Mark Kelly, the fighter pilot-turned-astronaut and husband of retired congresswoman Gabby Giffords, announced in February that he is running to unseat Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) in 2020. His campaign has been doing quite well. In July, it announced that Kelly had raised $4.2 million in the second quarter, more than all but six presidential candidates. Kelly’s campaign manager called the haul a “sonic boom.” Get it?
On Tuesday, an Arizona poll showed Kelly leading McSally — who lost her 2018 race against Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) but was appointed by the state’s Republican governor to fill the seat left vacant by John McCain’s death — by a margin of 46 to 41 percent. If Kelly goes on to defeat McSally next November, Democrats will have flipped Arizona’s two Senate seats in two scant years following over two decades of Republican control.
What about the rest of the United States?
Republicans currently hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate. Thirty-four seats are up in 2020. Twenty-two of them are currently held by Republicans. On the surface, this seems like good news. Twenty-two chances to make up a three-seat disadvantage? And Democrats only have to defend 12 seats? Let’s do this!
The problem is that the vast majority of the 22 seats Republicans will have to defend are in solid red states. Only three are deemed to be truly up for grabs: McSally’s seat in Arizona, Cory Gardner’s seat in Colorado, and Susan Collins’ seat in Maine.
Gardner has been in the Senate since 2015, and, staring down reelection in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016 by almost five points, has been careful to keep his distance from Trump (although he has endorsed his reelection in 2020). Considering his favorability in the state has been slipping and the popularity of possible challenger John Hickenlooper, who recently jettisoned himself from the presidential race, Gardner could be in trouble.
John Hickenlooper: "People want to know what comes next for me. I've heard from so many Coloradans who want me to run for the United States Senate. They remind me how much is at stake for our country. And our state. I intend to give that some serious thought." pic.twitter.com/qIA7tgoNuR
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 15, 2019
Same goes for Collins, who will face a respectable Democratic challenger in a state that voted for Clinton in 2016. When Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, the frontrunner to land the Democratic nomination, announced in June that she is running to unseat Collins, she raised over $1 million in 10 days. She’s also outpacing Collins in in-state donations by a wide margin.
I’m running against Susan Collins for U.S. Senate because Mainers deserve a senator who will always put our state first. Let's build this campaign together. Will you join us? ➡️ https://t.co/mcihP9UtNE #MESen #MEpolitics pic.twitter.com/1SbV0MbMKM
— Sara Gideon (@SaraGideonME) June 24, 2019
Though Democrats certainly have a shot to flip Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, all three races are expected to be close. But say Democrats do win all three seats. That would level the Senate at 50-50, right? Which means they’d only need to get lucky and flip one more seat to gain a majority? Maybe John Cornyn’s in Texas if Beto O’Rourke drops out of the presidential race to run? Maybe Steve Daines’ in Montana if Steve Bullock drops out and does the same? Maybe a truly galvanizing Democratic challengers could emerge purple-ish states — or at least states that have demonstrated some purple-ish or tendencies — like North Carolina, Iowa, Kansas, or Georgia?
It’s possible, but it’s also assuming Democrats can defend all 12 of their own seats that will be up in 2020, which is going to be difficult. The biggest test will come in deep-red Alabama, where Doug Jones won a seat in a 2017 special election largely because his opponent, Roy Moore, was a credibly accused pedophile. Undeterred, Moore is running again, but he’ll have to win a primary in which his opponents likely will not have been accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old. It’s going to be tough for Jones to hold the seat, regardless, and if he doesn’t Democrats will need to flip Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and at least two other states that don’t seem too inclined to go blue just yet. (This is also assuming Democrats will hold onto the other 11 seats they must defend, which is far from a given, especially in Michigan and New Hampshire.)
Though the odds are long, there’s still well over 14 months between now and the November 2020, which is practical an eternity in Trump years. There’s no telling what the president could do between now and then that could sink his own chances, and with them the chances of the Republican senators who have been holding his water. Stranger things have happened.