As the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump continues and suburban voters appear to be shifting from red to blue, control of the Senate is now in play for 2020. Will Republicans hold on to their majority, or will the Senate become part of the “blue wave” that started in 2018?

Congressional elections do not get nearly the amount of media coverage as the presidential race, so here’s a look at what’s going on in the Senate and why it matters for the government and the country as a whole.

The Balance of Power

Republicans currently hold a 53-45 majority over Democrats in the Senate, which was bolstered by a strong performance in 2018 when they picked up seats in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota. However, Democrats gained seats in Arizona and Nevada in 2018, and the map looks much more favorable for them in 2020.

Republicans will need to defend 23 seats next November, compared to only nine seats in 2018. Democrats will only need to defend 12 seats, compared to 26 seats in 2018. 

Republicans are also working against the momentum of the Democratic presidential campaign and the impeachment proceedings, which seem likely to continue into 2020. Instead of hitting the campaign trail, incumbent Senators will be in Washington for the impeachment trial that seems likely to occur.

Races to Watch

The Cook Political Report lists several 2020 Senate races as “tossups,” meaning that either party could win the seat.

Alabama

Democrat Doug Jones, who defeated Republican Roy Moore in a surprising 2017 special election, is up for re-election in 2020. Jones won the special election 50%-48%;  it remains unclear whether that was a fluke or a signal of a more drastic partisan shift happening in what’s traditionally been one of the country’s reddest states.

Arizona

Republican Martha McSally is up for re-election this year after she was appointed to fill John McCain’s seat in December 2018. You might recall that McSally ran for Arizona’s other Senate seat in 2018 and narrowly lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. McSally will face a tough challenge from Democratic candidates, including Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona.

Colorado

Republican Cory Gardner has one of the most vulnerable Republican Senate seats for 2020 as Colorado continues what appears to be a progressive shift. Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016, and Democrats retained the governorship in 2018. The state has also led the way in passing progressive-leaning ballot initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana.

Maine

Maine will once again use ranked-choice voting to elect a Senator in 2020. Independent Angus King easily won re-election in 2018, but Republican Susan Collins is far more vulnerable. To maintain her seat, Collins needs to appeal to Trump supporters, moderate conservatives, and independents — a coalition that could be tough to stitch together, especially during an impeachment inquiry.

Why It Matters 

The Senate is a critical piece of our legislative system. Even with control of the White House and the House of Representatives, Democrats will not be able to get much of their agenda accomplished without a Democratic majority in the Senate. 

If Republicans maintain control of the chamber, expect Mitch McConnell and the Republicans to use their power to slow things down and put a holding pattern on as much as they can until the next round of elections in 2022.

The Senate also plays a key role in confirming Supreme Court justices. It appears likely that at least one or two Supreme Court seats will be filled in the next few years. Senate Republicans could stop or stall any nominees put forth by a Democratic president, particularly if the nominee is a justice who disagrees with conservative values.


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