United States Elections

2020 US Senate Races Predictions

13 Mins read
2020 US Senate Races Predictions

When you have almost three dozen 2020 US Senate races, it can be hard to keep track of what’s going on in each state. Not so much for us, however, because this is the sort of thing we do.

Last election cycle, it was the House that was the major focus. This year, it will be the Senate. To be exact, there are 35 United States Senate elections going on around the country in 34 states. (Yes, Georgia has two of them this year.) Control of the upper house of Congress is at stake, with Democrats feeling they have a chance to flip the majority while the Republicans hope they can hold enough seats to hang on to power. At present, the Republicans hold 53 seats and the Democratic caucus is 47. If Donald Trump is re-elected, the Democrats would need to gain four seats net to win the Senate. Should the Democrats win the 2020 presidential election, they will only need a net gain of three.

Below, we will update our Senate race ratings from now until the November election. After that, we’ll have the results and let you know how we did. Isn’t this easy?

ELECTION 2020 PREDICTIONS: President | US House | Governors | Ranking the Senate Races by Flip Chances

In the meantime, if you are looking for a primer on all 35 Senate races this year, we made a handy Youtube video that will walk you through each and every one.

These ratings were last updated on October 1, 2020.

Senate Race Latest Update Video: May 23

2020 US Senate Races Predictions: Current

2020 US Senate Races Predictions 10-1-20

Projected Seat Ranges

2020 US Senate Races Seat Range Predictions 10-1-20

The current best-case GOP scenario is losing a net of two seats; their worst-case scenario is a net loss of seven seats.

Alabama

Doug Jones (D) seeking re-election

Republican Gain - Strong Lean

Jones in 2020 Alabama is like Scott Brown in 2012 Massachusetts. Both were very fortunate to have won their special elections against very bad opponents, but reversion to the political mean is very hard to prevent. The incumbent senator would need to call in a few more miracles to get re-elected in a year in which Trump will get over 60 percent in Alabama.

Alaska

Dan Sullivan (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Strong Lean

RATINGS CHANGE, OCTOBER 1: R3 TO R2

October 1: While this is still not a top target of the Democrats, this race is becoming more interesting.  Sullivan’s poll numbers have been okay, not great, and therefore he no longer deserves to be called “safe.”  It’s not like Alaska doesn’t elect Democrats to statewide office, so is it that far outside the realm of possibility?  No, but we’re not on board with a flip at this point.

April: The Democrats are not putting a lot of effort into this race and it shows. Sullivan appears to be safe.

Arizona (special)

Martha McSally (R) seeking election

Democratic Gain - Weak Lean

What once was a pretty red state could soon have two Democrats representing it in the Senate. Martha McSally, the appointed senator, must run in a special election for the remainder of John McCain’s unserved term. The early polling in this race has been almost universally unfavorable to McSally, putting this in the Democratic column for now.

Arkansas

Tom Cotton (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Very Safe

The Democrats do not have a candidate in this race, and even if they did, it would not have made a difference.

Colorado

Cory Gardner (R) seeking re-election

Democratic Gain - Weak Lean

Cory Gardner is in for a rough ride in the Colorado Senate race. He got elected in 2014 during the GOP’s Senate wave but now has to face a well-known former governor, John Hickenlooper, in a presidential year in which Donald Trump is not going to carry the state. The amount of ticket-splitting that would have to happen to save Gardner in November may not be realistic. Consider also that Gardner’s poll numbers to date against Hickenlooper have been straight-up bad.

Delaware

Chris Coons (D) seeking re-election

Democratic Hold - Very Safe

Delaware is blue where it matters (New Castle County), but the whole state probably will be when hometown candidate Joe Biden wins it in November. Democrats will do very well in Delaware all the way down the ballot as a result. Coons may have to put down a rebellion in the Democratic primary, but the Democrats will hold this seat with no issue.

Georgia

David Perdue (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Weak Lean

RATINGS CHANGE JUNE 11: R2 TO R1

June 11: We are moving this race again, which has shifted from the Senate race in Georgia that wasn’t getting attention to the one getting almost all of it. David Perdue’s poll numbers are okay but not great by any means, and with Jon Ossoff winning the Democratic nomination outright, he’s freed up to fight the general election campaign now. As Georgia is possibly also in play on the presidential level, we see the odds growing for the Democrats.

RATINGS CHANGE MAY 3: R3 TO R2

May 17: Well, the first wave of opinion polls is out and it’s reasonable to expect David Perdue is ahead. He is not, however, running away with this thing so we are dropping him out of the “safe” category, just like where the other Senate race stands.

