Category Archives: 2020 Election

Senate Update: How This Year’s Race Sets Up 2020

Welcome to our Election Update for Thursday, Nov. 1!
According to all three versions of our forecast — Lite, Classic and Deluxe — as of 9 a.m. Eastern, Republicans have a 6 in 7 chance of holding on to the Senate. Every time a new poll fails to show Democrats gaining ground, the party’s window to turn things around closes a little bit further. Their 15.3 percent chance of flipping the chamber (according to the Classic version of our model) is one of the lowest we’ve seen all cycle.
With numbers like that, the Senate may seem like a foregone conclusion. But that would be the wrong way to approach it. Even if Republicans hold the Senate, the margin by which they do so could be decisive for future elections. In contrast to the 2018 Senate map, which presented Democrats with very few opportunities for gains and exposed tons of vulnerabilities, the 2020 Senate map has several possible openings for Democrats. Republicans picked up nine seats from Democrats in the 2014 elections, including in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina. That means Democrats will be able to play offense when those seats are up again in 2020 and may have a decent chance of flipping the chamber — as long as 2018 doesn’t dig them into too deep a hole.

The 2020 Senate battleground
Senators up for re-election in 2020 and their state’s partisan lean*

Incumbent

Name
Party
State
Partisan Lean

Michael Enzi
R
Wyoming
R+47.4

James Risch
R
Idaho
R+34.9

James Inhofe
R
Oklahoma
R+33.9

Mike Rounds
R
South Dakota
R+30.6

Shelley Moore Capito
R
West Virginia
R+30.5

Lamar Alexander
R
Tennessee
R+28.1

Doug Jones
D
Alabama
R+26.8

Tom Cotton
R
Arkansas
R+24.4

Ben Sasse
R
Nebraska
R+24.0

Pat Roberts
R
Kansas
R+23.3

Mitch McConnell
R
Kentucky
R+23.3

Steve Daines
R
Montana
R+17.7

Bill Cassidy
R
Louisiana
R+17.3

Lindsey Graham
R
South Carolina
R+17.2

John Cornyn
R
Texas
R+16.9

Cindy Hyde-Smith†
R
Mississippi
R+15.4

Dan Sullivan
R
Alaska
R+14.9

David Perdue
R
Georgia
R+11.8

OPEN (Jon Kyl)^
R
Arizona
R+9.3

Joni Ernst
R
Iowa
R+5.8

Thom Tillis
R
North Carolina
R+5.1

Jeanne Shaheen
D
New Hampshire
R+1.7

Mark Warner
D
Virginia
D+0.1

Gary Peters
D
Michigan
D+1.3

Cory Gardner
R
Colorado
D+1.5

Tina Smith†
D
Minnesota
D+2.1

Susan Collins
R
Maine
D+4.9

Tom Udall
D
New Mexico
D+7.2

Jeff Merkley
D
Oregon
D+8.7

Dick Durbin
D
Illinois
D+13.0

Cory Booker
D
New Jersey
D+13.3

Chris Coons
D
Delaware
D+13.6

Jack Reed
D
Rhode Island
D+25.7

Ed Markey
D
Massachusetts
D+29.4

* Partisan lean is the average difference between how a state or district voted and how the country voted overall. In our new partisan lean formula, 2016 presidential election results are weighted 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results are weighted 25 percent, and results from elections for the state legislature are weighted 25 percent.
† Assuming the incumbent wins a special election in 2018.
^ Sen. Jon Kyl was appointed to serve out the remainder of the late John McCain’s term but has declared he will not run for a full term in 2020.
Sources: U.S. Senate, The New York Times

As you can see in the table above, Democrats have two obvious targets in 2020: Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, the only two Republicans up for re-election in blue states. Four more Republicans sit in states that lean Republican by no more than 12 points,9 and so might be beatable in a favorable election environment or with the right candidates. Of course, it’s not a given that Democrats will add any seats at all to their total in 2020: Sen. Doug Jones faces an uphill fight in deep-red Alabama. What’s more, six more Democratic seats are also plausibly vulnerable.10
Granted, we have no idea what the political climate will be in 2020. (We’re still not sure what will happen five days from now!) But bear in mind that, although Democrats faced a terrible environment in 2010, President Barack Obama was comfortably re-elected just two years later, so even if Democrats prove to have a strong 2018, that doesn’t mean the GOP can’t turn it around in 2020. And if 2020 is a strong Republican year, Democrats probably have no chance at picking up the Senate no matter what happens in 2018. But let’s assume there’s no red wave in 2020 and that, thanks to the power of incumbency, Democrats are favored to hold all their current seats except Alabama in two years. What can they do in 2018 to make their task in 2020 as easy as possible?

