAINE
R
Gideon
Collins
R + 37
D + 3
held
D + 5
D TU Flip
IOWA
R
Greenfield
Ernst
R + 8
R + 10
held
D + 2
R Toss Up
MON
R
Bullock
Daines
R + 18
R + 20
held
R + 1
R Toss Up
GA
R
Ossoff
Perdue
R + 8
R + 5
held
R + 4
R Toss Up
KAN
R
(Marshall/Kobach)
(Bollier)
R + 11
R + 21
8/4
R + 1
R Lean
SC
R
Harrison
Graham
R + 15
R + 14
held
R + 4
R Lean
KEN
R
McGrath
McConnell
R + 15
R + 30
held
R +13
R Lean
ALA
D
Jones
Tuberville
D +2*
R + 28
held
R + 9
R Lean Flip
GA (sp)
R
open primary 11/3; run off 1/5/21
R+14
R + 5
none
n/a 
R Lean









Solid GOP (12):  Alaska (Sullivan), Arkansas (Cotton), Idaho (Risch), Louisiana (Cassidy), Mississippi (Hyde-Smith), Nebraska (Sasse), Oklahoma (Inhofe), South Dakota (Rounds), Tennessee (tbd), Texas (Cornyn), West Virginia (Caputo), Wyoming (tbd)
GOP seats not up for reelection in 2020:  (30)
* Arizona margin from 2018 election (Sinema beat McSally; McSally was appointed after McCain's death); Alabama from 2017 special election; Minnesota from 2018 special election


3 comments:

  1. In you analysis, you say Ernst is +2 on average polls. In the table, however, it says Greenfield is +2. Which is it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good catch. Greenfield +2 and I have corrected the commentary. Thanks!

      Delete
  2. Generally the blog writer is so far left that his analysis is dubious at best. This time he is right on. Who knows, maybe he has had a road to Demascus experience. Unlikely, but we will have to wait and see.

    ReplyDelete

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