Can Democrats Flip The Senate?

[ Posted Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 – 16:54 UTC ]

It's tough to focus on politics right now, in the middle of a viral pandemic that is sweeping the country. But it's also necessary to step away from the coronavirus news from time to time, so I thought it might be useful to take a look today at where the race for control of the Senate stands.

The current makeup of the Senate is 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats. This means to wrest control away from the GOP, Democrats will have to pick up at least three seats if Democrats win the White House, or four if Trump wins a second term. Luckily for them, the map is a lot more friendly to Democratic chances than it was in the last cycle. Only a third of the Senate is up for re-election in any one election, but the makeup of that third is crucial -- and this time it will mostly be Republicans playing defense, not Democrats.

There is one big exception to that generalization, and that is Alabama Senator Doug Jones. Jones, of course, was elected as a fluke in a very red state, because the Republican nominee was so odious. This fluke will likely not be repeated, and Jones will likely lose this time around, giving the Republicans a net gain of one seat. This means Democrats will have to pick up four or five seats to regain control, rather than three or four.

Even with this setback, Democrats still have a very good chance of winning back control. To begin with, there are three very winnable races in Colorado, Maine, and Arizona. Colorado, in particular, is looking like the easiest pickup for the Democrats this cycle. Feelings in Maine are running strongly against Susan Collins, and the Democrats have a very strong candidate to take her on. In Arizona, Martha McSally was appointed by the Republican governor to fill John McCain's seat, but McSally ran for the other Arizona Senate seat last time around and was beaten -- meaning her losing again is entirely within the realm of possibility. Arizona is slowly turning purple, and could wind up with two Democratic senators next year.

The next two on the list are going to be tougher, but are still considered strong possibilities for flipping. In Montana, Steve Bullock got over his reluctance to run for the Senate and will be a very strong challenger to Steve Daines, since Bullock has already won previous statewide elections for governor. The biggest 2020 Senate battle, though (at least in terms of advertising dollars spent), may be in North Carolina, where Republican incumbent Thom Tillis seems pretty weak. Super PACs have already lined up almost $50 million in advertising buys in North Carolina, far outstripping the spending in any other state (for both parties, it's worth mentioning).

That's five states where Democrats have at least a decent chance of a pickup. Winning these five alone would guarantee Democratic control next year, even if Doug Jones loses his seat in Alabama. But there are a few other possibilities that Democrats are considering, although they're all going to be much tougher than the first five.

The hardest-fought of these will likely be Iowa, where Republican Joni Ernst is up for re-election. Iowa is a true swing state, where neither party is truly dominant. They swung red in 2016, but resentment against Trump may have swung it back into the blue. Like North Carolina, both parties are poised to spend an awful lot of money in Iowa this time around.

Another Republican looking a bit weak right now is Kelly Loeffler of Georgia. Loeffler was one of the senators that dumped stock right at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which will doubtlessly be used against her in the campaign. Also, Loeffler was appointed to her seat, so she's never won a statewide election before, blunting the advantage of running as an incumbent.

There are two longshot races that Democrats may have an outside chance in as well, although I wouldn't bet the farm on them winning either race. Mitch McConnell has very low ratings from Kentucky voters, so he has to be seen as at least somewhat vulnerable. Kentucky just elected a Democratic governor as well, showing that the state isn't as deep red as you might think. It's a longshot, but one that many Democrats will devoutly wish for -- since dethroning McConnell's leading role in the Senate would be one thing, but denying him re-election and sending him packing would be even more enjoyable to see.

The other remote possibility for a Democratic pickup is in Kansas, where Republican Pat Roberts is retiring, setting up an open race for his seat. But Republicans may nominate a Senate candidate who is so objectionable to so many that it would give the Democrat a chance. Kris Kobach is in the running on the Republican side, and if he wins the GOP nomination Democrats may have a shot at winning the seat. Kobach takes an even harder line against immigration than Donald Trump, and is not exactly popular in the state. He narrowly won the GOP nomination for governor in 2018, which caused a whole slew of staunch Kansas Republicans to endorse the Democratic candidate -- who went on to win. The 2020 Senate race could see a repeat of this upset, if Kobach does emerge as the GOP nominee. It's not guaranteed he will win the nomination, and even if he does Kansas is still a pretty red state, but then again he lost his governor's race two years ago so lightning could strike twice. If Democrats do pick up this seat, it may only be for a single term, but unlike Doug Jones this will be a full six-year term. So as remote as the possibility seems now, if Kobach does win the GOP nomination, national Democrats are going to start paying a lot more attention to this race.

