Opinion

Who will win the Senate?

These races will decide control of the upper chamber

President Trump's entire first term has coincided with a narrow Republican majority in the Senate. While a two-thirds supermajority that could have removed him from office after impeachment has not recently been within reach of either party, the slim advantage made the difference in confirming Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, in filling dozens of other federal judgeships, and in passing the Republican tax bill in 2017.

If Trump is re-elected on Tuesday, he will face divided government regardless of the composition of the Senate, since control of the House is supremely unlikely to change hands. But if Joe Biden wins, there is a distinct possibility that his presidency could begin with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. Here are eight races that could shift the current 53-47 balance in the upper chamber.

1. Alabama: Sen. Doug Jones (D) v. Tommy Tuberville (R)

The outcome of this one is not remotely in doubt. The incumbent Democrat Jones won a narrow victory in 2018 over Roy Moore after the former judge was accused of sexually assaulting (among other accusers) a girl as young as 14. This time he is facing Tuberville, a beloved Auburn University football coach. This is a state in which the Democrats did not even field a candidate in 2014. It will revert in 2020.

Prediction: GOP + 1

2. Colorado: Sen. Cory Gardner (R) vs. John Hickenlooper (D)

It is not difficult to imagine a victory for Hickenlooper, the state's former governor, who has had a consistent lead in the polls. For Gardner to win, he would have to outperform Trump by a significant margin in a state in which the president is expected to lose comfortably to Biden. I'm not holding my breath for law and order in the legal marijuana capital of the world.

Prediction: Dems + 1

3. Maine: Sen. Susan Collins (R) vs. Sara Gideon (D)

However unpopular Collins is with conservative activists after voting against Barrett (to say nothing of her moderate views on a number of issues), her decision to caucus with the Republicans remains valuable to the party's leadership. Has she been too clever by half? Polling in this race has been all over the place, but the smart money is on her being unable to overcome what looks likely to be a double-digit Trump defeat. That said, in the past she has consistently outperformed Republican presidential candidates in Maine.

Prediction: Dems + 1

4. Montana: Sen. Steve Daines (R) vs. Gov. Steve Bullock (D)

Bullock has been a reasonably popular moderate Democratic governor here, but fairly consistent polling shows his opponent Daines with a narrow lead. Trump's re-election in Montana is all but assured, which is why I expect Daines to come out on top here.

Prediction: GOP hold

5. Iowa: Sen. Joni Ernst (R) vs. Theresa Greenfield (D)

In her first re-election campaign, Ernst found herself trailing Greenfield in polls for several months, but recently the race appears to have tightened considerably. Ernst now leads most polls even as Biden appears to have overtaken Trump. While Ernset has occasionally tried to distance herself from the president, I think that support for her is likely to track with Trump's performance on Tuesday. If Biden's lead is for real, she is going down. I have my doubts.

Prediction: GOP hold

6. Michigan: Sen. Gary Peters (D) vs. John James (R)

For a brief period some polls suggested that James, a businessman who ran against the state's other incumbent Democratic senator in 2018, was outperforming the president in Michigan. This was always supremely unlikely, not least because Michigan has a history of split ticket voting in the opposite direction. Trump's showing here is James's ceiling. Both Biden and Peters appear to have a roughly five-point advantage on the eve of the election. A victory for James would be the most shocking upset of this year's Senate contests. But I know plenty of real-life Trump supporters who are comfortable with the moderate Peters.

Prediction: Dem hold

7. Arizona: Sen. Martha McSally (R) vs. Mark Kelly (D)

Kelly has consistently led the Republican incumbent here in what is perhaps the single most crucial state in the presidential race. Meanwhile, polls have shown Trump and Biden virtually tied. If the president wins here, this could be the night's only example of a race in which an incumbent Republican senator loses in a state carried by Trump.

Prediction: Dems + 1

8. North Carolina: Sen. Thom Tillis (R) vs. Cal Cunnigham (D)

This is another toss-up. Polls suggest that Tillis is tracking comfortably with Trump in North Carolina. If, like me, you expect Trump to pull it off, it is easy to imagine Tillis riding his coattails to another term. But the margin is likely to be thin in what many of us expect to be the first of many increasingly affluent Southern states to become unreliable for the GOP in coming elections.

Prediction: GOP hold

Pundit special in Georgia: Sen. David Perdue (R) vs. Jon Osoff (D) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler vs. Rep. Doug Collins (R) vs. Raphael Warnock (D)

Thanks to the retirement of one Republican incumbent in what would otherwise not have been an election year, there are actually two Senate seats up for grabs in Georgia this year. Thanks to the stupidity of Georgia's election system, candidates in each will have to win an outright majority of at least 50 percent of the vote in order to prevent run-off elections whose outcomes would not be decided until January. Perdue, who is running his first re-election campaign, appears to be slightly behind his challenger Osoff, who failed to win a special House election in the state in 2017. The other race, in which Loeffler (who was appointed to finish Johnny Isakson's term following his retirement) is trailing in a three-way race that pits her against Warnock, a popular African-American clergyman in Atlanta, and Collins, a conservative Republican congressman, is even messier. Both will come down to the question of whether this is the year that Georgia finally turns purple, something that was widely expected in 2018. I still don't think we are quite there, though it would be amusing to see an election in which there are more GOP defections in the South than there are in the post-industrial Midwest.

Prediction: GOP hold following two run-offs

If all of these predictions prove correct — a very large if — Democrats would come up just short, and the Senate would be left with a 51-49 Republican majority. I, for one, expect a busy tie-breaking year for the next vice president.

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