2020 Presidential Election? You Should Plan On Seeing A Contentious Senate Map, Too [Opinion]

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A lot of attention is being focused on the 2020 presidential election, with many prognosticators wondering a flurry of “what if” scenarios.

Some are speculating which Democratic candidates could throw their hats in the ring. Some are wondering whether President Donald Trump could face a Republican challenger in the primaries. And some are guessing whether Trump himself will run, or if something between then and now could prevent him from doing so.

Those questions are fun to think about, and need to be considered. But another issue, not often talked over, is who will control the Senate after 2020.

A series of questions and speculations surround those races as well. Thirty-four states will be having contests to determine their next Senator, and the map certainly favors one party over the other.

Democrats will have to defend 12 of the states that are up for grabs, while Republicans will have to defend 22 of their currently-held Senate seats. This in itself would have people believe that Democrats have an advantage, and sure enough, they do — but it gets more complicated. Most of these seats, in fact, are so reliably “blue” or “red” that only a small smattering of them are now considered in play, to switch hands from one party or another once November 2020 rolls around.

For instance, as the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics Crystal Ball website points out, some of the races taking place are in states where the current incumbent is the opposite party of who won their state in the 2016 presidential election. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, for example, will have to defend his state, which went for Trump by double-digits.

Jones won Alabama by a hair in a contentious race last year, against controversial Republican candidate Roy Moore, who Trump endorsed. It won’t be impossible for Jones to win re-election, but if he did it would be surprising — and perhaps indicative of a paradigm shift in the state.

Arizona will be another interesting race to watch. Current Sen. Jon Kyl, a Republican, is currently serving a limited term in the Senate, having been appointed to his position following the passing of late Sen. John McCain. Kyl does not intend to run for the seat after his term expires, reporting from CNN indicates.

That means the seat will be an open race, just as it was this past year. In that race, Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema defeated her Republican opponent by less than 3 percentage points, flipping the seat from red-to-blue in the process. We can probably expect that race to be just as close in 2020, for whoever Democrats and Republicans put up to run.

Maine is another interesting race. GOP Sen. Susan Collins may face a strong Democratic challenge in the state, especially following her vote in the Senate in favor of confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It’s not unusual to see independent candidates run for higher office as well in the state, but the newly-instituted instant voter run-off system that the state now employs in its elections will prevent any third-party candidates from being “spoilers” in the race — a development that could make things more difficult for the incumbent Republican. Also of note: Clinton won Maine in 2016.

One final state to look at — which, again, Clinton won over Trump in the last presidential election — is Colorado, where Republican Sen. Cory Gardner’s seat will be up for grabs. Gardner is definitely seen as vulnerable, as a Change Research poll released this week shows that 50 percent of respondents have an unfavorable view of the senator. Only 38 percent have a favorable view of Gardner. The poll also found that if the election were held today between Gardner and a generic Democrat, Gardner would lose by six points in the race.

In short, there are plenty of races in the 2020 Senate elections that are set to be boring or dull, as Democrats or Republicans will have an easy time winning re-election in their respective seats. But a small handful of states will prove difficult for both parties to retain. Democrats will especially be eyeing up the 2020 campaign with high hopes — they will need four seats to flip the Senate to their control, and right now, the Crystal Ball rates at least three seats as “toss-ups,” and four GOP-held states as potentially vulnerable spots where a pickup is possible.