Republicans won't be playing defense everywhere, it's worth pointing out. They've got their own pickup chances (or they think they do, at any rate). They'll be fighting for Senate seats in New Hampshire, Michigan, and New Mexico (which will also have an open seat due to Tom Udall retiring). However, their chances don't seem all that great in any of these states, although upsets are always possible.

So where does that leave us? Democrats are most likely going to lose in Alabama. But they're also most likely to win in Colorado and Arizona. Maine might be closer, but Democrats have an excellent chance of defeating Susan Collins -- who has the lowest approval rate from her home state of any senator right now (she beat Mitch McConnell's lowpoint recently).

If all four of these states flip, Democrats will still need at least one more seat, since they'll only be at a net pickup of two. But they've got four more races where they have at least a decent chance of winning: Montana, Iowa, North Carolina, and Georgia. This may be where control of the Senate is decided, because Democrats might only need to win one of these races (or two, if Trump wins re-election). Montana and North Carolina may be the best opportunities to do so.

Of course, for this scenario to play out, the Democratic turnout will be crucial -- and that's impossible to predict at this point, since we have no idea where we'll be in terms of the pandemic in November. Viral infections can ebb during the summer but then come roaring back in the fall, which will bring a whole lot of disruption to the process of casting ballots. And it's impossible to predict how any of this disruption will play out in political terms.

Democrats will, obviously, be in a lot better shape to take back the Senate if Trump loses. If a blue wave develops (as it did in 2018), the chances of Chuck Schumer taking over from Mitch McConnell go way up. It's still very early -- many primaries haven't even happened yet, so the actual candidates are still unknown. But even so, Democrats certainly seem to be pretty well positioned to succeed in their attempt at winning back the Senate. Which also increases the chances that Democrats could see full control over the House, the Senate, and the White House come next January.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


36 Comments on “Can Democrats Flip The Senate?”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    How confident are we that these elections will even take place in the midst of a likely second wave of COVID-19 cases across the US?

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    What's been running through my head is the Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime." ..."I got some groceries, some peanut butter / To last a couple of days" ..."This ain't no Mudd Club, or CBGB, I ain't got time for that now. / Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit? Heard about Pittsburg P.A.?"

    Anyone else? Disaster soundtracks, anyone?

    I'll check this out.

    In the meantime, here's an audio clip (quality videos from 1979 not easily found) of one the best if not the best end of days tune and the undisputed greatest song intro of all time with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra playing along.

    It's PRiSM (Ron Tabak era) performing Armageddon, naturally.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Talking Heads - Life During Wartime

    It's not upbeat but, the violins help.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    PBS' Yamiche Alcindor (hope I spelled that right...) has actually been pretty stellar. Trump's yelled at her twice now, meaning she must be doing something right!

    Oh, I have to disagree.

    She started out with … " You said … you said … you said ... Sean Hannity ... you said"

    Here's a tip ... when asking Trump a question, Never NEVER ever start with "you said" ... he'll decimate your question, as he did here.

    Frankly, I can't recall a more incompetent performance from the WH press corps as I've seen during these presidential coronavirus briefings ... generally speaking, of course.

    I am sure that ALL of us here could come up with more enlightened questions for this president - he'd have to pass all of them off to his experts, in fact!

  5. [5] 
    Kick wrote:


    Did you feel the Earth move? We want details. :)

  6. [6] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    re [3] Elizabeth,

    I love the song but I prefer the 1984 concert video version. What do you think?

  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    geez. it's weird living at the bloody epicenter of our country's outbreak. my wife is seven months pregnant and waiting on test results for covid. she only got the test because she's in such a high risk group; it took some wrangling to get her approved because they're so rationed.

    at least 4 people from her school lost their parents to covid-19, but considering the fact that the 3 of us are all basically free of the typical symptoms, so far either result is pretty much good news. either we never got it in which case we can isolate and stay safe, or we did get it and had mild symptoms, in which case we fought it off and are safe.

    it is really very scary though.

  8. [8] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i wonder whether november elections will even happen.

  9. [9] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Yeah, add me to the chorus that thinks that Trump will do his best to stop the election from happening.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I love the song but I prefer the 1984 concert video version. What do you think?

    It was … ah … hmmmm … it was … s i i i g h … um, jarring.

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Joshua, so sorry to hear about that. Being in the epicenter must be awful.

    Here's wishing you all the very best - be very careful and stay safe.

