Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump
If the 2020 presidential election were held today, Donald Trump would lose to any of the top Democratic contenders and Mitch McConnell would return to his role as minority leader in the United States Senate.
In Arizona during 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump became the first Republican nominee in 20 years to receive less than 50 percent of the vote. Since the election, his numbers have fallen precipitously, with 53 percent of Arizona voters holding either an “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” view in polling from September by Bendixen & Amandi International.
The GOP incumbent appointed in 2019, Sen. Martha McSally, has just a 39 percent approval rating, with 37 percent of Arizonans disapproving of the new senator’s job. In the same survey, McSally’s 2018 rival and current senate colleague Kyrsten Sinema enjoys a 47 percent approval rating. If the polling didn’t provide enough cause for concern for Team Red, Democratic challenger Mark Kelly has already raised $14 million this year, including $5.6 million in the most recent quarter — a staggering sum that rivals some of the top Democratic presidential contenders.
When Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner defeated incumbent Sen. Mark Udall in 2014, he won with only 48.2 percent of the vote. In the five years since, Gardner has seen that high-water mark of personal favorability fall to a meager 36 percent approval, with 39 percent of Coloradans disapproving of his job as senator, according to Morning Consult ratings.
No other incumbent facing a serious 2020 challenge has struggled more in his relationship with President Trump than Gardner, most recently refusing five times in a video interview to answer questions about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Base Republicans will view this hesitation by Gardner as a betrayal, while independents, who helped deliver the win for Gardner in 2014, are already demanding greater accountability from their incumbent senator. Trump lost the Centennial State by 5 points in 2016 and holds just a 39 percent approval in the state. It would seem that Team Trump has already written off the once-competitive state for 2020, hosting zero large-scale rallies in Colorado during the 2018 midterms and since announcing his reelection effort.
In the same Emerson survey from August showing Trump massively underwater, former Gov. John Hickenlooper bests Gardner by 13 percent statewide, 53 percent to 40 percent, with just 8 percent undecided.
In Georgia during the last 60 years, only two Democrats have won the state in a presidential election: native son Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980 and Bill Clinton in 1992. Clinton won just 13,714 votes more than then-President George H.W. Bush, and Georgia has been reliably red ever since.
Democrats see potential in 2020 in Georgia, and — in a nod to growing electoral prospects with two U.S. Senate seats in play — the Democratic National Committee is hosting its fifth presidential primary debate in Atlanta on Nov. 20. The candidates will take the stage in a state that has seen President Trump’s net approval drop by 17 percentage points since taking office — one of the largest declines in a red state. This steep drop could pull on Sen. David Perdue’s reelection prospects, as Perdue has “proudly wrapped himself in Trump’s top accomplishments and touted his close ties to the White House” on the campaign trail.
You can bet that Democrats will nationalize both this election and race for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Johnny Isakson in December — as they did in the case of the GA-6 special election in 2017 that saw Jon Ossoff nearly flip a key congressional seat that was later won in 2018 by Congresswoman Lucy McBath.
In Iowa, freshman Sen. Joni Ernst is the fourth-most unpopular incumbent senator in the country with just a 39 percent approval rating. Forty-three percent of Iowans disapprove of her job performance thus far. Trump’s standing is even worse in the Hawkeye State, where his net approval has decreased by 22 percentage points since taking office in 2017. Compounding these poll numbers, the leading Democrat in the race, Theresa Greenfield, raised more than $1.1 million in the most recent quarter, outpacing Ernst, who raised just under $1 million in Q3.
For more than two decades, Maine voters have seen fit to return Susan Collins to the United States Senate, most recently in 2014 with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Collins is the definition of an entrenched incumbent, but recent polling suggests significant cracks in Collins’s wall of inevitability.
FiveThirtyEight ran a headline earlier this summer that said “Mitch McConnell is the only senator more unpopular than Susan Collins.” It detailed recent in-state polling showing that the senator’s approval rating was just 45 percent compared to 48 percent who disapproved. A new survey from Public Policy Polling from October paints an even bleaker picture of the incumbent’s standing with voters, with just 35 percent approving compared to 50 percent who disapprove. In the same poll, 53 percent of Mainers support impeaching Donald Trump, with just 44 percent opposed, a 7-point spread that is likely to widen as the impeachment probe moves to a public stage.
On the Maine money front, Team Blue’s presumptive nominee, state House Speaker Sara Gideon, significantly outraised Collins this past summer, raising $3.2 million to the incumbent’s $2.1 million. Collins has been preparing for this fight for a long time, however, and has a staggering $7.1 million cash on hand, a record for Maine.
In North Carolina, this past week saw the death of former Sen. Kay Hagan, who was elected to a single term in 2008. Hagan lost her reelection effort by just 1.5 percentage points in 2014 to Thom Tillis, who was the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. In 2020, Tillis is facing electoral threats from both sides — a serious primary challenge from a wealthy Raleigh businessman and new polling from September that shows Democrat Cal Cunningham defeating the incumbent by 2 points, 45 to 43. Despite Trump winning North Carolina by nearly 4 points in 2016, his public support has crumbled in the state, falling 21 percent since taking office, which would provide little cover for Tillis at the top of the 2020 ballot.
There are a handful of pickup opportunities in the Senate for the GOP, most notably Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama, a state that Trump won with 62 percent of the vote. Trump remains popular in the state, but Jones is running a serious reelection effort and could buck the trends — especially if Roy Moore finds himself as Team Red’s nominee again in 2020. The filing deadline in Alabama is fast approaching on Nov. 9, 2019. We will have a clearer picture of the race then, especially if former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who held the seat previously, decides to get in.
Republicans are also hopeful in Michigan (Sen. Gary Peters), Minnesota (Sen. Tina Smith) and in New Hampshire (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen), but all independent race handicappers don’t give a lot of hope to the GOP in those races.
Democrats have strong opportunities in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina and two opportunities in Georgia — more than enough to return the Senate to Democratic control in 2020, especially with Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket.
Kevin Walling (@kpwalling) is a Democratic strategist, Vice President at HGCreative, co-founder of Celtic Strategies, and a regular guest on Fox News and Fox Business.