The Republicans’ slim 53-47 margin in the U.S. Senate is in real jeopardy on Tuesday, but it’s by no means a foregone conclusion that Democrats will flip the upper chamber.
Republicans started out with a big disadvantage. There are normally 33 Senate seats being contested every two years. This year, there are special elections to fill out the unexpired terms of John McCain in Arizona and Johnny Isaacson in Georgia. With 23 Republicans running, the GOP has to defend 25 seats to the Democrats’ 12.
Two of those Democrats are in trouble. Doug Jones in Alabama is almost certainly a gone goose as former coach Tommy Tuberville appears far ahead.
In Michigan, Democratic incumbent Gary Peters is getting all he can handle from the GOP’s rising star in the state, John James. It’s neck-and-neck going into Election Day.
But everywhere else, Democrats are giving Republicans a hard time. Most analysts believe that Colorado’s GOP incumbent Senator Corey Gardner is too far behind to catch former Governor John Hickenlooper while Susan Collins in Maine trails her Democratic opponent state House Speaker Sara Gideon. Ordinarily, Collins wouldn’t be in bad shape, trailing by only a few percentage points. But Maine is a “ranked voting” state, meaning that many voter’s second choices will be counted as votes for the Democrat. It’s likely to doom Collins in the end.
Elsewhere, the most vulnerable Republicans appear to be Martha McSally in Arizona (running against former astronaut Mark Kelly) and Thom Tillis in North Carolina. Of those four senators, Republicans can afford to lose two if they lose the White House.
It may very well be that when the dust settles following the election, Senate control will rest solely on the outcome of the two Senate seats up in Georgia. And both of those seats may very well go to a runoff election that will be held January 5.
In the special election, 20 candidates are vying to fill out the remainder of retired Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler, co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, to fill the seat until the election. She’s in a tough battle for the GOP vote with Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga. Meanwhile, Democrat Raphael Warnock, pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, is leading the field for Democrats. It’s unlikely anyone will get 50% of the vote in this race, meaning the top two finishers will head to a runoff race on Jan. 5.
In the regularly planned Georgia race, Perdue is virtually tied with Democrat Jon Ossoff, a media company executive who previously lost a congressional race in Georgia. If neither Perdue nor Ossoff [gets] over 50% of the vote on Tuesday, they would head to a runoff election on Jan. 5 without the Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel on the ballot.
A runoff would usually favor the GOP with the reduced turnout and Georgia’s strong Republican presence in the statehouse. But if control of the Senate is on the line, all bets are off and both races are likely to be barnburners.
“It’s pretty clear that on January 3 there will be at least one vacancy and there could well be two,” said Jacob Rubashkin, a reporter/analyst for Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter in Washington, D.C. “And given the way 2020 has gone, maybe those will be dispositive for the Senate majority.”
It’s also possible that Republicans will need both seats to hang on to control of the Senate. If Republicans lose 4 seats on Election Day, they will need those seats in Georgia to maintain their majority.
It’s by no means impossible for Republicans to win both races, but the GOP civil war between Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins is dividing the party at exactly the wrong time in Georgia. And the wounds aren’t likely to heal anytime soon.