Sabato's Crystal Ball shifts Iowa Senate race to 'toss-up,' Georgia toward GOP

Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved the closely watched Senate race in Iowa into the "toss-up" column on Wednesday, the latest sign that Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Joe Biden looks to expand election battleground into Trump country Grassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee MORE’s (R-Iowa) seat is in play for Democrats.

The nonpartisan election handicapper based at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics previously rated the race between Ernst and Democrat Theresa Greenfield as “leans Republican.”

Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said in the group's analysis that like other vulnerable GOP Senate incumbents, including Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGrassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee Trump to include North Carolina in offshore drilling moratorium, senator says Biden's six best bets in 2016 Trump states MORE (R-N.C.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate Grassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden goes on offense MORE (R-Ariz.) there are signs that Ernst is underperforming President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE in polling of her state.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), like McSally and Tillis, appears to be doing a little worse than Trump in her state,” Kondik wrote. “She has a little more wiggle room than the other two note that Trump still carries Iowa even in this hypothetical scenario where Biden is winning nationally by 10 but both parties are acting (and spending) like Iowa is a Toss-up.”

A Monmouth University poll of the state released on Wednesday found the GOP incumbent with a scant 3-point lead in the race, putting Greenfield within striking distance of her seat. But several other recent polls have shown Ernst trailing Greenfield, albeit by narrow margins. 

Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. That means that Democrats will have to pick up three or four GOP-held seats, depending on which party wins the White House, to gain control of the Senate in 2021. They’ve expanded their electoral map in recent months, eyeing states like Montana and Iowa in addition to longtime battlegrounds like Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Maine. 

While the Iowa Senate race appears to be trending in Democrats’ favor, the special election in Georgia to serve out the rest of retired Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonLoeffler paints herself as 'more conservative than Attila the Hun' in new campaign ad Georgia GOP Senate candidates cite abortion in pushing Ginsburg replacement Loeffler: Trump 'has every right' to fill Ginsburg vacancy before election MORE’s (R-Ga.) term has moved toward Republicans, according to Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The election handicapper put the race in its “likely Republican” column. 

Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerJoe Biden looks to expand election battleground into Trump country Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate Grassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee MORE (R-Ga.), who was appointed late last year to temporarily fill Isakson’s seat, is facing challenges from both sides. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Her main opponent on the right is Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLoeffler paints herself as 'more conservative than Attila the Hun' in new campaign ad Vulnerable GOP incumbents embrace filling Supreme Court seat this year Georgia GOP Senate candidates cite abortion in pushing Ginsburg replacement MORE (R-Ga.), a steadfast ally of Trump's who was passed over for the Senate appointment last year. To the left of Loeffler is the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who has emerged as the most formidable Democrat in the race.

Because of Georgia’s election rules, there were no partisan primaries to determine the nominees in the race. Instead, candidates from all parties will appear on the ballot in November. If no candidate manages to win at least 50 percent of the vote, the two top finishers will head to a runoff election early next year.

Democrats believe a runoff in the state may be their best hope of flipping the GOP-held Senate seat, because it will give their candidate a chance to run one-on-one against a single Republican. But as it stands, according to to Kondik, there’s a chance that a Democrat won’t even advance to a potential runoff because of the crowded field of candidates.

“Democrats have work to do to just get into the runoff, and if they get there, they have to deal with the same turnout problems that have beguiled them in past runoffs,” Kondik wrote. “So the Republicans have a few important backstops in this race.”

A regularly scheduled Senate election in the state this year — for Sen. David Perdue’s (R-Ga.) seat — currently appears more favorable for Democrats. Sabato’s Crystal Ball has that race in its “leans Republican” column, though other election handicappers, like The Cook Political Report, see it as a "toss-up."