These Are the 2020 Senate Elections to Watch

August 22, 2019, 4:52 PM UTC
Senate Races to Watch 2020
Seats up for election. There are 12 Democratic seats and 22 Republican seats up for election in 2020. Courtesy of Ballotpedia
Courtesy of Ballotpedia

The race for the White House isn’t the only one to watch in 2020. While attention has largely been focused on the nearly two dozen Democratic candidates running for president, there are also dozens of Senate seats that will be in play next year.

Here’s what you need to know.

There are more Republican seats at stake.

There are currently 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the Senate, including two independents who caucus with Democrats. Of the 100 Senate seats, 34 are up in 2020—including one special election in Arizona to fill the seat that Sen. John McCain won in 2016. Twelve of these 34 are currently held by Democrats, while 22 are held by Republicans. For Democrats to take control of the Senate, they will need a net gain of three or four seats.

But even though there are more Republican seats at stake this cycle, early forecasts suggest that it is unlikely that Democrats will take control.

According to the Cook Political Report, just four seats are currently rated toss-ups—one of which is currently held by Democrat Sen. Doug Jones: Colorado, Arizona, Alabama, and Maine. Cook changed its forecast for the Maine Senate seat currently held by Sen. Susan Collins just last week. The remainder of the seats currently held by Republicans sit firmly in the ‘likely’ or ‘solid’ Republican columns according to Cook’s forecast.

Alabama: Doug Jones could face Roy Moore again.

Doug Jones-Roy Moore
Doug Jones is set to face Roy Moore again in 2020.
Alex Wong—Getty Images; Elijah Nouvelage—Reuters

In Alabama, Democratic incumbent Jones—who defeated Roy Moore in a special election in 2017 by about 1.5 percentage points—could face Moore again in 2020. There are currently six Republicans seeking their party’s nomination, but it is largely expected that Jones will have a hard time defending his seat: Trump carried the state by close to 30 percentage points in 2016.

Maine: Susan Collins could face an uphill battle.

Susan Collins
Maine Sen. Susan Collins will likely face Sara Gideon in November 2020.
Melina Mara—The Washington Post via Getty Images

Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins won her last race in 2014 by more than 30 points, but after voting to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year, she too may face an uphill battle next year. There are a number of candidates, although Collins’ most formidable Democratic opponent may be the leader of the state’s House of Representatives, Sara Gideon. Whoever becomes the official Democratic challenger will also have access to a fairly sizable treasure chest: a crowdfunding campaign to support Collins’ eventual opponent has raised millions of dollars.

Colorado: Cory Gardner could be on thin ice with John Hickenlooper in the race.

cory gardner-john hickenlooper
Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Cory Gardner.
Ethan Miller—Getty Images;Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Republican incumbent Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner may also be on thin ice. Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016, and now that former presidential candidate and former Colorado governor and mayor of Denver John Hickenlooper has decided to jump into the race, Gardner may struggle to hold onto his seat. Nevertheless, the race is already crowded, with more than a dozen Democrats already in the running.

Arizona: Mark Kelly could unseat Martha McSally.

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly may unseat Martha McSally.
Courtesy of NASA; Michael Brochstein—SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The last seat currently seen as a toss-up is that currently held by Martha McSally in Arizona, who was appointed to her position last year by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey after interim Sen. Jon Kyl announced his resignation. McSally had run for the other vacant Senate seat in Arizona and lost closely to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema last year. While there are other candidates seeking the seat on both the Republican and Democrat sides, the Democrats have recruited retired astronaut Mark Kelly to run against McSally. Kelly’s fundraising topped $1 million in the first two days after announcing his bid. 

Although they are currently more likely to go to the incumbent or at least the incumbent’s party, there are a number of other states that have Senate seats that may be in play come 2020—or at least races worth watching. 

These are the Republican-held seats that may be vulnerable:

Democrats have their sights set on unseating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Democrat Amy McGrath, who narrowly lost a House seat in the state in last year’s midterms, raised $2.5 million in the first day of her campaign. 

Democrats are also hoping to ride the momentum that began with Beto O’Rourke’s race against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz last year to unseat the state’s other Republican Senator, John Cornyn. Another former congressional candidate, MJ Hegar, is running against Cornyn, although the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle recently published an editorial calling for O’Rourke to jump into the race himself. 

In North Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis could face a tough race. Trump barely eked out a win in the state in 2016 and the governor’s mansion is currently occupied by a Democrat. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst and Georgia Sen. David Perdue’s seats may also be in play next year, although Democrats tried and failed to recruit Stacey Abrams to run against the latter.

There is one other state that Democrats have their eyes on: Georgia. Among a handful of candidates who hope to take on sitting Republican Sen. David Perdue is Jon Ossoff, who ran and closely lost a House race in a 2017 special election. While Trump is still generally perceived favorably in the state, it will be a challenge for Republicans, as Perdue’s seat isn’t the only seat that will be open in 2020. Sen. Johnny Isakson is retiring at the end of the year, and while Gov. Brian Kemp will appoint a temporary replacement, there will be a special election for his seat in November 2020. Despite all this, Georgia has not elected a Democrat to the Senate in two decades.

These are the Democrat-held seats that may be vulnerable:

Republicans have their eyes on New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s seat. Clinton won the swing state by a few thousand votes in 2016 and Shaheen closely won her last election in 2014. They are also targeting Michigan Sen. Gary Peters’ seat—a state that Trump narrowly won, but the state largely voted blue in last year’s midterms.

The biggest problem for Democrats, however, may simply be that they have largely been unable to recruit competitive candidates for the most closely contested seats. With more candidates likely to enter the races across the country in the coming months though, the calculation could still change.

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