April 4: Perdue is the Republican senator from Georgia at less risk. The other Senate race is going to be such a mess that we might forget this one is happening.

Georgia (special)

Kelly Loeffler (R) seeking election

Republican Hold - Strong Lean

Loeffler seeking the remainder of her term and is getting a full-court press from the pro-Trump guys thanks to Doug Collins, which is not to say Loeffler is not pro-Trump, she certainly is, but Collins wanted the appointment and didn’t get picked. With this race starting off with a jungle primary, Loeffler and Collins could technically face off in the general election, but most likely it will be one or the other as they split GOP votes. The Republicans would probably hold both seats, but doesn’t necessarily mean both incumbents will be back in the Senate next year.

Idaho

Jim Risch (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Very Safe

This race will be called on election night a second after the polls close.

Illinois

Dick Durbin (D) seeking re-election

Democratic Hold - Very Safe

No problem for Durbin in Illinois, as he will be re-elected with little trouble. Illinois has had Republican senators in recent times, but Durbin is an entrenched incumbent. This state is still blue and Durbin is not going anywhere.

Iowa

Joni Ernst (R) seeking re-election

Democratic Gain - Weak Lean

RATINGS CHANGE, OCTOBER 1: R1 TO D1

October 1: We now have this as a flip.  What at first looked like a throwaway candidacy in Theresa Greenfield has not turned out that way.  We resisted taking this seat away from Joni Ernst, but her poll numbers are going south faster than the geese.  Were Trump winning Iowa by as much as he did four years ago, Ernst would probably make it.  Since that’s unlikely, and she is probably going to run behind Trump, she’s in big trouble.

RATINGS CHANGE MAY 3: R2 TO R1

May 3: The first polling is starting to come in for the Iowa Senate race, and while we assume Joni Ernst is ahead, but if so, not by much. This race no longer deserves “strong lean” status and Joni Ernst is in a more heightened sense of electoral danger.

April 4: We have on our hands an interesting race in Iowa as Joni Ernst is running for a second term, but how interesting? It feels like the Democrats could have found a standout candidate but they did not, and even though the national Democrats are putting money into this race, they had better hope it moves the poll numbers over time. Ernst is believed to be ahead, maybe not by a lot, but in a winning position as the campaign begins.

Kansas

Pat Roberts (R) retiring

Republican Hold - Strong Lean

August 9: Just an update post-primary to confirm we are leaving this as a strong lean, or what other websites might call “Likely R.”  Roger Marshall easily defeated Kris Kobach in the GOP primary, and this will come as a disappointment to Democrats.  As noted in April, Democrats wanted to run against Kobach off of his gubernatorial election loss, but they will not.  Barbara Bollier is a decent Democratic candidate but it’s still Kansas, and Marshall isn’t going to have the same issues holding the GOP base together that Kobach did in 2018.

April 4: Pat Roberts has been in the Senate since 1996 and survived a spirited challenge in 2014; the senator is going out on top. The Republicans have a wide-open race to replace him, and whomever wins that primary is going to be a strong favorite in the general. It depends on who that person is. Will the Republicans give Kris Kobach another chance after he imploded in the 2018 governor’s race? He would still probably win the Senate race, but there are a number of national Republicans not interested in taking that sort of chance.1

Kentucky

Mitch McConnell (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Safe

Mitch McConnell is very unlikely to lose Kentucky in a year in which Donald Trump will win the state in a landslide. Even if this were a midterm election, McConnell, who has been in the Senate for a long time and has obvious power, is a good bet to win. It’s been well over 20 years since the last time a Democrat won a Senate race in the Bluegrass State.

Louisiana

Bill Cassidy (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Safe

Like many Southern states, Louisiana is a fraction of the Democratic bastion it used to be. This state having two Republican senators would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. When Bill Cassidy got elected, it happened for the first time since Reconstruction. Louisiana may swing back someday, but that is not in 2020. Cassidy is safe.

Maine

Susan Collins (R) seeking re-election

Democratic Gain - Weak Lean

RATINGS CHANGE APRIL 16: R1 TO D1

April 16: Well, the poll numbers are getting worse for Susan Collins and we are at the point where we can’t sit here and tell you she’s the favorite anymore despite 24 years of Senate incumbency. She was barely favored in our first run of projections but her polling is too weak to sustain it. Maine is a strange state politically so who knows where the votes will land in November, but for this moment, we have this as a flip.

