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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 TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report 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 admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report Ex-Sen. Doug Jones joins law and lobbying firm Arent Fox Former Barr spokesperson at DOJ hired to be Fox News Washington editor MORE — and that was only after his Republican opponent, Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be 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 GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 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 ClintonMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' Hillary Clinton: There must be a 'global reckoning' with disinformation Pelosi's archbishop calls for Communion to be withheld from public figures supporting abortion rights 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 HickenlooperLobbying world DNC taps veteran campaign hands for communications staff Harris casts tiebreaking vote to advance Biden nominee 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 McSallyEx-McSally aide pleads guilty to stealing over 0K in campaign funds Arizona state senator announces bid for Kirkpatrick's seat Democratic Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick says she won't seek reelection 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 FlakeThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  Cindy McCain: Arizona election audit is 'ludicrous' The Republicans' deep dive into nativism 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 McCainEx-McSally aide pleads guilty to stealing over 0K in campaign funds DOJ: Arizona recount could violate civil rights laws Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women 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 CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' MORE (R-Maine)

Collins riled Democrats in 2018 with her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughConservative justices split in ruling for immigrant fighting deportation Supreme Court weighs whether to limit issuance of exemptions to biofuel blending requirements The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP makes infrastructure play; Senate passes Asian hate crimes bill 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 PoliquinTrump battle with Fox News revived by Arizona projection Rep. Jared Golden wins reelection in Maine Senate control in flux as counting goes forward in key states 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 McConnellBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week GOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Upbeat jobs data, relaxed COVID-19 restrictions offer rosier US picture MORE’s (R-Ky.) efforts to block Senate Democrats’ demands for additional witnesses in the eventual trial.

 

Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate hears from Biden's high-profile judicial nominees for first time Senate Democrats take aim at 'true lender' interest rate rule Former North Carolina chief justice launches Senate campaign 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 PetersHillicon Valley: DOJ to review cyber challenges | Gaetz, House Republicans want to end funding for postal service surveillance | TikTok gets new CEO Senators introduce bipartisan bill to protect personal travel data Hillicon Valley: Acting FTC chair urges Congress to revive agency authority after Supreme Court ruling | Senate Intel panel working on breach notification bill 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.