Other than picking up the Senate outright, Democrats’ best bet is to make a net gain of one seat (say, picking up Arizona — where Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema currently has a 3 in 5 chance — while holding on to North Dakota or ousting Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada). That would create a 50-50 tie in the chamber11 — and there’s a 14.6 percent chance that will happen, per our forecast. In that scenario, Democrats would have plenty of paths to a majority in 2020: They could hold Alabama and flip either Colorado or Maine; they could flip both Colorado and Maine while losing Alabama; they could even get away with winning just one of those three states if they also win the vice presidency (and therefore the tiebreaking vote).
But according to the model, there’s a very real chance that the Senate’s balance of power will simply stay the same: 51 Republicans, 49 Democrats. If that happens (our model gives it a 17.7 percent chance as of 9 a.m.), Democrats would need to hold on to Alabama and win both Maine and Colorado — or else pick up a seat in one of the four closest Republican-leaning states.12
But our forecast also gives Republicans a 17.3 percent chance to net one seat and secure a 52-48 majority. In this scenario, maybe Republicans win with Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley in that state (a 2 in 5 chance) in addition to Kevin Cramer in North Dakota, while Democrats win with Sinema in Arizona. That would be a big win for the GOP because it would force Democrats to hold Alabama, win both Maine and Colorado, and pick up a Senate seat in a red state in 2020 to gain a majority. Based on states’ partisan leans,13 their easiest target would be Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina, which is 5 points more Republican-leaning than the nation as a whole. But we’re starting to get into scenarios where a relatively neutral political environment in 2020 would be enough for Republicans to easily keep the Senate that year.
Let’s say Republicans net two seats in 2018 — something our model assigns a 13.8 percent chance of happening. (For example, if the GOP holds on to Arizona while picking up North Dakota and Missouri.) Then in 2020 Democrats would need to hold on to all of their current seats (including Alabama) and flip four Republican seats. Their most plausible targets would be Collins, Gardner, Tillis and Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa. Iowa is about as red as North Carolina, so Ernst wouldn’t necessarily be a tougher target than Tillis, but Democrats couldn’t afford to lose even one of those races, so the odds would be stacked against them.
Finally, there’s a roughly 21 percent chance that the dam breaks and Republicans net three or more Senate seats this year. Democrats might lose their grip on seats like Indiana (where former Republican state Rep. Mike Braun has a 2 in 7 chance) or Florida (Gov. Rick Scott also has a 2 in 7 chance) in this scenario. The party would really have its work cut out for it in this case: Democrats would have to win all the seats outlined above plus places like Arizona or Georgia. Arizona may be feasible for Democrats in 2020, since it will likely be an open seat14 in a diversifying state. But that’s true of Arizona this year, too.
This is all speculation, of course. There are lots of moving parts in both 2018 (who will win and where) and 2020 (which incumbents will retire, whether the political environment will improve or worsen for Republicans). But it’s a useful exercise in understanding why Democrats should absolutely be sweating the difference between picking up one seat and losing one. Control of the chamber is at stake in 2018 … and in 2020.
CORRECTION (Nov. 01, 2018, 11:12 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the number of Senate seats Republicans picked up in 2014. It was nine, not seven.


Who’s Behaving Like A 2020 Presidential Candidate

Sen. Cory Booker went to Iowa. Michael Bloomberg re-registered as a Democrat after years as an independent. Former Secretary of State John Kerry would not rule out another presidential run, even though it’s very unlikely he will actually pull the trigger. And that’s just the 2020 campaign activity that made the news this week.
The 2020 Democratic presidential primary started the day after the 2016 election — let’s not pretend otherwise. But we’re hitting a new phase of the campaign: the last few weeks of the midterms, when prospective presidential candidates campaign across the country, officially in support of other politicians, but unofficially to build their own brands. And right after the midterms, I would expect a few Democrats to formally announce that they are running in 2020, others to start hiring staff and taking other concrete steps toward a run without quite fully jumping in, and a third bloc to bow out before they have to pretend to enjoy spending the winter in Iowa and New Hampshire
At this point, however, it’s hard to distinguish “I’m keeping my options open” from “Hell yes, I’m running.” So rather than wildly speculating about who’s going to do what, let’s try to answer this question: Who’s already doing the things that eventual candidates typically do at about this point in the election cycle? We’ll use the same rubric we used back in May 2017 for our article “The 7 Signs That Someone Might Be Running For President in 2020”: whether a candidate appeared at a political event in an early primary state (Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina), whether they were profiled for a major magazine, whether they campaigned for their party’s candidates for senator or governor, whether they released a book during this campaign cycle, and whether they’re being included in polls of the Democratic field.22
Here’s the latest tally23:

Who’s acting like they plan to run for president?
Based on indicators between the 2016 election and the 2018 midterms

Visited

Iowa
N.H.
S.C.
Book
Poll
Magazine Profile
Campaigned
Score

Sanders







7

Biden







6

Bullock



5

Booker




5

Castro



5

Garcetti




5

Holder





5

Ryan



5

Steyer




5

Avenatti


4

Buttigieg



4

Flake



4

Gillibrand





4

Harris





4

Hickenlooper



4

Kasich



4

Landrieu




4

Merkley



4

Moulton


4

O’Malley



4

Swalwell



4

Warren





4

Bloomberg



3

Inslee


3

Klobuchar


3

McAuliffe


3

Schatz



3

Hassan


2

Patrick


2

Sasse

2

Schultz

1

Visits to Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire include formal political events only, including scheduled visits that haven’t happened yet. Candidates count as having a book out if they have published a book or are scheduled to publish a book during the 2018 election cycle. For polls, we’re counting any national, nonpartisan primary surveys that include the potential candidate. A national profile is defined as a piece in The Atlantic, New York magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine or Time that is more than 1,000 words long and includes an interview with the potential candidate. Campaigning is defined as participating in an event for a gubernatorial or Senate candidate.

There are a lot of names there, though even so we probably still missed a few. Because we started with a list of candidates who had visited early primary states, we were more likely to capture candidates who met that criteria and less likely to capture people who have been campaigning in other ways. And since much of this information is pulled from news reports, we may have missed events that didn’t attract much media attention, like a campaign stop in support of candidate whose re-election looks like a sure thing.24 With those caveats in mind, let’s run through this list we have in groups.
Basically running right now
Lawyer Michael Avenatti; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; former Vice President Joe Biden; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro; Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; California Sen. Kamala Harris; Former Attorney General Eric Holder; former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu; Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon; former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley; Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts; Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; Rep. Eric Swalwell of California; businessman and pro-impeachment activist Tom Steyer; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
I should emphasize that these signs are a general rubric — a way to test our impressions of the field against reality — not some kind of formal system for predicting who will run for president. That said, I think these indicators do give you some sense of which politicians seem to really want to run.
This first group is potential candidates who have taken at least four of the seven steps toward running. I think of the people in this group as running for president right now, even if some of them end up never launching full-blown campaigns. (For example, at this point, the more interesting story would be if Bernie Sanders didn’t run for president; he is the only person who hit all seven of our indicators.) It’s worth noting the diversity of approaches in this group. Some of them, like Michael Avenatti and Eric Garcetti and Sanders, are making visits to multiple early primary states, which is the equivalent of saying, “I’m really, really thinking about running for president and I really, really want the national media to cover my explorations.”
To be fair to people like Garcetti, if you’re not a nationally known figure, going to the early states is perhaps the most efficient way for an aspiring president to get his or her name in articles like this one. Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, is already well-known among Democratic activists, so she can skip the activities that seem very self-focused — she hasn’t gone to Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina — while making moves that keep her profile up (campaigning for Democrats in key gubernatorial races).
There are 20 people in this bucket — a fairly large group. That said, I don’t expect all 20 to run, and I would be surprised if even half of them ultimately do. People who have taken this many early steps often bow out because they decide that they are unlikely to win. Jeff Merkley, for example, is an economic populist who was the only U.S. senator to endorse Sanders in 2016. In terms of message and policy views, the two have a lot in common. So it’s hard to see a path to victory for Merkley if the much-better-known Vermont senator runs too.
Two governors in this group, Steve Bullock and John Hickenlooper, are presenting themselves as more centrist candidates. If Joe Biden decides to run, he will likely enter that centrist lane too, and I doubt there is room for both him and those other two.
Indeed, Biden and Sanders would enter the contest as two of the best-known candidates. But you could imagine one or both of them deciding that the possibility of winning both the primary and the general election is outweighed by the possibility that they will lose one of those races and taint their strong political brands with another presidential defeat.
Of these 20, I’m most skeptical of the idea of Holder and Landrieu running. The former attorney general could be publicly teasing a presidential campaign not because he really wants to run but because the national coverage will bring more attention to his project to mobilize Democrats against what he considers unfair Republican-engineered gerrymandering in states across the country. Or I could be wrong — Holder might launch a formal campaign over the next year, and we could have a field with three high-profile black candidates (I think Booker and Kamala Harris are almost definitely running).
Landrieu has been downplaying the idea of running, and he’s the kind of person with low national name recognition who should probably be overhyping himself if he really wants to compete in 2020.
Notice there are only three women in this group. To be sure, Harris and Warren, in particular, seem more likely to wind up being the Democratic presidential nominee than men like, say, Eric Swalwell. That said, despite the rise of women candidates in the Democratic Party after President Trump’s election, the majority of Democratic presidential candidates will likely be male, in part because the ranks of senators, governors and House members are disproportionately male.
Taking steps but not being as aggressive
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii
This category covers anyone who hit three of our seven signs. I don’t want to overemphasize the distinction between this group and the first one — some people in this group are almost definitely running. Michael Bloomberg and Jay Inslee, for example, are being quite open about considering candidacies, so I just as easily could have included them in the section above.
Amy Klobuchar has a lot of potential appeal: She’s expected to cruise to a third term in a closely divided state; she has gotten fairly strong support in Minnesota’s rural areas, an unusual quality for a Democrat; and she’s a woman at a time when Democratic voters appear to be seeking more gender parity in their elected officials.
I don’t think Brian Schatz has any plans to run, and his visit to Iowa really seemed like an exercise in helping party activists there and not raising his personal profile. But you never know.
Doing fairly little
Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire; Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; businessman Howard Schultz
Deval Patrick and Howard Schultz are fairly high-profile figures. Neither seems to have closed the door on the possibility of running, but they have been less aggressive than others in laying clear groundwork for a campaign.

