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The fight for a US Senate majority is on - here are the 7 key states to watch

A third of the US Senate seats are up for grabs – here’s some interesting races to watch.

YOU WILL HAVE heard, no doubt, about the US presidential election happening today.

If you’re reading this on the eastern side of the Atlantic, however, perhaps you may not have heard quite so much about elections for the House of Representatives and the US Senate, which are also taking place today.

Let’s focus on the US Senate here: 35 of the 100 seats in the chamber are up for grabs, and of those 35 seats, 23 belong to Republicans and 12 are Democrat. 

The Democrats took control of the House of Representatives during the last US Midterm election in 2018, making passing legislation more difficult for President Donald Trump.

They didn’t take back control of the Senate, in which Republicans have held a majority since 2014. The current split is 53-47 to the Republicans.

The US Vice President is also important to the Senate – if senators are split in a 50-50 vote, the Vice President is called in to break that deadlock.

us-senate-georgia-ossoff Democratic candidate for Senate Jon Ossoff. Source: John Bazemore

Why the Senate matters

The Senate’s power lies in its ability to appoint Supreme Court judges, and control impeachment outcomes – the Republican controlled senate voted 52-48 against impeaching Trump in February of this year.

Similar to Seanad Éireann here, it also has the power to pass key legislation on issues such as healthcare and climate change.

It was crucial in the appointment of Conservative judges to the Supreme court bench during Trump’s term: Neil Gorsuch in 2017, Brett Kavanaugh appointed after some controversy in 2018, and this year, Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

During the Midterm elections in 2014, then-US President Barack Obama lost the Democrats’ majority in the Senate.

The Senate can be overturned often during the Midterms as a form of mini-protest against the sitting president. With the Democrats expected to retain the House, the big question is whether they will take back the Senate this time.

us-senate-georgia-collins Georgia Republican candidate for Senate Doug Collins. Source: John Bazemore via PA Images

What are the key states to watch?

Of the 35 seats up for reelection, the non-partisan election site The Cook Political Report says that 10 seats are “solidly” Democrat and nine seats are “solidly” Republican.

Six more Senate seats are leaning towards going to Republican candidates, while three Senate seats should go to Democrats. 

There are at least seven Senate seats that are a “toss up” – and all of these are currently held by Republicans. The contests are in these states:

  • Georgia: David Perdue (R) and Jon Ossoff (D)
  • Iowa: Joni Ernst (R) and Theresa Greenfield (D)
  • Maine: Susan Collins (R) and Sara Gideon (D)
  • Montana: Steve Daines (R) and Steve Bullock (D)
  • North Carolina: Thom Tillis (R) and Cal Cunningham (D)
  • South Carolina: Lindsey Graham (R) and Jaime Harrison (D)
  • Arizona: Martha McSally (R) vs Mark Kelly (D)

There are two ‘toss-up’ races in Georgia - the one not mentioned above has three main candidates running for one seat.

Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, handpicked by the Governor to replace a Senator who resigned in 2019, will face her GOP colleague Doug Collins (endorsed by Trump) and Democrat Rev Raphael Warnock for the seat.

In the other Georgian race, there is nothing between Perdue and Ossoff, with Real Clear Politics putting Perdue ahead by just 0.2%. (You might remember Perdue for the criticism he drew for repeatedly mispronouncing Democrat VP candidate Kamala Harris’ name.)

Perdue pulled out of a debate between the two candidates that had been scheduled for Sunday – perhaps indicating the concern in his camp about Ossoff’s chances.

Maine and Iowa, in particular, could be easy targets for the Democrats – since the states voted ‘blue’ in significant numbers in the two presidential elections prior to 2016.

Susan Collins, the Republican incumbent in Maine, may prove to be a centrist of sorts – she was the only Republican senator to vote against Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, and has refused to say whether she is voting for Trump.

Pence Source: Twitter

Iowa and Montana also voted Democrat in significant numbers in the Senate elections in 2002 and 2008 (they voted Republican in 2014).

But Montana hasn’t voted for a Democrat president since 1992, and RealClearPolitics’ polling average puts Steve Daines (R) narrowly in the lead

Republican incumbents who have defended Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic may be particularly weakened – such as North Carolina‘s Thom Tillis and Joni Ernst in Iowa.

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senator-graham-holds-press-conference Senator Lindsay Graham holds a press conference on Capitol Hill. 2019. Source: Carol Guzy

In South Carolina, they haven’t voted for a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Democrat Jaime Harrison is squaring up to the prominent Republican Senator Lindsay Graham – but a FiveThirtyEight poll aggregator indicates that Graham is ahead.

A whopping $287 million has been spent on the North Carolina Senate race, with $241 million in Iowa and $214 million in South Carolina – as an indicator of where political concerns lie. 

The seventh state to watch for is Arizona – once a red state it’s looking like it could cause a serious upset for the Republicans and go blue. Kelly (D), a former Nasa astronaut, is taking on McSally (R), a former Air Force colonel.

(Donald Trump only allowed McSally a minute’s speaking time at an election rally in the state: “You got one minute! One minute, Martha!”)

All polling in recent days shows Kelly ahead of McSally, but his lead has shrunk over recent weeks. If he wins, both Arizona senators will be Democrats for the first time since the 1950s.

Washington Post pollster Henry Olsen is predicting that the Democrats win the Senate majority with 50 seats being enough to do that, while Politico says that the Democrats are “slight favourites to flip the Senate”. 

What all that means is – it’s going to be a close one.

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