Control of the U.S. Senate Deserves Equal Billing in 2020 – “Sunday Political Brunch” May 17, 2020


CHARLESTON, W. Va. – To all of you who say the American political media focuses a disproportionate amount of attention on the presidential campaign, I plead guilty! Look, it’s the big event, but there are other races of consequence out there, not the least of which is control of the U.S. Senate this year. Let’s “brunch” on that this week!

“Senate Significance by the Numbers” – Right now the Republicans control the U.S. Senate by a 53 to 47 margin. It will take Democrats a net gain of three or four seats to take control. And, here is why the number is uncertain. The easiest path for Democrats is to win back four Republican seats and they’ll control the Senate 51 to 49, no matter what. The intrigue is in how they gain control winning a net gain of only three seats. They key is winning the White House. If Joe Biden is elected president, his vice-president becomes President of the U.S. Senate, and can cast a vote in case of a tie. So, if Democrats win three Senate seats, the division is 50-50, and the Democratic VP becomes the tie-breaking vote giving them control.

“Sweet Home, Alabama!” – One of the most competitive races is in Alabama where Senator Doug Jones (D) Alabama, won a special election in 2017 to fill the remainder of the term of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) Alabama, who became President Trump’s first Attorney General. Jones will face the winner of the primary run-off election between Jeff Sessions, who is trying to recapture his old seat, and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville narrowly won the primary over Sessions, 33 to 32 percent. A candidate must win the majority in the July 14th runoff. President Trump, who had a major falling out with Sessions, is endorsing Tuberville.
Regardless, this is a likely Republican pick-up.

“Arizona Wants Me” – One of the most fascinating races in the country is for the U.S. Senate seat once held by the late legend, Senator John McCain (R) Arizona. Stay with me here, as this is complicated. When McCain died, the governor appointed former Senator John Kyl (R) Arizona to temporarily fill McCain’s seat. Then, former Rep. Martha McSally, (R) Arizona was appointed to fill the remainder of McCain’s term. McSally had just lost a very close race to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) Arizona in 2018, 50 to 48 percent. Are you still with me? McSally will now face the Democratic nominee, former astronaut Mark Kelley, who is married to former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D) Arizona. I know, you need a scorecard here! Bottom line: The latest Real Clear Politics composite poll has Kelley up 49 to 41 percent over McSally.

“Rocky Mountain High… or Low” – Perhaps the most vulnerable U.S. Senate seat for the GOP, is that occupied by Sen. Cory Gardner, (R) Colorado. He won in 2014, after serving four years in the U.S. House. The Democratic nominee is uncertain with a primary scheduled for June 30. 2020. Former Denver Mayor and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Colorado is facing off against Andrew Romanoff, a former Speaker of the House in Colorado’s legislature. Colorado has become a reliably “blue state” so Democrats may have an edge here. An Emerson University poll has it 53 percent for Hickenlooper, to 40 percent for Gardner. This is a likely Democrat pick up.

“As Maine goes, so goes the Nation?” – Will that old political saw ring true in 2020? Sen. Susan Collins, (R) Maine, is one of the few moderate-to-liberal Republicans in the Senate, often at odds with President Trump. Like Sen. Cory Gardner, (R) Colorado, mentioned above, Collins and Gardner are the only two Republicans elected to the U.S. Senate in states Trump lost in 2016. The Democrat Primary still awaits, but the front runner is former State House Speaker Sara Gideon, (D) Maine. Polls indicate a Collins-Gideon race is a statistical dead-heat.

“Going Carolina in my Mind” – North Carolina is a state Barack Obama turned from red to blue, only to have Trump flip it back to the GOP in 2016. It’s usually a reliable Republican state, but as with other Southern States such as Florida and Georgia, it continues to attract people from the Midwest and Northeast wanting to relocate their careers or retire. So, the demographics are changing, and that’s giving Democrats more of a shot. That said, Senator Thom Tillis (R) North Carolina is locked in a tight reelection battle. He is facing former State Sen. Cal Cunningham, (D) North Carolina, who is also an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran. This is a candidate prototype that can help Democrats in the South. The latest Real Clear Politics composite poll has this race as a real “nail-biter” with 41 percent for Cunningham, to 40 percent for Tillis. It’s a toss-up! If Democrats win this, they have a real shot at taking control of the U.S. Senate.

Who will you be voting for in your state's U.S. Senate race? Let us know by clicking the comment button. Next week we will profile another five top-tier U.S. Senate races this year.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, DC media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for The White House Patch at

© 2020 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Senate TV Gallery via Voice of America News

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