2020 Vision: Senate Race Roundup!

Five Republican incumbents with well-funded Democratic challengers

Graphic Courtesy of The Washington Post

Graphic Courtesy of The Washington Post

With less than two weeks until Election Day, competitive Senate races across the country are reaching their final push. The majority party of the Senate wields significant power and influence including control of judicial confirmations, and currently, Republicans hold a three seat majority (53-47). Polls predict that Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) will likely lose his seat, meaning Democrats must flip four seats for a 50-50 tie (ties are broken by the Vice President) and at least five seats for an outright majority. Following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing and Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, there has been a massive surge in donations to Democratic senate candidates. Republican Senators Lindsay Graham (SC), Martha McSally (AZ), Joni Ernst (IA), Cory Gardner (CO), and Susan Collins (ME) have all been significantly outraised by their Democratic competitors. McSally and Gardener’s seats are labeled lean Democratic by the Cook Political Report and the others are labeled toss ups.

South Carolina

Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham is facing the former Chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party Jaime Harrison. Graham, a three term incumbent, was originally the clear favorite, but with massive financial support, Harrison is now tied in the polls. As of Sept. 30, Graham has raised $58 million while Harrison has raised $85.6 million, the most by any Senate candidate ever. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Harrison also broke Beto O’Rourke’s single quarter fundraising record with $57 million in contributions in the second quarter alone. South Carolina has not elected a Democratic senator in over 20 years, but the race is currently labeled a toss up. 

Graphic Courtesy of Morning Consult

Graphic Courtesy of Morning Consult

Graham, originally elected in 2002, was a member of the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate Corps and then represented South Carolina 3rd in the House of Representatives for eight years. During his presidential run in 2016, he was staunchly against President Donald Trump, but he has since become one of Trump’s greatest supporters. Graham sits on the Committees on Budget, Appropriations, and Foreign Relations. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he stalled Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court confirmation process in 2016, saying that the next President should get to nominate the next Justice. He is currently helping push Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation through the Committee. His campaign website highlights his work on the Judiciary Committee saying, “Critics have denounced the committee’s operation as a conveyor belt for conservative judges, a comment Senator Graham considers to be a compliment.” He wants to strengthen the country’s national defense by investing in the military and limiting immigration. He does not support the Affordable Care Act (ACA), instead wanting to “empower local communities” by returning money to states. Graham’s plan for the economy encourages cutting taxes and regulations. He is anti-choice and anti-gun control. 

Harrison, currently an associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), grew up in poverty before attending Yale University and Georgetown Law School. According to his campaign website, he wants to “champion solutions that can make the American Dream a reality for more South Carolinians.” Due to his childhood experiences, Harrison places significant emphasis on eliminating poverty by building “a strong social safety net,” creating affordable housing, expanding Medicaid, and tackling food insecurity. He wants to grow the middle class, repeal the 2017 tax cuts, and raise the minimum wage. He adamantly supports Medicare and Social Security as well as increasing benefits for seniors. To improve education, he wants to invest in public education and teachers, alleviate the student loan crisis, and extend broadband internet access. He is pro-choice and pro-gun control. 


Senator Martha McSally is trailing retired astronaut Mark Kelly in a special election. Following the death of Senator John McCain, Governor Doug Ducey originally appointed Jon Kyle in Sept. 2018, but Kyle retired only three months later in Dec. 2018. Ducey then appointed McSally, who had just lost the other Senate seat to Democrat Kyrsten Simena. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, McSally has raised $50 million and Kelly has raised $82 million as of Sept. 30. The Cook Political Report has labeled the race “lean Democratic.” Due to Arizona law, if Kelly wins, he will be sworn in by Nov. 30.

Graphic Courtesy of Morning Consult

Graphic Courtesy of Morning Consult

McSally, a former member of the U.S. Air Force, received her bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a master’s degree from the Harvard Kennedy School, and a master’s degree from the U.S. Air War College. She was the first woman to fly a fighter jet in combat and the first woman to command a fighter squadron in combat. For two terms, she represented Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. Currently, she served on the Committees on Aging; Armed Services; Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; and Indian Affairs. According to her campaign website, she is committed to “bipartisanship in a partisan time.” She supports building a border wall, improving border security, and increasing military spending. As a survivor of military sexual assault, McSally wants to protect other servicewoman from a similar experience. She emphasizes her support for, and from, law enforcement officers including an endorsement from the Arizona Police Association. She wants to cut taxes and minimize regulations. To improve healthcare, she wants to repeal the ACA and lower pharmaceutical costs. She is anti-choice and anti-gun control.