    And, keep in touch with us here so we know you're okay!

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, hopefully, in a couple of months you'll all be well out of the worst of it.

  13. [13] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    For those of you that are curious... here is what the COMFORT and MERCY do when not being involved with a crisis.

    I can even be spotted in a couple of spots.

    I have been fortunate to be highly involved with the last 4 of these deployments.

    sorry the text is flipped and there are a few ads...

  14. [14] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Trump does not have the authority to stop elections. That power lies with Congress and the states. Plus, I believe his term ends at noon on January 20th, period. That is hard baked into the Constitution. If he does not win the election, he is no longer president and the speaker of the house becomes president.

    there is precedent. A mid-term was held during the Spanish flu in 1918.

    He might be able to delay a few weeks at most...

  15. [15] 
    Mopshell wrote:

    Firstly, thank you Elizabeth for the reassurance yesterday; it was truly appreciated.

    And thank you Chris for undertaking to do a health check on Michale. I'm keen to hear how he is.

    Now onto today's topic.

    Democrats are talking about holding a 100% mail-in-ballot general election because, as Liz points out in [1], November is when we can expect the second wave of infection (usually the strongest wave) to hit.

    Republicans, however, do not want a mail-in election because that will make it far too easy for people to vote and they're not having it! It is their policy to weed out as many Democratic voters as possible using propaganda, voter suppression laws and election cheating. It's going to be almost impossible to carry out this agenda with 100% mail-in voting in place.

    But it is by far the safest way to conduct the election and I'm hoping those states which have yet to run a Dem primary will all choose to switch over to a 100% mail-in option.

  16. [16] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    [7] Yeah, you hang in there nypoet22 and best of luck with your wife's pregnancy

    [14] Thanks Bro/Sis, that's good to know.

  17. [17] 
    Mopshell wrote:


    Democrats will have to pick up at least three seats if Democrats win the White House, or four if Trump wins a second term.

    Just wondering... are you sure about this? I would've thought that Senate rules required the party to be in the majority, not the party plus a couple of Indies. Because if that is the case, Dems need to pick up five Senate seats - or six given that Jones may well lose his re-election bid.

    Before this month I would've said it was a staggeringly difficult task but now I'm thinking this is very much in the zone of possibility with some even in the zone of probability. I rate ten races as flippable:

    Arizona with astronaut Mark Kelly

    Colorado with former 2-term, popular governor John Hickenlooper

    Georgia with Matt Lieberman going after Kelly Loeffler, insider-trader

    Georgia with Teresa Tomlinson going after David Perdue who is also implicated in the insider-trading fiasco

    Kansas with popular Legislature member, Barbara Bollier

    Kentucky where former marine pilot Amy McGrath is in a toss-up race with unpopular McConnell

    Maine with State House Speaker Sara Gideon inching ahead of Collins in the polls

    Montana where popular 2-term Governor Steve Bullock is tied with incumbent Daines in the polls only 3 weeks after Bullock entered the race

    North Carolina with Cal Cunningham going after a weak Thom Tillis

    and finally, an outside chance:

    South Carolina with Jaime Harrison, mainly because Lindsey Graham looks like he wants to lose!

  18. [18] 
    Mopshell wrote:

    In reply to [7]

    Joshua: very best wishes to you and your wife for a safe, healthy and easy pregnancy and delivery.

    Wow, what a time to be having a baby. At least with stay-at-home orders in place, you're both more protected from other people than you would be in even normal circumstances.

    Stay safe and well. <3

  19. [19] 
    Mopshell wrote:

    In reply to [13]

    Thank you! That's fascinating!

  20. [20] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    Given Trump's recent displays of ineptitude in all things pandemic, he's looking more like a snowball at the gates of hell than ever before. Trump's daily squabbles with governors and other down-rung politicians can't be endearing him to the general public, who also is the electorate in November.

    As I see no future in which Trump remains in office, I hold out the same dim hope for all those tethered to him politically. The GOP hierarchy realizes that if Trump is to bollocks this crisis up completely, which he's well on the way to doing, they may all hang together in Nov. They have already decided to do some revisionist history on the fly, moaning to right-wing media that were it not for the 'impeachment Hoax', they would have been all over this like $6 face mask.

    I think America has had its fill of the Trump Cavalcade. It's no longer about the bluster and gobshitery, people are stuck in the house, stewing upon whom eventual responsibility must land, it's tough to avoid Trump on this one.