April 4: Susan Collins has not had to break much of a sweat getting re-elected in past races, at least since she first won in 1996. Might this finally be the year the Democrats get her? It could, but it looks like a close race. Maine is a political oddity of a state: they’ve got Democratic congresspeople, an Independent and a moderate Republican senator, just had a two-term arch-conservative governor replaced by a liberal, and split its electoral votes in 2016. The point is not to count Maine all in one column or all in another; if states could be politically non-binary, this one is. Collins’ poll numbers are not great but do not count her out yet; do not assume the Democrats will win here just because it’s New England.

Massachusetts

Ed Markey (D) seeking re-election

Democratic Hold - Very Safe

All of the drama in this Senate race is in the Democratic primary, which is Ed Markey vs. Joe Kennedy. Its winner us almost certain to be elected in November.

Michigan

Gary Peters (D) seeking re-election

Democratic Hold - Weak Lean

RATINGS CHANGE, OCTOBER 1: D2 to D1

October 1: Gary Peters’ poll numbers have not been great.  While we would think it might be a likely Democratic hold, and who knows, it still could be, but not when there are polls showing Peters up one to five points.  It’s been a long time for the GOP here so we’re not feeling a win, but if Trump could win it four years ago, hope springs eternal for the Red Team.

April: The Republicans are in for an uphill battle in Michigan, as all of their Michigan Senate races have been for a few decades now. As senators go, Gary Peters has a low profile, but this race more than leans Democratic.

Minnesota

Tina Smith (D) seeking re-election

Democratic Hold - Strong Lean

RATINGS CHANGE, OCTOBER 1: D3 to D2

October 1: Tina Smith is not quite safe but the GOP is not going all-in on this race, either.  They have bigger fish to fry nationally, like trying to help Susan Collins and Thom Tillis cling to their seats.  Given Smith’s poll numbers, it’s a little less than a longshot, but she’s still the favorite.

April: There is little reason to believe at this point that the Republicans are on their way to picking this seat off from Tina Smith, who just won a Senate race here less than two years ago.

Mississippi

Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Strong Lean

RATINGS CHANGE, OCTOBER 1: R3 to R2

October 1: Cindy Hyde-Smith did not win her special election by a ton, and she’s facing the same opponent in what could be a good Democratic year.  If African-American voters turn out in force in Mississippi, well, we still think Hyde-Smith will win given this state’s redness, but this is not destined to be a rout.  Put it this way: she may not hit 60 percent, but she’s fine.

April: Mike Espy could prove to be a decent candidate again for the Democrats, but Democratic success in Mississippi these days is rare. In a year in which Trump will top the ticket and win big in Mississippi, Hyde-Smith may not run level with Trump, but they will both win.

Montana

Steve Daines (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Weak Lean

Montana was a recruitment success for the Democrats given that Steve Bullock jumped into the race, but will he flip a Senate seat in a presidential year? It’s possible, but a lot depends on the size of Trump’s margin here. Straight-ticket GOP voters could save Daines if it gets to that point.

Nebraska

Ben Sasse (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Very Safe

The Democrats don’t really try in Nebraska anymore since Ben Nelson checked out, and Ben Sasse will be re-elected here without issue.

New Hampshire

Jeanne Shaheen (D) seeking re-election

Democratic Hold - Safe

The 2014 race was a blockbuster Senate race that ended up going the Democrats’ way. In 2020, Shaheen will not face anything near the sort of challenge she had last time.

New Jersey

Cory Booker (D) seeking re-election

Democratic Hold - Very Safe

RATINGS CHANGE JULY 8: D3 to D4

July 8: The GOP does not contend in New Jersey in a good year anymore; infinitesimal chance they contend in a bad year.

April 4: Republicans are not much of a viable entity in New Jersey, aside from the occasional moderate Republican getting elected governor. There is no indication at present that Cory Booker is in any danger.

New Mexico

Tom Udall (D) retiring

Democratic Hold - Safe

The Democrats had a few candidates from whom to choose to take up the mantle for this Senate race; as for the Republicans, not so much. New Mexico is a state that has only incidental contact with Republican elected officials in this day and age; they are not favored to win this open seat.

North Carolina

Thom Tillis (R) seeking re-election

Democratic Gain - Weak Lean

RATINGS CHANGE MAY 3: R1 TO D1

May 3: Electionarium is really, really starting to hate the poll numbers for Thom Tillis, and what we mean is that we would hate them if we were him. Within the last month, they’ve gotten lousier. By no means is the seat gone for the GOP with six months until the election, but this is more than eyebrow-raising. This is a weak Democratic gain as of today.