Whew. That’s 27 people. And that’s not all. Remember, Rep. John Delaney of Maryland has been an official, declared candidate for over a year. The third-term congressman is not being taken too seriously — many outlets doing polls of the 2020 field aren’t including him. I’m keeping my eye on a businessman named Andrew Yang, who has also officially declared his candidacy. He could run at least a semi-serious campaign for two reasons: He is making a universal basic income, a buzzy idea in left-wing circles, the center of his candidacy, so he is getting some media attention, and, yes, reporters like me are going to cover more out-the-box candidates to avoid missing the next Donald Trump.
Also, and we may come back to this in a later piece, at least three Republicans (Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska) have emerged as anti-Trump figures in the GOP and visited at least one of the early primary states. I would not rule out the possibility that one of them (probably Kasich) will run against the president in the Republican primary.
But let me finish with this: Who seems likely not to run?
On the sidelines
Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, former first lady Michelle Obama, media mogul Oprah Winfrey
After Trump was elected in 2016, it seemed like the rules of politics no longer mattered and so we would see a lot of actors, corporate titans, musicians and other political neophytes run in 2020. That seems fairly unlikely, at least as of now. Avenatti, Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, in particular, would be non-traditional candidates with some Trump-like characteristics. But we’re not seeing real, bonafide celebrities making active moves to run for president.
Michelle Obama, for example, has been included in polls and is coming out with a book, so I could have put her in the section with Deval Patrick, but those are pretty weak indicators in her case; I really, really, really don’t think she is running. Winfrey has two post-2016 books and she polls well, but I don’t think she is running either. In an interview last year, The Rock expressed interest in running for president, but far in the future (2024). And he wouldn’t really fit into our analysis here anyway, since the actor is not affiliated with either party.
It also seemed, in the days immediately after the 2016 election, that the Democrats would be desperate to draft anyone who could appeal to white working class men in Ohio and push those candidates into the presidential field. So far, not so much.
Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown and Bob Casey are likely to win re-election this November in key states that Trump flipped to the GOP side in 2016. The fact that Democratic party activists are not clamoring for any of these three to run in 2020 is a sign that the party is not singularly obsessed with finding an “electable” candidate. Democrats might regret this choice if Trump defeats, say, Sanders or Warren in 2020, carrying Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin along the way.