Ideally, the Democratic National Committee would not only like to see its party win the presidential race and increase its majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, but also, flip the U.S. Senate — where Republicans slightly increased their majority in the 2018 midterms. Flipping the Senate this year is an uphill climb for Democrats, but it’s doable. And according to Joan E. Greve, a Washington, DC correspondent for the British publication The Guardian, the coronavirus pandemic and the GOP’s response to it are giving Democrats more optimism about their chances of retaking the Senate.
“With (former Vice President Joe) Biden the presumptive (Democratic presidential) nominee and Donald Trump facing widespread criticism for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, election experts say the upper chamber is up for grabs,” Greve explains.
Under the direction of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans presently control 53 seats in the U.S. Senate, while Democrats control 47 — which means that in order to obtain a majority, Democrats will need to flip at least four GOP-held seats while keeping every seat they are defending. A net gain of four seats would give Democrats a 51-seat majority and reduce the GOP’s presence in the Senate to 49 seats.
The most vulnerable incumbent Democrat in the Senate is widely believed to be Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who is seeking reelection in a deep red state where President Donald Trump is still quite popular with his hardcore MAGA base. And if Jones loses to a Republican, Democrats will need to flip five GOP-held seats to obtain a majority.
“Jones’ race is one of only a few chances for Republicans to flip a seat themselves,” Greve notes. “Other Democrats up for re-election, such as Gary Peters in Michigan, have started to pull ahead. The map is unfavorable for Republicans, with incumbents facing difficult re-election races in presidential battleground states like Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina.”
Incumbent GOP senators who are believed to be vulnerable include Martha McSally in Arizona, Susan Collins in Maine, Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Cory Gardner in North Carolina. Collins was wildly popular in her state in the past, winning reelection by double digits more than once. But that was before Trump’s presidency and before she voted for Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.
“Incumbent Republicans face the same challenge as the president: the financial devastation caused by the pandemic has robbed them of their best talking point — the strength of the US economy,” Greve explains. “As the unemployment rate climbs and many Americans lose health coverage, Democratic strategists are quick to point out that the administration has stayed in a lawsuit from Republican state attorneys general which seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act.”
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told The Guardian that Democrats “have done a better job of putting more races in play than the Republicans have, although Republicans are just defending many more seats.”
Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been slamming Trump for doubling down on his desire to abolish Obamacare during a deadly pandemic, stressing that ending the ACA’s protection for pre-existing conditions would seriously hurt thousands of Americans who have been infected with COVID-19. And similarly, Benjamin Ray (senior director of campaign communications for Emily’s List) told The Guardian, “Senate Republicans, right now, today, support a lawsuit that could toss out critical protections for people with pre-existing conditions. It might sound unconscionable to kick people that have gotten sick in a global pandemic off of their health insurance, but it’s what incumbent Republicans want.”
Helen Kalla, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, believes that Trump’s coronavirus response will be toxic for many GOP senators who are seeking reelection. Kalla told The Guardian, “Republican senators have completely tied themselves to the president, and now, they’re on the hook and own the failed coronavirus response….. It is very clear what the Republican agenda is. I don’t think voters are going to forget it.”