2020 Senate races: The seats Democrats and Republicans are hoping to flip

Maine, Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, Michigan Alabama: These are the biggest battleground states that Democrats and Republicans are targeting in the battle for control of the Senate in 2020. There are 35 seats up for election in 2020, and Democrats are hoping to crack the GOP’s slim 53-47 majority in November. 

Republicans have to hold onto 23 to keep their 53-47 majority. Democrats need to pick up three seats to win control if a Democrat wins the White House, enabling a Democratic vice president to preside over the Senate. If President Trump wins reelection, then Democrats will need to pick up four seats to overcome a tie. Both parties are defending incumbents in two states the opposing party won in 2016, but Democrats, with just 12 seats to defend, have more bandwidth to go on offense in states that voted for Mr. Trump and have seen Democratic successes since 2016.

Republicans came into this cycle already on defense but strong recruits and fundraising have expanded Democrats’ potential beyond the initial two to three states on the front lines of the battle for control.

Hard targets for Democrats


GOP Senator Susan Collins is facing a competitive reelection race for the first time as she battles for her fifth Senate term in a state Hillary Clinton won by almost three points in 2016. Collins’ votes have been closely watched nationwide, especially after her crucial vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018. And Democrats have an increased focus on the state because of the successes their party’s candidates achieved during the 2018 midterms. 

Newcomer Jared Golden won the 2nd Congressional District, and Democrats won the state legislature for the first time since 2009. Collins’ likely opponent in November will be state House Speaker Sara Gideon. Gideon will compete in the primary on July 14, which was postponed from June 9 due to the coronavirus.

Collins’ race is shaping up to be one of the most expensive elections on the map, even though Maine is one of the smaller states up for grabs and is not considered a top presidential battleground. During the first quarter of the year, Collins and Gideon spent around $9 million total, and each raised millions. Gideon raised more than $7 million in the first quarter, outraising Collins by almost $5 million. Collins has raised less money than Gideon since June 2019, but she finished the first three months of 2020 with her best haul this cycle so far and has $5.6 million cash on hand. 

In advertising, the race is one of the most expensive — along with North Carolina, Arizona and Iowa, according to data from CMAG/Kantar. The campaigns and outside groups have spent about $50 million combined in ad reservations this year. Collins’ campaign has launched a series of ads highlighting her role in the passage of the coronavirus relief package, and Gideon’s ads have focused on health care and what’s missing in the relief package.


Colorado and Maine are the only states with Republican senators up for reelection where Clinton won in 2016. Clinton won Colorado by almost five percentage points. Cory Gardner ran as a moderate candidate in 2014 and narrowly beat incumbent Democrat Mark Udall by about two percentage points. 

Since 2016, he has aligned himself more with Mr. Trump, even voting for the national emergency declaration on the southern border. That vote led to the Denver Post’s editorial board withdrawal of its endorsement. Former Governor John Hickenlooper and former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff have qualified to be on the ballot for the Democratic primary on June 30.

The Democratic field has gradually winnowed from at least 11 candidates to just two after Hickenlooper decided to jump in the race in August following his failed presidential bid. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed Hickenlooper the week he announced his Senate campaign, and Hickenlooper has raised more as a candidate for Senate than he did as a presidential candidate. In the first three months of 2020, Hickenlooper raised more than $4 million, and Gardner raised around $2.5 million. Gardner has the cash on hand advantage with a $9.6 million war chest. Romanoff has trailed the other two candidates in fundraising, bringing in under $500,000 in the first quarter.

In Arizona, Senator Martha McSally is competing in a special election against Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and the husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Kelly has outraised McSally significantly in every quarter since he jumped into the race in February 2019. In the most recent fundraising quarter, McSally raised over $6 million but still trailed Kelly’s $11 million. Kelly now has nearly double the cash McSally has on hand at the end of the quarter with $19.7 million.

McSally is fighting to win the seat Republican Governor Doug Ducey appointed her to in 2018 after John McCain’s chosen successor, Jon Kyl, decided to step down. McSally lost the race for Arizona’s other Senate seat in 2018 to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema by less than three points. This cycle, McSally will have more time to build support for the general election. In 2018, she faced an August primary fight against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Kelli Ward then had to face Sinema in November.

McSally has aligned herself closely with Mr. Trump and received his Twitter endorsement early on in June 2019. She has raised her media presence during the coronavirus pandemic as an early critic of the World Health Organization over its monitoring of the virus’ spread and her call for WHO director Dr. Tedros Adhanomto’s resignation. McSally recently traveled with Mr. Trump aboard Air Force One to tour a mask-making operation in Phoenix. Democrats are eyeing Arizona in the presidential election, too. Mr. Trump won Arizona in 2016 by just 3.5 points, underperforming the 2012 Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, who won Arizona by almost 10 points against President Obama.
North Carolina

Senator Thom Tillis is trying for his second term in a state Mr. Trump won by less than four points against Clinton in 2016. In November, he’ll face veteran Cal Cunningham, who won the Democratic primary. Tillis’ Republican challenger, Garland Tucker, withdrew from the race ahead of the filing deadline. 

With the general election set, because there is so much time between the March 3rd primary and the general election in November, this race is sure to be one of the most expensive Senate races in 2020. The race Tillis won against incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan in 2014 was the most expensive race in the country that cycle. This year, the two candidates and outside groups have already placed more than $87 million in ad reservations since the primary on Super Tuesday.

