Divert your attention away from the presidential race for a moment. The Senate majority is in contention which means there’s a chance Democrats could control two branches of government if they play their cards right.
A year ago, few would have thought the Democrats stood a chance of taking control of the Senate, but the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis and the administration’s handling of civil rights protests have changed the picture.
That the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed over 140,000 lives in the US alone, caused skyrocketing unemployment numbers and tanked the economy isn’t helping Trump’s reelection chances either. Trump’s poor polling numbers have dragged Republican Senate candidates down with him.
Trump’s handling of race relations and protests of police violence appear to be his greatest weakness in recent polls. Images of the forcible clearing out of protestors from Lafayette Square ahead of President Trump’s photo op with a Bible in front of St. John’s Church brought scrutiny on the commander-in-chief’s handling of demonstrations in the nation’s capital and across the country.
According to a poll of registered voters by The New York Times and Siena College, highly educated white Americans who typically support the Republican party are turning their backs on the president and therefore providing an advantage to Democratic Senate candidates.
As Republican senators struggle to shake off Trump’s misfortune, Democratic Senate hopefuls see an opening. The Republican Senate’s three-seat majority is for the taking. If Biden can win the presidency and Democrats win 3 seats in the Senate, Democrats will have a majority with the vice president’s vote to break a tie in the Senate.
All eyes are on toss-up states Colorado, Arizona, Maine and North Carolina where Democratic challengers outraised incumbent Republican senators in the first quarter of 2020. Biden currently leads in the polls in each of these states as do the Democrats running for Senate.
Alabama is a starkly different story. Republicans are hopeful that former college football coach and GOP candidate Tommy Tuberville will win back a Senate seat for Republicans. Democratic Senator Doug Jones currently holds the seat after having won a surprise victory in a 2017 special election. As a Democrat in Trump favoring Alabama, Jones is the most vulnerable senator from either party up in 2020.
In deeply red Kentucky, Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath is putting up a fight against one of the most influential Republicans on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McGrath’s ability to fundraise much greater sums than McConnell has drawn the attention of the Republican party, forcing it to spend time and money in Kentucky and not elsewhere in the country where other campaigns are increasingly in need of financial support to get them across the finish line on November 3.
With Biden’s good fortune and Trump’s repeated mishaps over the last few months, a number of Senate races have become competitive in states like Iowa and Montana where Senate Republicans are fighting in traditionally Republican-leaning states.
According to the Pew Research Center, most Senate races go the same way as the states’ presidential vote (good news for Alabama Republicans). In 2016, every Senate race was won by the party that carried the state in the presidential election. If Biden can continue to carry the lead in Colorado, Arizona, Maine and North Carolina, the odds are in Democrats’ favor to take control of the Senate and win the White House.
As Biden adjusts his campaign strategy to cater to his nearly nine point lead in national polls, he must keep in mind that the Democrats won back the House in 2018 through centrists taking seats held by Republicans, not progressives maintaining their secure positions. Centrists will flip states, not progressives.
The GOP realizes this and has gone on the attack, calling Biden a socialist and a prop for the far left. Trump’s campaign has painted the election as a choice between freedom and socialism.
This leaves Biden between a rock and a hard place. Does he inspire the Democratic base to get out and vote with progressive rhetoric and risk losing the Senate? Or does he remain closer to the center and ultimately aid Senate races in toss-up states, but dull progressive enthusiasm for his campaign?
Biden’s has sought to blend the two approaches, expressing support for some progressive policies on climate change and bankruptcy, but maintaining his centrist bona fides in other areas. If he can evade Republican barbs that he’s a socialist, and maintain a coalition of suburban centrists and urban progressives, Biden won’t just win the White House, he’ll have a Senate majority too.