Analysis: Republicans Are in Serious Danger of Losing the Senate?

Posted: May 07, 2020 1:05 PM
Analysis: Republicans Are in Serious Danger of Losing the Senate?

Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

We'll begin with an important disclaimer: My 'events, events, events' analysis very much still stands, and the public's sense of the facts on the ground after the summer will weigh heavily on this election's outcome. If there's a widespread sense that the virus is mostly under control, that the economy is on track to recovery, and that some semblance of normalcy is being restored, President Trump's fortunes will likely rise considerably. This would, in turn, significantly brighten his party's chances of holding control of Congress' upper chamber, as Trump will sit atop the ticket in every contested Senate race. But if voters continue to experience frustration and fear as overwhelming sentiments, Trump's already-weakened standing could erode even further, putting more Republican-held seats at risk. As things currently stand, I'm coming around to agreeing with this read on the political environment for Mitch McConnell's majority:

An early look at the data finds that Democrats are the slightest of favorites to take back the Senate. The chance Democrats net gain at least 3 seats is about 3-in-5 (60%), while the chance they net gain at least 4 seats is about 1-in-2 (50%)...The Democrats are doing fairly well not because they're overwhelming favorites in any one or a select number of seats. Rather, it's that they have a non-negligible to good chance in a lot of seats.

The GOP currently holds a 53-47 Senate edge. Alabama's Doug Jones looks like a near-lock to lose, now that he's no longer facing an absolutely toxic opponent. The Cook Political Report rates the race as 'lean Republican,' but I think that's generous to Jones, who is at the very top of most analysts' lists of most endangered Senate incumbents this cycle. That seat should go red. So Republicans effectively begin the 2020 battle with a 54-46 advantage. Democrats would need to pick off five GOP-held seats, or four plus the presidency, to gain a majority. Is that doable? Yes. In Arizona, Republican Martha McSally is struggling in the polls against Gabby Giffords' husband, who's raising money hand-over fist. And Arizona is not terribly Trump friendly for a traditionally red state -- where the Democrats won an open seat in 2018, and where Joe Biden is leading Trump head-to-head.

In Colorado, Cory Gardner eked out a victory after running a nearly flawless campaign in the Republican wave year of 2014. He's in a tough matchup against a popular former governor, is widely thought to be at a distinct polling disadvantage (few public polls are available), and is running in presidential year, in a state that no Republican presidential nominee has carried since 2004. And in Maine, Susan Collins -- heavily targeted by the national Left -- is getting out-raised, as her popularity has fallen. Then there is this new poll out of Montana:

Republican pollsters are hammering this survey's methodology, so take it with a grain of salt.  Still, the sitting Democratic governor, whose dead-end presidential foray feels like a distant memory, has won high marks during the coronavirus outbreak.  If that survey is anywhere near accurate, this is at least a vulnerable seat for Republicans. Throw North Carolina's extremely competitive race, in additional hardly-inconceivable pick-up opportunities for Democrats in Kansas and Georgia, and it becomes increasingly clear that Chuck Schumer is plotting several different pathways to 50-plus-one. Other states with races that have an outside shot of becoming competitive include Iowa, Kentucky, and Texas.

One factor that could significantly boost Republicans' chances of maintaining their Senate majority is the ability to win a second Democrat-held seat, beyond the low-hanging fruit of Alabama. Their best shot at doing so likely comes in Michigan, where they're fielding an impressive candidate in John James against a little-known and uninspiring Democratic incumbent. But President Trump's numbers in Michigan have looked a bit rough, and James trails in public polls. This seat is ranked as "lean D," but I'd probably nudge it closer to "likely D" at this point. I'll leave you with Mitch McConnell resuming his "leave no vacancy behind" push on judges, which may have added urgency these days:

Senate Republicans plan to push ahead [this] week with a confirmation hearing for a contested nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, moving on a rapid timetable that signals they intend to remain aggressive this year in putting conservative judges on the bench, even amid a pandemic. A top Republican aide and others knowledgeable about the plans said the Judiciary Committee planned to hold a hearing as soon as next Wednesday to consider the nomination of Justin Walker, a U.S. District Court judge in Kentucky who is a protégé of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader.

Democrats are professing outrage, pretending as though this will preclude the Senate from passing coronavirus relief measures. Nonsense. The Senate has already passed four such bills, several of which were indefensibly delayed and filibustered by Democrats. Additional aid packages are highly likely to pass in the coming days and weeks, although battles are brewing over the nature of state and local assistance/bailouts and liability relief provisions. Democrats are opposed to Trump and McConnell filling more even more judicial vacancies prior to the end of Trump's first -- and, Democrats hope, only -- term, so they're pretending that confirmation votes interfere with pandemic legislation. Meanwhile, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is out of session, as leadership abruptly abandoned a plan to reconvene this week.  Nancy Pelosi eating ice cream while cheering on Democratic obstruction of Coronavirus relief for small businesses from San Francisco was fine, but Mitch McConnell conducting other Senate business on a parallel track to pandemic-related work in Washington, DC is callous and outrageous.  Got it.