The potential primary challenge against Tillis attracted attention because Trump supporters and moderates recalled his flip-flop on the national emergency declaration on the border wall in 2019. Tillis wrote a Washington Post op-ed criticizing the declaration and then ended up voting for it. At the president’s rallies in the state last year, the crowd booed Tillis when he gave remarks ahead of the president in Greenville and Fayetteville. The heckling was less prominent at the president’s March rally in Charlotte. 

During the pandemic, Tillis has supported the president’s actions but has also stood by the measures Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has taken in response to the virus. Tillis recently released a five figure digital ad campaign called “Together We’ll Win This” highlighting the Senate’s passage of the CARES Act, and his campaign this week put up an ad highlighting Tillis’ working-class roots.

Hard targets for Republicans


Senator Doug Jones is the most vulnerable Democratic senator this cycle because he is running for reelection in a state Mr. Trump won by almost 30 points in 2016. Jones won the seat in a special election in 2017 against Republican candidate Roy Moore, who faced several accusations of inappropriate conduct with women. Despite the accusations against Moore and the flood of Democratic money supporting him, Jones beat Moore by less than 2 points. Moore put a campaign together for this cycle but did not garner enough support in the primary in March to advance to a runoff. 

Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville and former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will compete in a runoff in July to take on Jones in November. The runoff was postponed from March 31 to July 14 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Trump has resoundingly rejected Sessions’ candidacy and instead endorsed Tuberville. The Trump campaign has sent a letter to the Sessions’ campaign ordering it to stop claiming the support of the president. 

Over Memorial Day weekend, Mr. Trump and Sessions traded barbs on Twitter, with Mr. Trump posting that Sessions “let our country down.” Sessions responded with a rare rebuke, posting “Your personal feelings don’t dictate who Alabama picks as their senator, the people of Alabama do.” Mr. Trump responded that Sessions “had your chance and you blew it” for recusing himself in the Russia investigation, to which Sessions responded he will “never apologize for following the law and serving faithfully and with honor.” 

Jones eked out a victory in 2017 in large part because of the support of African-Americans. At 28%, the percentage of blacks voting in Alabama equaled the percentage who turned out to vote in Mr. Obama’s bid for re-election in 2012, and more than nine in 10 black voters chose Jones. In 2020, Jones has allied himself with his friend Joe Biden. Jones endorsed Biden the day Biden announced his campaign and told the Washington Post he expects Biden to campaign with him, as he did in 2017. Outside groups haven’t made any investments in the race yet, but Jones himself has over $8 million cash on hand, significantly more than either of his two challengers, who combined have a $1.2 million war chest at the end of the first quarter.


Democratic Senator Gary Peters is facing reelection in the coveted presidential battleground of Michigan. In 2016, Mr. Trump beat Clinton by under 0.3 percentage points, marking the first time since 1988 the state has voted for a Republican presidential candidate. In 2014, Peters won the seat over Terri Lynn Land by 13 points. 

In November, Peters will likely face army veteran and businessman John James, who ran against Senator Debbie Stabenow in 2018 and lost by 7 points. In his 2018 run, James said he supported President Trump 2,000%, and this cycle he has publicly supported the president, even though Politico reports that at private events, he has voiced disagreement with Mr. Trump. James has outraised Peters since announcing in June last year. 

Peters has help from Democratic outside groups who have placed thousands of dollars in ad reservations in the state. Senate Majority Forward has placed almost $3 million in ad reservations through the end of the year, according to CMAG/Kantar data. The ads from the PAC focus on health care and tie James to the GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Peters’ ads also focus on health care.

The results of the presidential contest could determine who walks away with this seat. Senate seats in presidential election years tend to go to the party who wins at the top of ticket, and that trend escalated in 2016 when for the first time, every Senate seat went to the party that won the presidential spot in that state. Peters went into this cycle with low name recognition, and he’ll either fight for or lap up attention because of Michigan’s battleground status and the focus on the state during the coronavirus in part because of Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Soft targets for Democrats

Other races Democrats have their eyes on are Iowa, Montana, South Carolina, Kansas and Georgia.
In Montana and South Carolina, the Democrats have strong recruits in Governor Steve Bullock and associate Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison who both have shown strong fundraising. In Iowa, Senator Joni Ernst has been declining in popularity as a result of the economic damage the state has suffered from the Trump administration’s trade war and now, the coronavirus. 

In Kansas‘ open seat, Republicans are still picking a candidate out of a large field, while Democratic state Senator Barbara Bollier has emerged as the Democratic frontrunner and has posted solid fundraising. 

In Georgia, Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are facing elections. Perdue’s race has received less attention than Loeffler’s. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp ignored the will of many Trump allies when he appointed Loeffler to retiring Senator Johnny Isakson’s seat in December instead of Representative Doug Collins, a Trump favorite. Loeffler faces Collins and several other candidates in a special election in November. There is no primary in this race.

Another race worth watching is the Democratic primary on September 1 in Massachusetts, between Senator Ed Markey and his challenger, Representative Joe Kennedy, a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is up for reelection himself said in an interview on Fox News Radio that who wins the Senate majority this cycle is not a certainty.

“Look, I think it’s, it’s a tough fight,” McConnell said. “We don’t have a lock on it, nor do they. It’s going to be a fight to the finish or like a knife fight in an alley.”

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