April 4: I do not want to put any undue pressure on the parties or the Republican and Democratic candidates here, but control of the Senate may rely on who wins the North Carolina race. We’re serious: it could come down to North Carolina. Thom Tillis’ poll numbers have him viable, not running away with it, not falling too far behind. He is in a competitive position but the Democrats will try very hard to win this seat, knowing how important it is.

Oklahoma

Jim Inhofe (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Very Safe

Inhofe is a senator-for-life in Oklahoma and we all know it. If this is his last go-around at age 85, it will be a successful one. Oklahoma has not put a Democrat in the Senate in decades and this is one of the least competitive 2020 US Senate races.

Oregon

Jeff Merkley (D) seeking re-election

Democratic Hold - Safe

There is no notable opposition to Merkley, who will only benefit from it being a presidential year in a state that Donald Trump lost in 2016 by 11 points.

Rhode Island

Jack Reed (D) seeking re-election

Democratic Hold - Very Safe

If you told me that the Rhode Island Republican Party was a figment of my imagination, I might believe you. Reed might as well not be opposed at all.

South Carolina

Lindsey Graham (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Strong Lean

Editor’s Note, October 1: We damn near slid this down to a “weak lean” with our update.  With Graham catching a break with the Constitution Party candidate dropping out and endorsing him, that will shore up his margin a little.  Nevertheless, Graham is perilously close to occupying a seat in play and we’re not exactly taken with how his campaign is going.  Harrison winning would still be a gigantic upset given that Trump is going to win here with some leg room.

RATINGS CHANGE JULY 8: R3 to R2

July 8: The fact that we moved this race at all tells you everything you need to know about the current political climate. Despite a lot of hope and belief by Democrats, we are still not buying that Lindsey Graham is going to lose. However, Jaime Harrison is very well funded, the Republican brand is hurting, and a surge in African-American votes could make the election closer than expected. We have lost the degree of confidence we need in Graham’s chances to call him “safe,” but we still see him as the frontrunner.

April 4: Somewhere along the line, both Republicans and Democrats at various times have found themselves on the outs with Graham. At the end of the day, however, he is still a Republican running in South Carolina, which is and will be Trump Country. Graham’s chances of defeat are minimal.

South Dakota

Mike Rounds (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Very Safe

The Democrats will not spend a plug nickel on this race, for the most part because they have nobody to run here. Gone are the days of Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson.

Tennessee

Lamar Alexander (R) retiring

Republican Hold - Safe

The Republican primary might be a free-for-all, but once that’s over, the GOP winner will be the heavy favorite. Think about this: in 2018, a strong Democratic year, the Democrats recruited as well as possible in Tennessee with a recent former governor, and still lost that Senate race by 11 points. The Democrats in 2020 have nobody of note to run.

Texas

John Cornyn (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Strong Lean

RATINGS CHANGE JULY 8: R3 to R2

July 8: Another race that we are stunned we’ve re-rated, but here we are. There is no Beto O’Rourke figure in this race, at least not as far as we can see, but Texas has been the Democrats’ white whale for over 20 years. However, Republican poll numbers in the state have not been good, well below the George W. Bush levels of support, and Cornyn is not impervious to those trends. His poll numbers are okay, not terrible, but not great. Cornyn is likely to win but this is not a slam dunk as of the summer. It will be curious to see if he runs ahead of Donald Trump in November – it’s a real possibility.

April 4: John Cornyn is probably not as disliked as Ted Cruz, and Cruz won his race against a strong Democratic opponent in a blue year. Cornyn has the wind of the presidential race at his back. Texas is red until it isn’t.

Virginia

Mark Warner (D) seeking re-election

Democratic Hold - Safe

Virginia ain’t what it used to be for the Republicans. Even though Warner got a surprising scare in 2014, the odds of that happening again (with a less well-known Republican challenger) are remote.

West Virginia

Shelley Moore Capito (R) seeking re-election

Republican Hold - Very Safe

At least the probable Democratic nominee, Richard Ojeda, made some headlines for his 2018 House run, but West Virginia’s politics have changed so much in the last 20 years that it’s hard to picture any Democrat not named Manchin winning here now.

Wyoming

Mike Enzi (R) retiring

Republican Hold - Very Safe

The Republican primary is in essence the general election in Wyoming. Mike Enzi’s seat will stay in Republican hands.

References

1: Manu Raju, Alex Rogers, Kevin Liptak, “Kobach courts Trump as Senate GOP frets over Kansas seat,” CNN, February 15, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/14/politics/kris-kobach-kansas-senate-run-republican-reaction/index.html/)

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