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Democrats' chances of retaking the Senate have increased dramatically since January

Strong fundraising and an unpopular president have helped Democrats expand the map of Senate pick-up opportunities this November.

By Dan Desai Martin - August 10, 2020
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the U.S. Senate, a clear power advantage that’s worked in their favor for the past several years.

Now, however, experts say Democrats are closer than ever to retaking the majority come November.

“The battleground of legitimate takeover opportunities [for Democrats] has expanded since January,” Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan election analysis organization, said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

In January, Inside Elections considered only three GOP-held seats as toss-ups — Maine, Colorado, and North Carolina — and no Republican-held seats leaned toward the Democrats.

By July, six Republican-held seats were rated as toss-up (Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina) and two had moved to “Tilt Democratic” (Arizona and Colorado).

The only Democratic-held seat currently in danger of flipping to Republican control is Alabama, which has maintained a “Lean Republican” rating since January.

Inside Elections uses a rating scale ranging from Solid, Likely, Lean, or Tilt towards one party or the other, as well as toss-up.

In total, both Inside Elections and Cook Political Report, another nonpartisan election analysis, moved a total of 11 races between January and July to be more favorable for Democrats.

Gonzales gave four reasons as to why Democrats face better odds now: Donald Trump’s unpopularity, strong fundraising from Democratic candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden’s victory as the Democratic nominee, and the fact that Republicans are defending more seats.

Trump is “struggling to match his own 2016 performance,” in many states, Gonzales said. His response to the coronavirus crisis, the economic downturn, and his handling of race relations have also caused voters to sour on him, Gonzales added, saying “it is increasingly difficult for a candidate to outperform the top of the ticket.”

Trump’s lackluster performance is “pulling other seats into play, such as Georgia, Texas, Iowa” which were not considered as competitive in 2019, according to Gonzales. Texas and the Georgia seat held by Sen. Kelly Loeffler are both rated “Lean Republican,” while the Georgia seat held by Sen. David Perdue is rated “Tilt Republican.”

Gonzales also said that the ability of Democrats to raise “ridiculous amounts of money” has created “headaches for Republicans.”

He noted that the fundraising prowess of candidates like Jaime Harrison in South Carolina and Amy McGrath in Kentucky “is going to force Republicans to spend money defending those seats which shouldn’t really be a part of the conversation.”

Helen Kalla, a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson, agreed that Democrats have expanded the field of competitive states, and credited the party’s ability to recruit high-quality candidates who have “shown to be incredibly strong fundraisers and have amassed the resourced that are needed” to compete.

Kalla noted that in the most recent fundraising quarter, 13 Democratic challengers outraised their Republican counterparts.

Third, Gonzales said Biden’s victory in the Democratic primary “was critical,” removing the ability of Republican “to frame the election as a choice between socialism and capitalism.” In the primary, Biden was largely viewed as a more centrist candidate than others such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist from Vermont.

Given the importance of who is at the top of the ticket, Gonzales said Biden’s primary victory helped candidates in states like Georgia, Texas, and Montana, states that have supported Republican presidential nominees in the recent past.

Finally, both Kalla and Gonzales agreed that the 2020 map began favoring Democrats because 2014 was a wave year for Senate Republicans. That year, Democrats lost a net of eight seats, including in battleground states such as Colorado, Iowa, and North Carolina.

“There was an imbalance in the battlefield,” at the start of the 2020 cycle, with Republicans defending 23 seats and Democrats defending only 12, Gonzales said.

Republicans who were elected six years ago face a much more challenging political environment this year compared to 2014, Gonzales and Kalla said.

Kalla called the group of Republicans on the November ballot  “particularly weak,” noting that two of the most vulnerable incumbents — Loeffler and Sen. Matha McSally of Arizona — were appointed, not elected.

The National Republican Senatorial Campaign did not respond to an interview request.

When asked if there was a single bellwether race to watch in the next three months, Gonzales could not name one.

“That’s part of the reason why I think Democrats have a pretty good chance of taking control of the Senate,” he added, “because there’s not only one path. They can win some and lose some in order to get there.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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