Going into 2020, Democrats are looking to take back control of the Senate while holding or improving their control of the House of Representatives. At first glance, the 2020 Senate map looks favorable to Democrats – they’re only defending 12 seats to the Republicans’ 22, so capturing the three seats (or two if they win the presidency) would seem to be a relatively simple task. Digging deeper, however, they face a much more challenging map than it would appear. Only two Republicans up in 2020 are in states that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 (CO and ME), and Democrats will also need to defend Doug Jones in deep-red Alabama.
With the map looking less-than-favorable, if Democrats want to take back the Senate they will want to avoid contentious primaries, which often leave the winner in a weakened position going into a tough general election with a relatively unscathed incumbent. While it’s still early and races are continuing to take shape, AR/Intel has identified three Senate races that could spell trouble for Democrats’ 2020 ambitions.
AR/Intel Insiders: For breakdowns of all these Senate contests – including electoral histories, candidate information, polling, and recent news – click here.
Given that Hillary Clinton carried his state by nearly five points in 2016, Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) seat is a major pickup target for Democrats. As we highlighted in a post a couple weeks ago, however, there are nearly a dozen Democrats running for the seat with at least a few more considering jumping in. With a field that large, it’s to be expected that a few candidates might not catch fire, but in the case of Colorado, there are multiple viable candidates vying for the chance to take on Gardner.
Dan Baer, who served under President Obama in the U.S. State Department for seven years, has already received an endorsement from the Foreign Policy for America Action Network. John Walsh, another Obama alum who worked as a U.S. attorney, received backing from former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara shortly after announcing his candidacy.
Also running are former state legislators Andrew Romanoff, who was speaker of the House from 2005 to 2008, and Alice Madden, a former House majority leader. Both candidates have strong connections in the state and are expected to be competitive in the primary. And then there’s Mike Johnston, a former state senator and 2018 gubernatorial candidate, who had a strong first quarter for fundraising and has already received high-profile endorsements in the state.
With so many candidates running, it seems likely that this primary will leave its victor bloodied going into the general – which should be good news for Senator Gardner.
Although Iowa might seem like a Republican stronghold (President Trump carried Iowa by a little over nine points in 2016), President Obama won the state by close to six points in 2012, and last November Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell nearly won his race. Democrats will need to win states like Iowa if they hope to retake the Senate next year, and that’s why they will want to avoid a circular firing squad like the one shaping up in Colorado.
Earlier this week, Theresa Greenfield, a real estate executive and 2018 House candidate, became the latest Democrat to join the primary to challenge Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). She joins Kimberly Graham, a local attorney, and Eddie Mauro, an insurance executive.
With a field of only three candidates, on first blush it doesn’t appear that Democrats will face a tough primary in Iowa. For those monitoring the race, though, what makes the primary potentially tough are the candidates considering a run.
Following Greenfield’s announcement, CNN’s Chris Cillizza admitted that she “isn’t a known name nationally, or even really in Iowa.” With Democrats desperately wanting to pick up a seat here, there are several other names they might want to recruit over Greenfield. Among them are J.D. Schloten, a former baseball player and nonprofit executive who has been toying with the idea of running for months. Scholten made headlines in 2018 when he challenged Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in the state’s heavily Republican 4th District and only came up short by a few points. Democrats as recently as last month have reportedly floated State Auditor Rob Sand as a possible candidate; unlike Greenfield, Sand already has statewide name recognition. And then there’s state Senator Liz Mathis, who has met with groups in Washington, D.C. and has indicated she is interested in running.
That said, Greenfield is off to a hot start. On Wednesday she announced a list of endorsements from leaders across Iowa, headlined by former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, and EMILY’s List announced their support for her early Thursday morning. Despite this support, with at least three other viable candidates on the periphery, Campaign Pro’s James Arkin agrees that Greenfield hardly has the nomination locked down yet. Should any or all of the other possible candidates decide to get in, the Democratic primary could end up being quite messy.
Georgia is similar to Iowa in the sense that it’s a red state that has had trended blue in certain races, making it a long coveted pickup opportunity for Democrats. President Trump carried Georgia by about five points in 2016, but in 2018 two Republican House seats flipped and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp squeaked by with a 1.4-point victory.
Democrats were hesitant to jump into the Senate race when former candidate Stacy Abrams was considering running, as many believed she had the best chance at picking up the seat. After she announced she would not seek the office, however, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson jumped in. Although there are several other Democrats running, Tomlinson is viewed as the clear frontrunner in the race at this point.
Again like Iowa, however, there are several candidates on the sidelines that could make the primary a headache for those looking to take down Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) next year.
At the top of that list is Sarah Riggs Amico, a business executive who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018. In April, Amico announced she would be conducting a statewide tour to determine if she will run for Senate. Several news outlets, including The Atlanta Journal Constitution, have speculated that she will eventually enter the race. Such a move would likely cause a competitive primary between a candidate who has been actively campaigning for several months and one who already has built-in name recognition. There is also the possibility that former House candidate Jon Ossoff may run, as well Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, and Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.
The specter of these other possible candidacies and the right-leaning nature of the state is likely why forecasters like the Cook Political Report rate the race as “likely Republican.” Should Amico and any of the other possible candidates get involved, it might not be surprising to see them move the rating to “solid Republican” and out of reach for Democrats.