Democrats are on track to win the seats needed to take control of the U.S. Senate because of the unpopularity of President Donald Trump – who has trailed Democratic challenger Joe Biden in almost every poll for months – and as the result of demographic forces that are pushing voters away from the Republican Party in its Southern stronghold.
Even if the GOP manages to retain control this year, the changing portrait of the U.S. population will undermine Senate Republicans in future elections. As evidence, take a look at some of the closest races.
If Mr. Biden wins, vice-president Kamala Harris will become president of the Senate, breaking any ties, which means the Democrats need a net gain of three seats for a majority. (Republicans should be able to win back the Alabama Senate seat that Democrat Doug Jones took in a freak special election in 2017.) If Mr. Trump wins, and Mike Pence remains president of the Senate, the Democrats will need four. One of those three or four seats may well come from Arizona.
Arizona’s burgeoning population – last year it was the third-fastest-growing state – is also one of the most diverse. Thirty-two per cent of Arizonans are Latino, who along with African-Americans and Native Americans skew heavily Democratic because of the party’s support for immigration and minority rights. The majority of children in the state are non-white. Arizona could be joining Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico, states that have shifted from Republican red to Democratic blue in part due to population changes. In 2018, Kyrsten Sinema became the first Democrat in two decades to win an Arizona Senate seat. Democratic challenger and former astronaut Mark Kelly – an advocate for gun control after the near-fatal shooting of his wife, former representative Gabby Giffords – is leading Republican incumbent Martha McSally by 5.8 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics polling aggregator. Barring a major polling failure, Arizona will send Mr. Kelly to the Senate.
This battleground state voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, for Republican challenger Mitt Romney in 2012 and for Mr. Trump in 2016. But even though Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham confessed to sexting a woman who was not his wife, he leads Republican Senator Thom Tillis by 2.5 percentage points, according to the RCP aggregator.
The robust growth in North Carolina’s electorate – more than a million new voters registered between November, 2016, and September, 2019 – comes from young people, minorities and new arrivals from states with large numbers of Democrats. All spell bad news for the GOP.
Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff come from very different backgrounds. Rev. Warnock, who is Black, is the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Mr. Ossoff, who is Jewish, was an investigative journalist. Both are hoping to turn Georgia’s two Senate seats blue. Can either do it? Democrat Stacey Abrams came oh so close to winning the governor’s race in 2018.
White voters, who over all are more likely to vote Republican, accounted for more than 70 per cent of the votes cast in Georgia in 2000; now they’re barely half the voting population, turning it into a battleground state. There is a good chance that at least one of Georgia’s senators will be a Democrat after the Jan. 5 runoff elections that will likely be needed if no candidate wins 50 per cent of the vote.
There are races outside the South where Democrats also have strong prospects.
The state has voted Democrat at the presidential level in the past three elections, so it was a bit of an upset when Republican Cory Gardner won a Senate race in 2014. He may be one of the most threatened Republican incumbents in the land, in part because he is a fervent supporter of Mr. Trump in a state where the President is unpopular. He faces a strong challenger in John Hickenlooper, a former governor, Denver mayor and long-shot candidate for the presidential nomination. Polls show Mr. Hickenlooper comfortably ahead.
Senator Susan Collins, who is seeking a fifth term, paints herself as one of the last of a dying breed: a moderate Republican. But she was tarred by her decision to support the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. In a closely contested race against Sara Gideon, the speaker of the state House, recent polls have Ms. Gideon enjoying a modest lead. Could the moderate Republican soon be extinct?
Republican Senator Joni Ernst is a huge fan of the President. This was once a good thing in Iowa, which Mr. Trump took by almost 10 points in 2016. But the Trump lustre is wearing off in this 90-per-cent-white state of farmers and blue-collar workers. The presidential contest is considered a toss-up. Ms. Ernst has been out-fundraised by a previously little-known challenger, Theresa Greenfield. Polls show the two candidates in a tight race.
Big Sky Country is reliably red in presidential races, but a particular strain of moderately conservative Democrat thrives here, such as Jon Tester, who represents the state in the Senate. Montana Governor Steve Bullock hopes to join him by defeating incumbent Republican Senator Steve Daines. Polls show a toss-up in the most expensive Senate race per capita in the country. Contributions from inside and outside the state have raised about US$140-million, or more than US$130 per resident.
Democrats also have hopes in South Carolina, where high-profile Trump supporter Lindsey Graham is in the fight of his life against challenger Jaime Harrison. Despite Mr. Harrison’s prodigious fundraising, however, the odds favour Mr. Graham.
Republicans, in turn, have a longish shot at picking up a seat in Minnesota.
One way or another, though, a Democratic Senate is very possible, in a country where demographic change is steadily shading the upper house from red to blue.
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