The 5 most vulnerable senators in 2020

Republicans are playing defense in this year’s race for the Senate, but Democrats likely have a tough fight ahead in their bid to take control of the chamber.

Two dozen GOP-held seats are up for a vote this year, including in a handful of states where President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE’s approval rating is underwater.

Democrats need to pick up four seats in 2020 — three if a Democrat is elected president — to take control of the chamber. But at least one of the party’s senators, Doug Jones (Ala.), is among the most vulnerable this year, complicating the Democrats’ path to the majority.

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Here are the five most vulnerable senators up for reelection this year:

 

Doug Jones (D-Ala.)

Jones narrowly eked out a win in deep-red Alabama in the 2017 special election to fill the seat vacated by then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump-aligned group launches ad campaign hitting Doug Jones on impeachment ICE subpoenas Denver law enforcement: report Bottom Line MORE — and that was only after his Republican opponent, Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreThe 5 most vulnerable senators in 2020 The biggest political upsets of the decade GOP predicts bipartisan acquittal at Trump impeachment trial MORE, faced accusations of sexual misconduct and pursuing relationships with teenage girls.

Now, as he heads into 2020, Jones faces a tough path to winning his first full term in office.

Trump remains popular in the state — 59 percent of Alabama voters approve of the job he’s doing in office, according to recent polling data from Morning Consult — and a handful of high-profile Republicans, including Sessions, are vying for the chance to take on Jones
in November.

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Early polling in the race puts Jones at a disadvantage to most of his potential Republican challengers, though the race remains relatively close. A survey released last month by JMC Analytics and Polling showed Sessions leading Jones by 5 points in a hypothetical match-up. Another top Republican contender, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, bested Jones by 7 points.

Jones’s best-case scenario appears to be a rematch with Moore, who is seeking the Senate seat once again. The JMC poll showed Jones leading Moore by 14 points.

 

Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerMcConnell keeps press in check as impeachment trial starts Progressive group launches campaign targeting vulnerable GOP senators on impeachment What to watch for as Senate organizes impeachment on day one MORE (R-Colo.)

Gardner is facing something of a perfect political storm heading into his reelection bid.

He won his first Senate race in 2014 by less than 2 points; Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump on Clinton's Sanders comments: 'She's the one that people don't like' Hillary Clinton tears open wound with her attack on Sanders MORE won Colorado by a 5-point margin in 2016; and Democrats swept races up and down the ballot in 2018, picking up all five statewide offices and capturing control of the legislature for the first time in more than 80 years.

With former Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperMitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate Hickenlooper raised .8 million for Colorado Senate bid in fourth quarter of 2019 George Conway group releases ad targeting GOP senator: 'You're just another Trump servant' MORE’s (D) entrance into the Senate race following his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Gardner got his most formidable potential general election challenger yet. While Hickenlooper will first have
to make it through a primary, he’s widely seen as the favorite to win his party’s nomination.

Gardner finished the third quarter of 2019 with a financial advantage over any of his potential challengers, boasting $6.7 million in cash on hand. He has yet to release his fundraising numbers for the fourth quarter, so it remains to be seen whether he has held on to that edge.

 

Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyHow Citizens United altered America's political landscape McConnell keeps press in check as impeachment trial starts Progressive group launches campaign targeting vulnerable GOP senators on impeachment MORE (R-Ariz.)

McSally is facing her second Senate bid in two years. She ran for the seat of former Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake: Republicans don't speak out against Trump 'because they want to keep their jobs' GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials The 5 most vulnerable senators in 2020 MORE (R-Ariz.) in 2018, only to lose that race to now-Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). A little more than a month after that defeat, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) appointed McSally to fill the seat of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Meghan McCain blasts NY Times: 'Everyone already knows how much you despise' conservative women GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials MORE (R-Ariz.).

Now, with a special election just
10 months away, McSally is facing a well-funded Democratic challenger in Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and first-time candidate who has cast himself as a centrist with appeal to independent voters.

