Democrats cannot forget about competitive races in the Senate

Democrats cannot forget about competitive races in the Senate
© Greg Nash

The Democratic primary is in full swing, and disagreements within the party are on full display. While the Democratic Party has its differences, a majority of Democrats would undoubtedly agree that the most important vote they will cast in 2020 will be against Donald Trump. The presidential election is of course critically important for the Democratic Party, which is hoping to limit President TrumpDonald John TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report MORE to one term. However, Democrats should not forget that others are running for office whose elections are vital to the success of the party. These are the Democrats running for Senate.

It cannot be overstated how critical the Senate is for Democrats in the 2020 elections. The Senate is the upper chamber of Congress, and it maintains control over appointments that shape the federal government, including administration nominations and judgeships going up to the Supreme Court. Indeed, as Democrats learned from the failed nomination of Merrick Garland just three years ago, even when a party controls the White House, maintaining control of the Senate is essential to success.

Senator Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris posts video asking baby if she'll run for president one day Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates Saagar Enjeti unpacks why Kamala Harris's campaign didn't work MORE, one of the Democratic presidential candidates, recently told a crowd in South Carolina that “2020 is about the White House, but it is also about the United States Senate.” While Harris and I have a number of disagreements on policy, I could not agree more about the importance of the Senate elections to the Democratic Party. Though it is unlikely that Democrats will be able to flip the entire Senate, there are a number of strong Democratic contenders, in swing states like Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, who have major potential to turn red seats blue.


In Arizona, former Navy pilot and astronaut Mark Kelly is running to unseat the appointed Republican Senator Martha McSally in what will surely be a tight race. One of the first polls coming out of Phoenix shows McSally garnering 45 percent of the vote, compared to Kelly with 44 percent. The momentum behind Kelly can undoubtedly be attributed to the fact that he is running on an inclusive platform that emphasizes unity and is focusing on the important issues that voters are concerned with, such as their health care, wage stagnation, and climate change.

Out in Colorado, a number of qualified Democrats are seeking to unseat the vulnerable Republican Senator Cory Gardner. According to Keating Research, Gardner is markedly weakened, with just 36 percent of voters viewing him favorably, compared to 43 percent viewing him unfavorably. Colorado Senate candidates, such as former state house Democratic leader Alice Madden and former state senator Mike Johnston can easily mount convincing campaigns against Gardner, and whoever Colorado Democrats choose will have a great deal of momentum behind them.

While there are a number of promising Senate races for Democrats, the nationwide outlook is unfavorable for the party, as Democrats are likely positioned to lose seats. Michigan and Alabama are two states with great potential to swing Republican. In Michigan, veteran and businessman John Hames announced his candidacy to unseat first term Democratic Senator Gary Peters, who was always facing a tough reelection bid. In Alabama, Senator Douglas Jones is exceptionally vulnerable as the first Democrat elected to the upper chamber from the red state in 30 years.

While there is some room for optimism, Democrats are certainly not in a position at this moment to flip the Senate. They may plausibly even lose seats unless the party begins to focus considerable attention on Senate races and, more importantly, on developing a cohesive narrative around issues that matter most to voters. The reason the Democrats flipped the House in 2018 is because candidates drew distinct policy differences against Republican opponents and highlighted issues voters care about, including protecting health coverage and inclusive economic growth.

In states like Michigan, where the Senate seat could be considered a toss up, it will be critical for Democrats to draw a sharp contrast between their economic policies and those of Donald Trump, whose tariffs have caused turmoil. These are the types of issues that matter most to voters. Calls for impeachment and radical cries for the imprisonment of the president of the United States will only divide the party and destroy the chances of Democrats actually being competitive in the Senate elections next year.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. He is a political consultant, Fox News contributor, and the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”