Kelly, a former U.S. Navy pilot and NASA astronaut, has spent over 50 days in space. He and his twin brother Scott are the only siblings to both go to space. He is married to former congresswoman Gabby Giffords who retired following an assassination attempt in 2011. Together, they founded Giffords (originally called Americans for Responsible Solutions) to advocate for effective gun control legislation. According to his campaign website, he is running “because Washington is broken and Arizonans deserve independent leadership focused on solving the problems we face.” Kelly wants to create a public healthcare option by expanding Medicaid, lower drug costs, and fight the opioid epidemic. To rebuild the economy, he supports ending tax breaks for the wealthy, investing in infrastructure improvements, and growing the middle class. Kelly hopes to improve the immigration process by supporting DREAMers and strengthening programs like E-Verify. He supports increasing pay for teachers, investing in early education, and addressing the inaccessibility of higher education. With over half a million veterans in Arizona, Kelly is determined to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs. He wants to mitigate the effects of climate change and invest in clean energies. He is pro-choice and pro-gun control. 


Graphic Courtesy of FiveThirtyEight

Graphic Courtesy of FiveThirtyEight

Senator Joni Ernst is up for reelection for the first time against first time candidate Theresa Greenfield. Both Ernst and Greenfield were raised on family farms and have repeatedly emphasized their farm roots. It is a very tight race in the polls, currently labeled a toss up by Cook Political Report. However, in a debate on Oct. 19, Ernst was unable to name the price of soybeans in Iowa, guessing $5.50 when it is $10.05. Greenfield had easily answered a question about the price of corn, and in a tight race in a farming state, this could make the difference. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Ernst has raised $21.5 million and Greenfield has raised $40 million as of Sept. 30. 

Ernst, a retired member of the U.S. Army Reserves and Iowa National Guard, was elected in 2014 following three years in the State Senate. She made national headlines during her 2014 campaign for an advertisement with the slogan “make ‘em squeal” that compared castrating pigs to cutting spending in Washington. Currently, Ernst serves on the Committees on the Judiciary; Armed Services; Environment and Public Works; Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; and Small Business and Administration. According to her campaign website, cutting government spending and balancing the budget is her top priority. Her 2017 SQUEAL Act, included in the 2017 tax plan, cut a tax break provided only to members of Congress, and she has repeatedly supported a balanced budget constitutional amendment. Ernst wants to grow the rural economy by limiting regulations, cutting taxes, and expanding broadband internet access. She supports increasing military and border security funding. She does not believe that humans cause climate change, advocating for the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She is anti-choice and anti-gun control.

Greenfield is a first-time candidate who has worked in real estate and urban planning. After putting herself through college and starting a family, her husband died in an accident while she was pregnant with their second child. She relied on Social Security survivor benefits as a widow and is “committed to protecting Social Security against partisan attacks in Washington,” according to her campaign website. Greenfield has a board agenda, addressing 13 core issues on her website (while Ernst only has five). She hopes to increase access to healthcare by strengthening the ACA and improving rural healthcare. She wants to invest in education, support teachers unions, and fund more Pell grants. To rebuild the economy, Greenfield proposes raising the minimum wage, supporting unions, and investing in infrastructure. She wants to invest in Black communities and rural areas. A believer in climate change, she wants to address the harm it causes including improving defenses against flooding. She supports campaign finance, criminal justice, and immigration reform. Greenfield is pro-choice and pro-gun control. 


