GOP Senate Hopefuls Try to Outrun Trump

September 17, 2020

The presidential contest is the most important, but hardly the only critical battle this fall. There’s also a big fight for the Senate, with huge ramifications for whoever occupies the White House.

If President Trump wins re-election, he’ll need a Republican Senate to confirm his nominees and block liberal policies and legislative constraints on his powers coming from a presumably Democratic House.

If Joe Biden occupies the Oval Office, he’ll want a Democratic Senate to confirm his nominees and push through his left-wing agenda, which includes massive tax increases, trillions more in spending, some form of a Green New Deal and measures to lock in Democratic dominance, perhaps including statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and a Supreme Court packing scheme.

Passing all this would require killing the Senate’s 60-vote requirement to force a vote on legislation. In July, Mr. Biden said he’d “have to take a look” at letting the Senate pass bills with a simple majority, a radical change in how the body has operated since its creation.

It’s widely accepted that the party that wins the White House also wins the Senate, but this isn’t exactly true. It’s who wins the states with Senate races that matters, not who wins the country. One hundred twenty-two of the 139 Senate matchups since 2012 have been won by “the party that won that state’s most recent presidential race,” according to the Pew Research Center.

Of the 23 GOP seats up this fall, nine are in deep-red states—Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia—while Alabama, which Democrat Doug Jones won in a 2017 special election, is widely assumed to be an almost-certain GOP pickup. If you add these 10 to the 30 GOP senators not up for re-election, that would get you to 40 Republican senators in the next Congress.

Five more Republicans are heavily favored but face varying degrees of opposition: Alaska’s Dan Sullivan, Rep. Roger Marshall in an open Kansas seat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Texas’ John Cornyn. Some of their opponents benefit from the Democrats’ small-donor fundraising machine. Still, all five Republicans are likely victors, at least if they don’t take anything for granted. This would bring the GOP’s numbers in January to 45.

There are four contests in states Mr. Trump carried in 2016 and should carry again. But Arizona’s Martha McSally, Iowa’s Joni Ernst, Montana’s Steve Daines and Georgia’s David Perdue must campaign hard and effectively. It’s hardly a foregone conclusion Mr. Trump will win all their states.

Also, while there are advantages to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s practice of often recruiting candidates with no prior political service, the drawback is that these Democrats haven’t been vetted. Mark Kelly in Arizona turns out to have recruited a major Chinese investor for his space-tech company that’s described as “an arm of the Chinese Communist Party.” Iowa real-estate executive Theresa Greenfield has a record of harsh evictions. Nine of the 10 documentaries Georgian Jon Ossoff’s production company made were for Al Jazeera. If Republicans carry three or four of these races, they’ll be knocking on the majority.

The GOP’s three toughest contests are re-electing Cory Gardner in Colorado, Susan Collins in Maine and Thom Tillis in North Carolina. Sens. Gardner and Collins are their party’s two best candidates this cycle, running energetic, nearly textbook-perfect campaigns. Both are capable of being in that 12% who win a state their party loses in the presidential race. Mr. Tillis, an outstanding legislator, is neck-and-neck in a state where Mr. Trump has a slight advantage. Win one or two and the GOP could well be in the majority.

Republicans have pickup opportunities in Michigan with repeat nominee John James and Minnesota with former Rep. Jason Lewis, but their fates depend on Mr. Trump winning their states.

Senate control could come down to the second Georgia seat, a special election caused by Sen. Johnny Isakson’s resignation for health reasons. There’s a November “jungle primary” with 14 candidates from all parties on one ballot. Polling shows Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, appointed to fill the vacancy, now leads the pack. The Democrats’ preferred candidate, pastor Raphael Warnock, is about to blow past the other Republican running, Rep. Doug Collins, and may emerge in first place in November. The two top vote-getters will then appear in a Jan. 5 runoff, perhaps settling control of the Senate.

It’s natural for Americans to focus on the presidential race, especially this year. But with the House likely to remain in the hands of a smaller but more liberal Democratic majority, the outcome in the Senate will have a nation-shaping impact, no matter who’s elected president.


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