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 ErnstOn The Trail: Making sense of this week's polling tsunami Tillis appears to reinforce question about COVID-19 death toll The power of incumbency: How Trump is using the Oval Office to win reelection 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 TillisGraham neck and neck with challenger in South Carolina Senate race: poll Trump's Teflon problem: Nothing sticks, including the 'wins' Netflix distances from author's comments about Muslim Uyghurs but defends project MORE (R-N.C.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySenate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election Netflix distances from author's comments about Muslim Uyghurs but defends project On The Trail: Making sense of this week's polling tsunami MORE (R-Ariz.) there are signs that Ernst is underperforming President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE in polling of her state.

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“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 IsaksonDemocrats ramp up pressure on Lieberman to drop out of Georgia Senate race Obama endorses Warnock in crowded Georgia Senate race Lobbying world 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 LoefflerDemocrats ramp up pressure on Lieberman to drop out of Georgia Senate race The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden on Trump: 'He'll leave' l GOP laywers brush off Trump's election remarks l Obama's endorsements GOP, Democrats look to galvanize women with SCOTUS fight MORE (R-Ga.), who was appointed late last year to temporarily fill Isakson’s seat, is facing challenges from both sides. 

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Her main opponent on the right is Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsDemocrats ramp up pressure on Lieberman to drop out of Georgia Senate race The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden on Trump: 'He'll leave' l GOP laywers brush off Trump's election remarks l Obama's endorsements GOP, Democrats look to galvanize women with SCOTUS fight 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."