In the last post, I wrote about the four states that are toss-ups for both the Democrats and Republicans, while in this post I'll be talking about the seats that are Lean Republican. That is, the seats that, for now, seem to be more winnable for the Republicans than for the Democrats. These Senate seats are in three states: Georgia, Iowa, and Maine. All three are currently held by Republican Senators, but each seat is vulnerable to become a competitive race by 2020. In this post, I’ll quickly run through the reasons why these seats are not yet toss-ups, but what can make them competitive in the election.
Georgia - Sen. David Perdue
Republican David Perdue isn’t too well known of a Republican, and can be described as “rank and file”, meaning he often falls in line with how his party, or McConnell, wants him to vote. Perdue has voted with President Trump’s positions 95.7% of the time while in the Senate, so there’s little question he’ll be drawing on his support for the President in his re-election. Though Perdue won his election in Georgia in 2014 by a little under 8% of the vote, Trump won Georgia by a bit over 5% in 2016. Recent statewide elections in Georgia, such as the gubernatorial election in 2018, where Democrat Stacey Abrahams lost by under 2%, or around fifty thousand votes, have also shown that Georgia is becoming more competitive for Democrats.
Perdue starts with an advantage, the first being he’s a Republican in Georgia in a Presidential election year, where GOP turnout will be strong, and that he’s got over $1.5 million in cash. His biggest disadvantage is Georgia is no longer a safe Republican state, and he’ll have to put up a tough fight to win reelection. With that said, not many Democrats could push Georgia over the top. The Democratic candidate for Governor, Stacey Abrams, has the best chance at beating Perdue if she were to run, and would most certainly push this race into a “toss-up”. But without her candidacy, Georgia, at this point, is still in the Republican’s column.
Iowa - Sen. Joni Ernst
Senator Ernst starts out as a strong Trump supporter, having voted with him 91.5% of the time. Though Iowa is still in many ways a swing state, it’s grown more Republican since 2012. Ernst won her Senate race in 2014 with 8% of the vote, while Trump won the state by 9.4% in 2016. Most recently, Democrat Fred Hubbell lost by under 3% of the vote to incumbent Republican Kim Reynolds. Though Hubbell lost narrowly, 2018 was a wave year for Democrats, and the race showed the party may still have some trouble performing well in statewide elections in Iowa.
The brightline for Democrats, however, is that Ernst isn’t too popular of a Senator, with a net approval of +3%. President Trump’s trade wars with China have also had a substantial impact on Iowa farmers and the state’s economy. If these conditions hold, the strain of the trade wars and the simultaneous Presidential election may put Ernst in a difficult spot in terms of her support for Donald Trump.
There are several strong contenders for the Democrats, such as current Representatives Cindy Axne or Abby Finkenauer, and other high-profile former statewide officials. This state has the ability to fall into the “toss-up” category, but for now, remains as a Lean Republican seat for Ernst.
Maine - Sen. Susan Collins
Susan Collins is the second Republican this cycle that is running in a state that Hillary Clinton won. Though Hillary Clinton won Maine in 2016 by around 3%, a much lower margin than President Obama’s in 2012, Governor Janet Mills won her election in Maine by a little under 8%. But Susan Collins has managed to carve out a name for herself as a moderate Republican, and in return she won her election in 2014 by 37 points, an outstanding victory in a very Republican year. Though 2020 won’t be nearly the same political environment as 2014, it’s a strong indication of Collins’ support. Furthermore, her approval rating is strong, with a net approval of 15%.
But her support of President Trump, having voted with him 72.3% of the time, as well as her decisive votes on Justice Kavanaugh, pose potential problems in galvanizing Democrats against her. Around $3.7 million have been raised against Collins with Democrat grassroots funding against her re-election, but Collins similarly has an advantage in fundraising as Republican Chuck Grassley pledged to raise $3 million for her re-election. Though there are a few potentially strong candidates, such as former NSA and former US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, there aren’t too many strong opponents who I believe could unseat her in an easy race. Regardless, once there is a confirmed nominee, and depending on the national environment, this seat could very well end up as a toss-up.
The Bottom Line
As mentioned in the last post, Democrats need to win three seats and the Presidency or four seats while losing the Presidency to retake the Senate in November 2020. Control of the Senate means control over Presidential cabinet and judicial appointments, including the Supreme Court. For Democrats, they’ll need to go on the offense to pick up these seats. And while they aren’t the easiest seats to win, they are within Democratic reach should the right candidates run and challenge the incumbents. I personally believe the best chances of victory are in Maine and Iowa, while Georgia has the potential to be taken from the Republicans. But, in all cases, the road ahead will be challenging for Democrats.