The current balance in the US Senate is 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats (including two Independents who vote with the Democrats). In 2020, 35 seats are being contested, including two special elections for appointees replacing two senators felled by illness: Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Democrats need three or four seats to wrest Senate control from Republicans. If Biden wins the presidency, they need three seats; if Trump is re-elected, they need four. The GOP faces daunting odds since they must defend 23 seats, almost double the seats defended by Democrats.
According to the current Real Clear Politics average of polls, the Democrats would win Senate control, but since this is a presidential year, Trump's presence on the ballot could rescue some of the troubled GOP incumbents and help some Republican challengers in their races against incumbent Democrats, especially in the Midwest.
Here are some of the key races to watch:
Doug Jones (D)* vs. Tommy Tuberville (R) — Republicans get a leg up on their majority, as Tuberville, Auburn's former football coach, is a safe bet to beat one-term incumbent Doug Jones. Jones won the 2018 race to replace Republican Jeff Sessions when President Trump tapped him to be Attorney-General in 2017.
Mark Kelly (D) vs. Martha McSally (R)* — Arizona's governor appointed McSally to replace the late John McCain after McSally had lost an earlier US Senate race. McSally, a former fighter pilot, has a steep hill to climb to remain in Washington. Kelly has a lead in the high single digits in the polls.
John Hickenlooper (D) vs. Cory Gardner (R)* — Former Governor Hickenlooper is leading first-term Sen. Gardner by double digits in some polls, and he joins McSally as the most endangered incumbents. Beltway pundits blame Trump for Gardner's troubles, a former rural Colorado congressman.
Jon Ossoff (D) vs. David Perdue (R)*—Ossoff lost a highly contested election for the US House a few years back. He's now a statewide candidate against the incumbent Perdue who holds a narrow lead. This is another race where the Republican could ride President Trump's coattails.
Theresa Greenfield (D) vs. Joni Ernst (R)* — Ernst was elected six years ago, and narrowly trails real estate developer Theresa Greenfield. If the polls are understating President Trump's support in Iowa, it could help Ernst because she has been a loyal supporter of the president.
Amy McGrath (D) vs. Mitch McConnell (R)* - Democrats would love to oust the US Senate Majority Leader by winning in Kentucky.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is President Trump's top ally in Congress, and he's pursuing a seventh term. His Senate seat is a big prize so it's a drawn intense spending and campaigning from Democrat challenger Amy McGrath.
Sara Gideon (D) vs. Susan Collins (R)* —Collins trails Gideon in an increasingly hostile state climate for Republicans. Maine's House Speaker, Gideon is trying to make the move to Washington and holds a slight lead over Collins, who voted for Justice Brett Kavanaugh and against convicting President Trump in his impeachment trial.
Gary Peters (D)* vs. John James (R) — James, a young African-American military veteran, narrowly lost to incumbent Debbie Stabenow in 2018. This year, he's in a tight battle with one-term incumbent Gary Peters in a state where COVID regulations and the behavior of Michigan's Democrat governor have rankled conservative and independent voters, giving James the shot at an upset and a GOP takeaway.
Tina Smith (D)* vs. Jason Lewis (R) – In a state torn by tumult with the death of George Floyd, ensuing riots, and actions to defund police, the Senate race between Smith, who was appointed in 2018 to fill the vacated seat of Al Franken, and Lewis, a solid Trump supporter, presents Minnesotans with a stark choice. If Trump does well in a state that rarely votes Republican for president, he could pull Lewis to an upset.
Steve Bullock (D) vs. Steve Daines (R)* — This "battle of the Steves" pits first-term Sen. Daines against Montana's term-limited sitting governor. More than $50 million of outside money has poured into the race in a state President Trump won by more than 20 points four years ago.
Cal Cunningham (D) vs. Thom Tillis (R)* — Perhaps the most closely-watched race of the year, as first-term Sen. Thom Tillis scrambles to hold his seat against a Democrat mired in scandal.
Cunningham, a Lt. Col. in the Army Reserves, gave Democrats great hope to knock off Tillis, but he was discovered to have been sending sexually explicit texts to one woman and having an extramarital affair with another. He apologized and has resumed his lead in the polls. The state's Democratic governor was heard on an open mic telling Joe Biden that despite Cunningham hurting Democrats statewide, they will drag him "across the (finish) line."
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) is fighting to keep his seat, facing a tough challenge from Jaime Harrison (D).
*** The states we've mentioned in this story are ones that seem most up for grabs. But other Senate races also considered competitive in Alaska, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and even Texas.
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