The 2018 election cycle was a huge year for Democrats in Colorado, but also across the country. Democrats won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 but actually lost two seats in the U.S. Senate (more on that in a moment). That may change in 2020.
In 2018, Democrats flipped 40 seats in order to gain majority control in the House — 17 more than they needed to outnumber Republicans. The news was less rosy for Democrats hoping to make inroads for control of the U.S. Senate, though the math was never in their favor. Democrats had to defend 26 of the 35 Senate seats on the ballot in 2018, including seats in 10 states that supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Things look different this year. Republicans have 23 of their own seats to defend this cycle, compared to just 12 for Democrats. The nine Republicans who gave the GOP a majority after 2014 — including Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) — are all up for re-election this year.
“In Colorado, most strategists on both sides acknowledge former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is ahead of Gardner at this point.”
— via CNN (4/27/20)
As Chris Cillizza notes for CNN, that’s the good news for Republicans:
What’s happened over the last six months or so, however, is that Democrats have successfully broadened the playing field — putting a number of GOP seats in play even as the outlook for the incumbents in Maine and Colorado worsens.
The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan political handicapper, now rates eight GOP seats as competitive as compared to just two (Jones and Michigan Sen. Gary Peters) for Democrats. Cook rates four Republican-held seats as pure “toss ups” (Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina) and another four (Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Iowa, Kansas and Montana) as “lean Republican.”
And in truth, those ratings may actually underplay the danger to some of those GOP-incumbents…
…In virtually every state — with the exception of Alabama — their chances of either holding one of their own seats or winning Democratic seats has declined in the past two months. In some cases, like Arizona and Colorado, it has declined significantly. [Pols emphasis]
Cillizza is not the first political reporter to note the shifting political winds in recent weeks. Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post was reading the writing on the wall on April 17, and POLITICO noticed similar trends a few days later.
Democrats need a net gain of three seats in order to take control in the Senate in 2020 (or four, if President Trump is re-elected). In Arizona, former astronaut Mark Kelly has a firm lead in the polls and in fundraising in his race against Republican Sen. Martha McSally. That same combination is playing out in Maine, where longtime incumbent Sen. Susan Collins is looking up at Democratic challenger Sara Gideon. Here in Colorado, Sen. Gardner’s poll numbers have been in the toilet for years. On the money front, Democrat John Hickenlooper outraised Gardner last quarter by 65%.
For those of you counting at home, that’s three seats right there.
In this scenario, Democrats would still need to defend Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama, which could be tough, but there are several more pickup opportunities regardless. In North Carolina, incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is polling even with a Democratic challenger who can self-fund much of his campaign. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is surging against incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines. In Georgia, appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler is going to have to convince voters that she didn’t commit blatant insider trading just as the coronavirus was about to hit the United States.
Republicans might be on defense just about everywhere in 2020. Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is looking stronger than expected. Even in Kansas — Kansas! — the Democratic candidate appears to be polling ahead of the likely Republican nominee.
As The Washington Post reported over the weekend, Democrats are also getting a boost from the top of the ticket:
Joe Biden’s unexpectedly rapid consolidation of the Democratic presidential nomination has upended calculations in both parties about the U.S. Senate landscape, with Democrats hopeful that Biden can actively help with close races and Republicans increasingly nervous about losing their 53-47 majority…
…Nonpartisan analysts and strategists in both parties agree that the Senate landscape has shifted in recent weeks, pushing Democrats to within striking distance of a takeover. The pandemic and the collapse of the economy, once Trump’s biggest strength, are big factors, but so is Biden’s rise.
“Biden’s likely nomination was critical to Democratic chances of taking back the Senate because it keeps the battlefield large,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections. “I think if Democrats had nominated Sanders, it would have limited Democratic takeover opportunities.”
The election is still six months away, and as we’ve all experienced with the coronavirus pandemic, a lot can change in a very short period of time. For now, at least, the momentum is clearly on the side of Democrats as the summer campaign season starts heating up.