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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 John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven 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 SessionsGOP former US attorneys back Biden, say Trump 'threat to rule of law' Biden fact checks Trump on 545 families separated at border, calls policy 'criminal' Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears MORE — and that was only after his Republican opponent, Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreLong-shot Espy campaign sees national boost in weeks before election Ocasio-Cortez slams Tulsi Gabbard for amplifying ballot harvesting video Doug Jones says he will not support Supreme Court nominee before election 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 GardnerDemocrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Trump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in 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 ClintonGorsuch rejects Minnesota Republican's request to delay House race Biden leads Trump by 6 points in Nevada: poll The Memo: Women could cost Trump reelection 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 HickenlooperBiden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Democratic super PAC pulls remaining ads from Colorado Senate race 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 McSallyBiden retains slight lead over Trump in Arizona: poll Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Trump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report 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 FlakeOne of life's great mysteries: Why would any conservative vote for Biden? Trump excoriates Sasse over leaked audio Biden holds 8-point lead over Trump in Arizona: poll 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 McCainObama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Mark Kelly releases Spanish ad featuring Rep. Gallego More than 300 military family members endorse Biden 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 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - One week out, where the Trump, Biden race stands The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day House Judiciary Republicans mockingly tweet 'Happy Birthday' to Hillary Clinton after Barrett confirmation MORE (R-Maine)

Collins riled Democrats in 2018 with her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Justice Barrett's baptism by fire: Protecting the integrity of elections Barrett sworn in as Supreme Court justice by Thomas 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 PoliquinBallot measures across US aim to overhaul voting practices Dale Crafts wins Maine GOP primary to face Rep. Jared Golden House Democrats make initial ad buys in battleground 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 McConnellBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Trump blasts Obama speech for Biden as 'fake' after Obama hits Trump's tax payments White House hoping for COVID-19 relief deal 'within weeks': spokeswoman MORE’s (R-Ky.) efforts to block Senate Democrats’ demands for additional witnesses in the eventual trial.

 

Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisNearly 47 percent of all North Carolina registered voters have already cast their ballots The coverage of the 2020 campaign is wrong Trump campaign asks Supreme Court to halt North Carolina absentee ballot plan 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 PetersThe Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Jaime Harrison raises million in two weeks for South Carolina Senate bid BlackPAC rolls out Senate race endorsements for the first time 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.