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Senate battle hinges on four races

Democrats are racing to broaden their path to the Senate majority in November, while Republicans are spending heavily in an effort to hold their control over the chamber.

With 200 days to go until Election Day, the Democrats’ path to a Senate majority currently hinges on four states: Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina, where Republican incumbents are fighting off challenges from well-funded Democratic opponents.

Democrats need to flip three or four seats, depending on which party wins the White House in November, to take control of the Senate. But one of their incumbents up for reelection this year, Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), is in serious political jeopardy, meaning that Democrats will likely have to take at least four Republican-held seats — and hold back GOP challenges in nearly a dozen other states — to win a majority.

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Also weighing over the battle for control of the Senate are the presidential race and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has upended the election cycle and now looms as perhaps the biggest variable in 2020.

“A presidential campaign always has the longest and most powerful coattails,” former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelBiden faces monumental task healing divided country The Hill's Morning Report - Trump impeached again; now what? Democrats need a post-Trump message MORE (D-N.Y.) said. “If President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE is perceived to be doing well, it will retain the Senate Republican majority. If in October he’s underwater, then the Democrats could take the Senate.”

Democrats’ softest target may be in Colorado, where Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs denounce Capitol attack | Contractors halt donations after siege | 'QAnon Shaman' at Capitol is Navy vet Lobbying world Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R) is facing changing political headwinds and a challenge from John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperSenate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes Democrats frustrated, GOP jubilant in Senate fight Chamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night MORE, the state’s popular former Democratic governor and the prohibitive front-runner in a crowded primary field.

The party is also confident of defeating Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed MORE (R) in Arizona. McSally already lost a bid against Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in 2018 and took office only after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her to fill the seat vacated by the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhat to watch for in Biden Defense pick's confirmation hearing The best way to handle veterans, active-duty military that participated in Capitol riot Cindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' MORE (R-Ariz.).

And in Maine, Democrats have it out for Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party Impeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP MORE (R), a four-term senator whose vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Why we need Section 230 more than ever 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate MORE in 2017 amid sexual misconduct allegations touched off a flurry of anger from the left. She’s widely expected to face Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, the Democratic front-runner, in November.

Democrats are also looking to oust Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisDemocrats see Georgia as model for success across South McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 MORE (R) in North Carolina. He’s set to face off against national Democrats’ candidate of choice, Cal Cunningham, in November, and recent polls suggest a tight race.

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A survey from the Democrat-leaning firm Public Policy Polling released this week showed Cunningham leading Tillis by a 7-point margin, while a poll from the conservative Civitas Institute out last week put Tillis ahead by 4 points.

Outside groups on both sides of the aisle have poured money into all four states in recent months.

The Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat would MLK say about Trump and the Republican Party? Biden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party MORE (R-Ky.), booked a combined $43.7 million in fall ad reservations across the four battleground states late last month, along with another $32.6 million in Iowa and Kentucky.

And just this week, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, invested some $33 million in advertising across seven states: Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Montana and North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority PAC, the super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCowboys for Trump founder arrested following Capitol riot Graham pushes Schumer for vote to dismiss impeachment article Biden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs MORE (D-N.Y.), booked more than $56 million in fall ad reservations across the four key states, plus an additional $13.1 million in fall ad reservations in Iowa.

For now, Democrats appear to have the edge in fundraising. Federal Election Commission filings covering the first three months of 2020 showed Democrats in the four most contested states — Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina — outraising their Republican opponents by wide margins.

In Arizona, McSally’s likely opponent, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, raked in more than $11 million in the first quarter — roughly $4.6 million more than McSally.

In Colorado and North Carolina, Hickenlooper and Cunningham outraised their Republican rivals by about $1.6 million each. And in Maine, Gideon raised nearly three times more than Collins, bringing in about $7.1 million to Collins’s $2.4 million, federal filings show.

But with Jones looking particularly vulnerable in deep-red Alabama and the fate of the White House appearing uncertain, Democrats have little room for error if they hope to net the three or four seats they need to recapture a majority in the Senate.

