Democrats are defending two seats in states Trump won in 2016 – Alabama and Michigan. In Alabama, which Trump won by almost 30 percentage points, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville defeated former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to run against Democrat Doug Jones. In 2017, Jones won the seat in a special election and is probably the most vulnerable senator seeking re-election in 2020. In Michigan, which Trump narrowly won, Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is seeking a second term against John James, a businessman and military veteran who is well funded.
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What trends could influence Senate elections?
We’re seeing a greater partisan convergence in how states vote for president and vote for Senate. In 2016, for the first time in history, every state that had a Senate election voted for the same party for president and for Senate. In 2018, Republicans made gains in the Senate because the math was packed with states favorable to Trump. Of the six Senate seats that switched between the parties in 2018, five went to the party that won the state’s 2016 presidential vote.
As a result, we have 89 Senators out of 100 representing states that were won by their party in the most recent presidential election. That’s the highest number since at least the end of World War II. That number was in the 40s in the late 1980s, in the 60s for much of the 1990s, and in the 70s for most of the first decade of this century. Presidential elections increasingly are influencing the outcome of Senate elections.
The bottom line
Democrats probably have a better shot at the Senate than Republicans have at reclaiming the House. Whether Democrats can win control of the Senate will depend on factors including the quality of their candidates’ campaigns against Republican incumbents and of the Democratic presidential nominee opposing Trump. Democrats are targeting a slew of Republican senators from states Trump either lost or won narrowly in 2016 but have to brace for a loss in Alabama.
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