    In for a penny, in for a pound...Not exactly a winning mantra for the GOP in the midterms, where Trump was concerned, I can't see the next round going any better, or the outcome much changing.


  21. [21] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    [7] Best wishes to you and your wife.

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Am I the last person on the planet to know about this?

  23. [23] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    You're focusing on the wrong clip.

  24. [24] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Not that clip - your first one was good, by the way. My [30] was not about your clip.

    Take a break and listen to this … it'll cheer you up. :)

  25. [25] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Hehehehehehehehe … sorry, Don.

  26. [26] 
    John M wrote:

    Presidential elections were held during the Civil War in 1864 and during World War 2 in 1944.

    Midterm Congressional elections were held during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 and during the War of 1812 in 1814. (The British also burned Washington D.C. in 1814.)

    I think the election this November 2020 will also go ahead during the Covid-19 pandemic.

  27. [27] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Nothing is for sure anymore, John, and hasn't been for a long time now.

    But, I hope you're right!

  28. [28] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  29. [29] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:
  30. [30] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Kick Your [5]

    Sorry, I missed out on the whole earthquake thing, either it was imperceptibly mild at my location, or I was doing something that interfered with me feeling it.

    When the last big quake hit that same area way back in the 80's if I recall, I was LITERALLY right in the middle of it, atop Mt. Borah, while hunting elk. There were some landslides/avalanches in my vicinity that time, but lucky for you, none of 'em got me.

  31. [31] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    nypoet22 [7] -

    Stay safe, and keep the family safe as well. And congratulations!

    goode trickle [13] -

    Thanks for the link!

    Mopshell [17] -

    Not 100% sure, but pretty sure. I know the House rules better...

    At the start of each session of Congress (every two years), the very first vote is who is going to be speaker/SenMajLdr. The Democratic candidate only needs a majority of votes. This is usually what's meant when people say "Independent, but caucuses with the Democrats." If there are 50 votes for a Dem and 50 for the GOP candidate, then in the Senate the Vice President casts the deciding vote.

    Once they've elected a leader, then they next vote on the rules they're going to follow. Then the normal legislative calendar begins (although sometimes they just adjourn for the rest of January at this point).

    That's how I understand it, at any rate.

    As for your states, picking up two in GA is a possibility, I should have mentioned that, you're right. SC would be sweet, but I'm not getting my hopes up.

    Don Harris [22] -


    Don Harris [23] -

    Seriously? Owner of a Lonely Heart?

    If you're going to pick a Yes song with post-apocalyptic lyrics, you almost have to go with Yours Is No Disgrace, which contains the lines:

    Death-defying mutilated armies scatter the earth / Crawling out of dirty holes, their morals, their morals disappear

    But possibly the best post-apocalyptic theme ever was "2112" by Rush (nods to neighbors from the North...).

    And the meek shall inherit the Earth

    . . .


    Or, now that I think about it, there's always "Karn Evil Number 9, 3rd Impression" by ELP, where the computer takes over at the end... kind of a Skynet scenario...

    [whoops... misquoted it... had to fix it...]

    C. R. Stucki [46] -

    Borah? You've climbed the highest point in Idaho? Color me impressed... that's supposed to be a tough climb, with lots of scree...


  32. [32] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Wake up, Wise up . Rise up. Get Real.

    That's not a bad hook. Your verses really need work though.

  33. [33] 
    Kick wrote:

    goode trickle

    For those of you that are curious... here is what the COMFORT and MERCY do when not being involved with a crisis.


    I can even be spotted in a couple of spots.

    I saw you.

    sorry the text is flipped and there are a few ads...

    No apologies! It's a great video... even better in the "unflipped" version I just found and found just for you:

    Stay safe and definitely keep us posted. :)

  34. [34] 
    Kick wrote:


    Sweet list. Thank you.

  35. [35] 
    Kick wrote:

    C. R. Stucki

    Sorry, I missed out on the whole earthquake thing, either it was imperceptibly mild at my location, or I was doing something that interfered with me feeling it.

    Next time, pay attention. ;)

    When the last big quake hit that same area way back in the 80's if I recall, I was LITERALLY right in the middle of it, atop Mt. Borah, while hunting elk. There were some landslides/avalanches in my vicinity that time, but lucky for you, none of 'em got me.

    Heh. I am lucky that way, Stucki. I have to admit, you may have missed the latest quake, but you still delivered some nice details. Now we know what you were doing on October 28, 1983.

  36. [36] 
    Kick wrote:


    Best wishes to you and yours. We're thinking about you.

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