Wednesday, January 16, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Uncertain 2020 Senate Elections

The 2020 U.S. senate election prospects for Democrats (who are
eager to regain control of it) are becoming more and more uncertain.

Published reports indicate that West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe
Manchin, who just won re-election in 2018, is seriously considering
running for governor of the state, a post he once held, in 2020. The
popular centrist, if he ran, would likely win, thus creating a vacancy
that almost certainly would be filled by a Republican in this state
carried overwhelmingly by Donald Trump in 2016, and where the
president is still very popular. In fact, Senator Manchin is the only
remaining Democrat in West Virginia holding statewide office. The
current governor, elected as a Democrat, switched parties and is a
strong Trump supporter.

Although 36 senate seats are up in 2020, and 24 of them are now
held by Republicans (a reverse of 2018 when most incumbents were
Democrats), very few of the races now seem competitive. In fact,
the one senate seat likely to switch parties next year is in Alabama,
where incumbent Democrat Senator Doug Jones is rated a likely
loser in this normally very conservative state. (Jones won an upset
special election in 2017 when his Republican opponent became
immersed in controversies.)

Most of the other 2020 senate races takes place in states where 
incumbents, or their replacements in case of retirement, are expected
to win easily. Indeed, there have already been two announced
retirements, GOP Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and GOP
Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, and both of them are now expected
to be replaced by Republicans in these conservative states.

Two Republican incumbents, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, and
Senator Martha McSally of Arizona, are considered potentially
vulnerable in 2020, as are Democratic (DFL) Senator Tina Smith of
Minnesota and Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, but all
four are incumbents, and might not be easily rejected by the voters.

Of course, the 2020 presidential election, already underway, could
change the dynamic of senate election prospects. If President Trump
emerges positively from the current government shutdown standoff
and the expected U.S. house (now controlled by the Democrats)
investigations, and wins re-election, he could help his party’s senate
candidates across the board. Conversely, if he does not, or chooses
not to run, GOP losses could exceed current expectations.

A strong Democratic presidential nominee could help 2020 liberal
senate challengers, but a controversial one, as George McGovern was
in 1972, might make prospects worse for Democratic senate and
congressional candidates in November, 2020.

The presidential contest could likewise affect the 2020 U.S. house
elections, when the new Democratic majority must defend their 40
pick-ups in 2018, most of which were by small margins in very
competitive districts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces a
Democratic U.S. house caucus no less divided and difficult to control
than the one faced by House Speaker Paul Ryan in 2017.

The political year of 2020 is inevitably going to be interesting, but
2019 just might have some memorable fireworks of its own.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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