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 TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America 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 SessionsThe Memo: Trump tweets cross into new territory Sessions goes after Tuberville's coaching record in challenging him to debate The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE — and that was only after his Republican opponent, Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreSessions goes after Tuberville's coaching record in challenging him to debate The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Sessions fires back at Trump over recusal: 'I did my duty & you're damn fortunate I did" 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 GardnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Cuomo rings the first opening bell since March The Democrats' out-party advantage in 2020 The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip 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 ClintonTop Democratic pollster advised Biden campaign to pick Warren as VP Longtime Democratic pollster: Warren 'obvious solution' for Biden's VP pick How Obama just endorsed Trump 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 HickenlooperThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues McConnell gives two vulnerable senators a boost with vote on outdoor recreation bill 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 McSallyPence names new press secretary Bossie, Lewandowski warned Trump he was in trouble in 2020: report The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Cuomo rings the first opening bell since March 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 Flake'Never Trump' Republicans: Fringe, or force to be reckoned with? The Memo: Can the Never Trumpers succeed? Former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake says he will not vote for Trump 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 McCainHow Obama just endorsed Trump Former Texas Rep. Sam Johnson dies at 89 Trump's needless nastiness and cruelty will catch up with him 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 CollinsOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Unemployment claims now at 41 million with 2.1 million more added to rolls; Topeka mayor says cities don't have enough tests for minorities and homeless communities Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits MORE (R-Maine)

Collins riled Democrats in 2018 with her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughFrustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  Speculation swirls about next Supreme Court vacancy The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip 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 PoliquinHouse Democrats make initial ad buys in battleground states The 5 most vulnerable senators in 2020 Maine Democrat announces he'll vote for only one article of impeachment against Trump 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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation COVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks MORE’s (R-Ky.) efforts to block Senate Democrats’ demands for additional witnesses in the eventual trial.

 

Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits Tillis campaign releases first general election TV ad emphasizing 'humble' roots 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 PetersComey, Rice, Clapper among GOP senator's targets for subpoenas amid Obama-era probe GOP chairman to seek subpoena power in investigation of Russia probe, 'unmasking' requests Michigan GOP candidate's Senate petition deemed 'insufficient' over signatures 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.