This year’s Senate races spell disaster for the Republican Party
This spells disaster for the party. Public polls show incumbent Senate Republicans trailing in five states: Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina. One recent poll from Georgia shows Sen. David Perdue leading his Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff, 45 percent to 42 percent, but that same poll also shows Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the state by two percentage points, 47 percent to 45 percent. The clear implication is that Georgia is also in play if Trump’s ratings stay down, which would spell disaster for Republicans since the second Senate seat in Georgia, held by appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, is also on the November ballot. That’s seven GOP-held Senate seats at a high risk of switching parties, with only the Democratic-held seat in Alabama that is seen as a likely Republican pickup to offset those losses.
It could get even worse. A University of Montana poll conducted last month shows Democratic challenger Steve Bullock ahead of Republican incumbent Steve Daines 47 percent to 43 percent, even as Trump is winning the state with 52 percent support. Before you dismiss this as a fluke, recall that Bullock is a two-term governor, which demonstrates his ability to win normally Republican votes. Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester also won reelection in 2018 even though exit polls showed Trump had a 51 percent job approval rating. Outside groups have already reserved more than $30 million in television time there, as both parties expect the race to be tight.
Republicans are also at risk of losing seats in Kansas and Alaska in a worst-case scenario. Democrats have not elected a senator in Kansas since 1932, but both parties think the seat could be in play if Republicans nominate former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach. Kobach is a conservative whose views on immigration and voter fraud alienate many moderate voters. He lost in 2018 as the GOP nominee for governor, losing to Democrat Laura Kelly by five percentage points. The Alaska race has not received much national attention, but the state is much more competitive below the presidential level. Incumbent Sen. Dan Sullivan won the seat in the 2014 Republican wave by only a two-point margin over Democratic incumbent Mark Begich, who himself won the seat narrowly over incumbent Republican Ted Stevens in the 2008 Democratic tsunami. Most analysts still rate this as a Republican seat, but the chance of an upset led the Cook Political Report to downgrade its rating slightly to “likely Republican” in June.
Republicans also look set to lose House seats if trends don’t improve. Throughout 2020, Democrats have led the national generic ballot, which asks respondents whose party’s House candidate they would support. They currently lead by a massive 11-point margin, nearly three points more than they won the national popular vote in 2018. Republicans will automatically lose two seats because of a court-ordered redistricting in North Carolina and won at least 10 seats in 2018 by three points or less. Losing this November by 10 points or more would almost guarantee further GOP House losses, entrenching Democratic rule in the House even further.
A Republican wipeout would likely extend deep into state legislatures, too. Republicans gained 680 state legislative seats in their 2010 wave victory, while Democrats picked up 309 state legislative seats in 2018. Another Democratic landslide could hand them control of a number of key legislative chambers, the most important being the Texas State House. Republicans in Austin hold an 83-to-67 advantage, but they lost 12 seats in 2018, and Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke won nine districts currently represented by Republicans. If Democrats were to win control, it would eliminate Republican control over redistricting in a state that is expected to send 39 members to the House after the post-census reapportionment.
Republicans have little control over their fate, given the polarized and nationalized electorate. They could reprise a gambit from the 1996 election, where congressional Republicans argued voters should split their tickets to prevent President Bill Clinton from having a “blank check.” That is always a risky strategy, but it’s even riskier with the notoriously vindictive Trump. He would likely attack any Republican who dared to cut loose from his sinking ship, rendering such attempts futile from the start.
Things could get better. Republicans would hold many seats at all levels if Trump were to lose by only six points rather than 11 or more. Right now, though, for Republicans nationwide, that feels a lot like holding the deck chairs on the Titanic.