A failure to flip even one of the four core seats — in Arizona, Colorado, Maine or North Carolina — and a potential loss by Jones could effectively kill the party’s chances of regaining control of the chamber in 2021.

Consequently, Democrats are hoping to bring a handful of other states into play, including Iowa, where Democrats say Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Military survivors of child sex abuse deserve more NASA selects the next Artemis moonwalkers while SpaceX flies a Starship MORE (R) is increasingly vulnerable.

A Des Moines Register–Mediacom Iowa poll last month showed Ernst’s approval rating at 47 percent, down 10 points from a year ago. And while Ernst has outraised her top Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield, over the past two quarters, Greenfield has kept the fundraising gap relatively tight. In the first quarter, for instance, she raised about $500,000 less than Ernst.

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Democrats believe they can also bring a handful of races in more Republican-leaning states into play, including Montana, where Democratic Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockBiden's identity politics do a disservice to his nominees Senate Democrat: Party's message to rural voters is 'really flawed' Ducey to lead Republican governors MORE is taking on Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time McConnell says he's undecided on whether to vote to convict Trump Member of Senate GOP leadership: Impeaching Trump 'not going to happen' MORE (R); Texas, where MJ Hegar and state Sen. Royce West are locked in a runoff for the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Cruz, Cornyn to attend Biden inauguration McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (R); and Kentucky, where Democrat Amy McGrath raised nearly $13 million in the first quarter of 2020 for her bid against McConnell.

Democrats also see an opportunity in Georgia, where Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerNikki Haley unveils PAC ahead of possible 2024 White House bid McConnell has said he thinks Trump committed impeachable offenses: report Top Republican congressional aide resigns, rips GOP lawmakers who objected to Biden win MORE (R), who was appointed late last year to fill the seat of retired Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonLoeffler concedes to Warnock Hawley to still object to Pennsylvania after Capitol breached Hillary Clinton trolls McConnell: 'Senate Minority Leader' MORE (R), is facing a challenge from Democrat Raphael Warnock as well as from Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsDrudge congratulates Warnock, says Ann Coulter should have been GOP candidate Warnock defeats Loeffler in Georgia Senate runoff Warnock says he needs to win 'by comfortable margin' because 'funny things go on' MORE (R-Ga.), a steadfast Trump ally who’s running to the right of Loeffler.

Those races are likely to prove significantly more challenging for Democrats than the four core races in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina, and party operatives are aware that they’ll have to choose their battles carefully as they look to regain the Senate majority.

“This isn’t a numbers game. This isn’t the House map,” one Democratic operative familiar with Senate campaigns said. “You’re talking about a very targeted set of races that we need to get back to the majority.”

With the exception of Alabama, Republicans have few pickup opportunities in 2020. The party is defending incumbents in 23 seats, compared with only a dozen for Democrats.

But they see an emerging opportunity in Michigan, where Republican John James, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018, is vying to take on Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersTwo Senate committees vow probe of security failure during Capitol riots US government caught blindsided over sophisticated cyber hack, experts say Krebs emphasizes security of election as senators butt heads MORE (D), a first-term senator whose relatively low name ID has bolstered the GOP’s hopes of ousting him.

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James outraised Peters in the first quarter of the year, raking in $4.8 million to Peters’s roughly $4.1 million.

But edging out Peters will likely prove difficult for the GOP. Polling in the race has been scarce in recent weeks, but virtually every public survey of the race shows Peters leading James.

At the same time, Democrats are pouring money into Michigan to bolster Peters. Between Dec. 1 and April 10, Democrats spent nearly $5.1 million on advertising in the state, according to data from the ad tracking firm Advertising Analytics. Republicans, meanwhile, spent just under $2 million.

Peters may also get a boost from the presidential race. Democrats are eager to win Michigan in November after Trump narrowly carried the state in 2016. Recent polls, however, show former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Trump moves to lift coronavirus travel restrictions on Europe, Brazil MORE, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, with a slim lead in the state.