The 12 Most Competitive Senate Races

October 22, 2020

As Election Day draws closer – and with early and absentee voting well underway in many states – Bloomberg Government analysts are keeping a particularly close eye on 12 Senate races. During a recent webinar, State Government Affairs: Elections, Policy, and Strategy, Greg Giroux, Bloomberg Government senior elections reporter, outlined which are the key races to watch.

[Learn more about the policy defining the politics through Bloomberg Government’s 2020 Elections homepage.]

Senate forecast


This is the toughest state for Democrats to hold. Doug Jones was elected in the 2017 special election over a flawed Republican candidate, Roy Moore. This is a state that is very Republican. Trump won in 2016 62% to 34% and is likely to have an overwhelming win again. It’s a very tough race for Doug Jones.


This is probably the toughest seat for Republicans to hold. Republican Senator Martha McSally, who was appointed in 2019, is in a challenging race against Democrat Mark Kelly, a Navy veteran and former astronaut. Kelly has raised tens of millions of dollars and has a persistent lead in the polls over McSally.

This is also a state where President Trump is struggling against Democratic nominee Joe Biden, and we’re starting to see a greater relationship between how states vote for president and for Senate. What happens at the top of the ballot necessarily affects what happens in Senate races, and even in state legislative races.


In Colorado, Republican Cory Gardner, a first-term senator, has a very determined, well-funded challenger in two-term former governor John Hickenlooper – who’s won twice statewide in 2010 and 2014. He’s probably the best candidate the Democrats could have fielded against Gardner as Colorado is a state that’s been trending away from the Republicans.


Republican Senator David Perdue was elected in 2014, which was a very good year for Republicans. 2020 is much tougher – Georgia looks like it’s going to be a competitive state in the presidential race as well. This is a state that used to vote heavily Republican for president, but Trump won it by only five points in 2016. Polls show a much closer race there for president and for the Senate.

Also in Georgia, a special election is underway for the seat that Johnny Isakson, Republican senator, vacated with his resignation about a year ago. What’s unusual here is that candidates of all parties are going to run on one ballot in November, and you need a majority of the vote to win the election. Republican Kelly Loeffler – who was appointed in January – is hoping to hold onto the seat. She’s facing Republican Doug Collins and Democrat Raphael Warnock.

If none of the candidates get the majority, the top two vote-getters go to a runoff on January 5, 2021, which is two days after the next Congress begins. It’s a race to watch very closely – no one’s going to win a majority because there are two dominant Republicans, a dominant Democrat, and some other lesser known Democrats running.

Races to Watch: Down to the Wire

In the final weeks of election season, join Bloomberg Government Senior Reporter Greg Giroux for a look ahead to the 2020 election and its implications.


In Iowa, we see a toss-up race – considered one of the most competitive on the map by all the political prognosticators. Republican Joni Ernst is seeking a second term against a Democratic businesswoman Theresa Greenfield. Iowa voted for Obama twice, and then swung to Trump in 2016.


Kansas is a race that ought to be a slam dunk for the Republicans, but they had a fractious primary that Republican Congressman Roger Marshall won, while the Democrats have a credible, well-funded candidate in Senator Barbara Bollier. Democrats last won a Senate race here in 1932, but Bollier is seeking to capitalize on intraparty friction among Kansas Republicans.


Susan Collins used to be politically invincible. She’s won four Senate elections in Maine. But as Trump falters in the state, Democrats have really focused this race not only on opposition to Trump, but also Susan Collins’ votes for the tax cut bill in 2017 – and the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. Collins faces State House Speaker Sara Gideon.


Other than Alabama, this is likely the only Democratic-held state where the Democrats have an incumbent who’s potentially vulnerable. Gary Peters is seeking a second term against Republican businessman John James, who’s a well-funded businessman and Army veteran.


Montana should have been an easy one for the Republicans to hold with incumbent Steve Daines – it’s a state that Trump won by 20 points in 2016. But the Democrats have their best candidate in outgoing two-term governor Steve Bullock, who has a history of winning elections in this state – despite Republicans having won the last presidential election.

North Carolina

This is the state that has seen a lot of news lately in the race between Thom Tillis, the Republican senator, and Democrat Cal Cunningham. Tillis was just diagnosed with Covid-19 and has been sequestering himself as a result. And then a scandal broke in this race recently involving the discovery that Cunningham had sent some intimate text messages to a woman who is not his wife. The implications remain to be seen. Cunningham had been leading in the polls by a couple of points, but we’ll see if there’s any fallout from the scandal.

South Carolina

Finally, we have South Carolina, one of the hottest races in the country right now. Lindsey Graham, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, is facing a very serious challenge from Jaime Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic party chairman, who is very well funded.

There are a lot of Democratic donors nationwide who would like to see Graham defeated. Now that he’s become a Trump ally – and because he’s leading the Judiciary Committee hearings for the Supreme Court nomination – he’s drawn a lot of opposition from the Democratic side. Harrison raised more money in the third quarter than any other Senate candidate in history.

BGOV 2020 Election Coverage

View All News

Election Overhaul Plan Secures Wide Backing of House Democrats