Graphic Courtesy of Morning Consult

Graphic Courtesy of Morning Consult

Senator Cory Gardner, who defeated a Democratic incumbent in 2014, is facing former Governor John Hickenlooper. Colorado has been increasingly moving left, with Republicans close to Trump losing multiple seats in recent years. Biden currently has a 13 point lead and most consider the state solidly blue. The Cook Political Report has labeled the race “lean Democrat,” and some polls have Hickenlooper almost 10 points ahead. As of Sept. 30, Gardner has raised $24.6 million and Hickenlooper has raised $36 million according to the Center for Responsive Politics

Gardner, a “common sense conservative” according to his campaign website, is a fifth generation Coloradan. He attended Colorado State University for undergrad and University of Colorado Boulder for law school. Currently, he serves on the Committees for Energy and Natural Resources; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Foreign Relations. He is also the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy. Gardner touts the Great American Outdoors Act as his most impactful accomplishment. Signed in July 2020, the law addresses the maintenance backlog for public lands and authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Gardner also oversaw the headquarters relocation of the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction. He wants to support rural communities by expanding broadband access and improving healthcare access. To mitigate climate change, he supports investing in clean energy and reducing emissions. Garner proposes having employers help pay for their employees’ student loans to address the student loan crisis. He is anti-choice and anti-gun control.

Hickenlooper began his career as a geologist and then brewpub owner. He was the Mayor of Denver from 2003-2011 and the Governor from 2011-2019. Following a short lived presidential campaign in 2019, he entered the Senate race. As Governor, he championed the Medicaid expansion under the ACA and oversaw significant gun control legislation. His campaign website provides detailed information on his extensive policy ideas. To improve healthcare, he hopes to establish a national public option, address systemic inequities, protect reproductive rights, and generally strengthen the ACA. Hickenlooper wants to build an “immediate, inclusive, integrated, innovative” economy by supporting small businesses, taxing large corporations, investing in clean energy and marijuana industries, and empowering unions. He supports a climate change plan that achieves net-zero emissions by 2050, and he wants to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords. He proposes a Climate Corps Program that will encourage students through scholarships and loan forgiveness to pursue careers combating climate change. He wants to federally legalize and decriminalize marijuana, restore voting rights, improve the immigration system, and support veterans. He supports campaign finance and criminal justice reform. Hickenlooper is pro-choice and pro-gun control. 


Four term incumbent Senator Susan Collins is fighting back Sara Gideon, currently Speaker of the State House. As a moderate Republican, Susan Collins has drawn significant attention in recent years as many votes come down to her. The race is labeled a toss up by Cook Political Report but Gideon has raised over twice as much as Collins. As of Sept. 30, Collins has raised $24.8 million and Gideon has raised $62.7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics

Graphic Courtesy of FiveThirtyEight

Graphic Courtesy of FiveThirtyEight

Collins, originally elected in 1996, is the most senior female Republican senator. According to her campaign website, she has never missed a vote in 23 years, the longest perfect voting record in Senate history. She is the last Republican from New England and is the most bipartisan senator. She is the Chairwoman of the Committee on Aging and serves on the Committees on Appropriations; Intelligence; and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. She supports increased funding for the military, national security, and veterans. To keep oil prices low, Collins wants to invest in clean energy and limit our dependence on foreign oil. She hopes to improve mental health treatment and rural access to healthcare. Collins believes cutting taxes and minimizing regulations will improve the economy. She wants to improve K-12 public schools and increase access to higher education. She supports limited gun control. While she is publicly pro-choice, she has repeatedly made decisions that would jeopardize access to abortion like voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.

Sara Gideon was elected to the Maine State House in 2012 and selected as Speaker in 2016. Under her leadership, Maine expanded healthcare access, increased educational opportunities, and made Narcan available over-the-counter. She began her political career on the Freeport Town Council. According to her campaign website, as a senator, she hopes to expand the ACA, create a public healthcare option, and lower pharmaceutical costs. To rebuild the economy, she wants to increase taxes on corporations, introduce job training programs, and raise the minimum wage. She supports investing in public education, strengthening early childhood education, and improving trade and technical schools. To mitigate climate change, she wants to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, invest in clean energy, and overhaul the transportation system. She wants criminal justice, campaign finance, and immigration reform. She is pro-choice and pro-gun control.

Without a majority in the Senate, it is difficult for a party to pass legislation, and these races could determine which party holds the majority in January. To get involved with a specific campaign, visit their campaign website. To help engage new voters, learn more about When We All Vote and Rock The Vote. Learn how to register at iwillvote.com.  

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