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Since announcing his Senate bid last year, Kelly has established himself as one of the most prolific fundraisers on the Democratic roster. He brought in nearly $14 million through the end of September, finishing the third quarter with $9.5 million in cash on hand — nearly $4 million more than McSally reported at the time.

Polling also puts Kelly, who is married to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), ahead. A survey from the Phoenix-based firm OH Predictive Insights released last month showed Kelly leading McSally 47 percent to 44 percent.

 

Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Collins breaks with GOP on attempt to change impeachment rules resolution MORE (R-Maine)

Collins riled Democrats in 2018 with her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughHow Citizens United altered America's political landscape Overnight Health Care: Justices won't fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Progressive group targets Collins over vote for Kavanaugh in new digital ad campaign MORE after he faced allegations of sexual assault stemming from when he was in high school. Since then, they’ve been gunning to oust her in 2020.

A crowdfunding campaign backing her eventual Democratic challenger has already raised more than $3.8 million. And a handful of Democrats have already launched bids to challenge Collins in November, including influential state House Speaker Sara Gideon.

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Also buoying Democrats’ hopes in Maine are the results of the 2018 midterms, which saw Democrat Janet Mills flip the governor’s mansion after the eight-year tenure of term-limited Republican Paul LePage and saw Democrat Jared Golden oust former Rep. Bruce PoliquinBruce Lee PoliquinThe 5 most vulnerable senators in 2020 Maine Democrat announces he'll vote for only one article of impeachment against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Mass shootings put spotlight on Trump, Congress MORE (R) in Maine’s 2nd District.

But flipping Collins’s Senate seat comes with some challenges for Democrats. The longtime Maine senator has high name recognition and a strong personal brand in the state. And while polling in the race has been sparse, a survey released by the left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling in October showed Collins trailing a generic Democratic candidate by only 3 points.

Still, with an impeachment trial for Trump looming in the Senate, Collins has a new political minefield to navigate. She came out on Monday in support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump admin releases trove of documents on Ukrainian military aid The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions What to watch for on Day 2 of Senate impeachment trial MORE’s (R-Ky.) efforts to block Senate Democrats’ demands for additional witnesses in the eventual trial.

 

Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisProgressive group launches campaign targeting vulnerable GOP senators on impeachment Senate braces for bitter fight over impeachment rules Juan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump MORE (R-N.C.)

After briefly breaking with the president on an emergency declaration at the U.S. southern border, Tillis
has fallen into lockstep with the president, even winning his endorsement last summer.

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But that wasn’t enough to stop Tillis from getting booed during an appearance at one of Trump’s rallies in North Carolina in September, a sign that Trump’s conservative base may still have some reservations about the first-term senator.

To be sure, Trump won North Carolina in 2016, albeit by less than 4 points. And Tillis received a piece of good news last month when his self-funding primary opponent, Garland Tucker, dropped out of the race.

A Morning Consult poll released in July put Tillis's approval rating at 33 percent, one of the lowest in the Senate. A more recent Fox News poll released in November, however, put his numbers above water, 40 percent approving and 35 percent disapproving.

A handful of Democrats are vying for the party’s nomination for Tillis’s seat, but for now the front-runner appears to be former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, an Army veteran who nearly matched Tillis in fundraising in the third quarter of 2019. 

But while Cunningham has a fundraising advantage over his primary opponents, he trailed his chief rival Erica Smith in the November Fox News poll by 5 points.

One other senator who appears vulnerable heading into his 2020 reelection bid is Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Bipartisan group of senators introduces legislation to boost state cybersecurity leadership The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (D-Mich.). He was outraised by his Republican challenger, John James, by roughly
$1 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 and lacks the strong political brand of Michigan’s senior senator, Debbie
Stabenow (D). 

But Michigan appears to be shifting back in favor of Democrats since flipping for Trump in 2016, buoying Peters’s reelection hopes.

--Updated at 8:57 a.m.