Senatorial Races: 2020 Election
By: Eli Wizevich
As Democratic candidates traverse the nation garnering support in early primary states and as impeachment hearings capture the attention of the national media, it is easy to forget about the “other” races in 2020. Nevertheless, these races are extremely important: their results will define the makeup of our Congress and in turn how easily a new president—or the incumbent—can make their lofty campaign promises become law. Moreover, these races will define how parties continue to exist: progressive or moderate? For Trump or against him? The presidential election may broadly represent the sentiments of the country, but these four Senate races will give key insight into the inner workings of Washington for many years to come.
Doug Jones, Jeff Sessions, and Roy Moore. The 2017 special election which saw an Alabama Senate seat flip blue may repeat itself in 2020. Jeff Sessions, an immigration hardliner and early endorser of President Trump in 2016, left his long-held seat in the Senate to serve as Mr. Trump’s Attorney General. To replace him in the Senate, a special election was held between former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, a Republican, and former US Attorney Doug Jones, a Democrat. Mr. Jones beat the favored Republican after details of Mr. Moore’s sexual wrongdoing came to light. Fast-forward just two years and Mr. Sessions has been fired and humiliated by Mr. Trump for allowing an investigation into alleged collusion with Russia in the 2016 election; Mr. Moore is back from the political graveyard, hoping to put his past behind him and Mr. Jones out of a job; and Mr. Jones is scrambling to keep one of the reddest states in the nation purple.
Logic and voting patterns would tell us that Mr. Sessions is a strong front-runner for the seat; however, the President has repeatedly disparaged his former AG, and in a state that Mr. Trump carried by nearly 30 points in 2016, his words have sway. Mr. Sessions hopes his years of local GOP service and recognition will carry him back to Washington. In case that fails, Mr. Sessions has released ads detailing his lack of criticism towards Mr. Trump in spite of what staunch Trump allies running in the same race may say. The path and fate of Mr. Sessions will become a preview of a post-Trump GOP: a dichotomy between the unabashed and more quiet supporters of Mr. Trump. As of now in states like Alabama, a third, anti-Trump Republican doesn’t quite exist. If the Republicans take each other down in a “circular firing squad” of sorts, Mr. Jones may live to serve another 6 years.
After the GOP lost Kentucky’s governorship to Democrat Andy Beshear, the Bluegrass State is no longer the 30-point Republican bulwark on which Mr. Trump can count. By the same token, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s prospects for re-election are not as concrete as they used to be. Since 2016, Mr. McConnell has become one of Mr. Trump’s most loyal Senate allies, pushing through myriad legislation and a historic number of federal judges.
That, of course, comes with ire from the left. Democrats across the country view Mr. McConnell as an institutional barrier against progressive legislation presidential hopefuls promise. Blocking recent election security bills earned the Majority Leader the moniker “Moscow Mitch.”
Although it is unlikely that Mr. McConnell will lose his seat, he faces unusually stiff competition from former Marine Amy McGrath and potential challenger State Representative Charles Booker. An upset win against Mr. McConnell in 2020 would signal a major rebuke of Trump’s GOP and would create a power vacuum on Capitol Hill: one which Democrats (and moderate Republicans) are itching to fill.
No other Republican votes against Mr. Trump more often than Senator Susan Collins. Still, she sides with the President 66.7% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight, a political statistics website. Her most unlikely move as a pro-choice, moderate conservative was voting to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after allegations of sexual assault were brought before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her middle-of-the road policies and voting records are proving to be the worst of both worlds: not a strong enough Republican for the hardcore Trumpers and too easy on Mr. Trump for those left-of-center. To hold her seat in 2020, she will have to rely on the personal connections with voters she has made in her tenure and ignore the massive national media attention.
Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon poses the most serious threat to Ms. Collins. She is running on the promise of being an outsider to the Washington elite who fall in lockstep with Mr. McConnell and Mr. Trump. Along with Cory Gardner in Colorado, Ms. Collins is the only Senate Republican up for re-election in a state that Mr. Trump lost in 2016, but if she can become a political chameleon and portray herself as a political opportunist rather than a stubborn idealist, she just may hold onto the seat. Weirder things have happened in American politics.
One Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, hopes to win the White House. The other, Ed Markey, hopes to cling onto his seat. The challenge he faces, however, does not come from a Republican eager to unseat this co-author of the Green New Deal. Rather, Mr. Markey faces a primary challenge from a fellow Massachusetts Democrat: Congressman Joe Kennedy III.
Mr. Kennedy is a progressive in his own right; however, by running, he has divided progressivism into moderate and extreme. Ms. Warren and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the faces of the devout progressive wing, have backed Mr. Markey, whereas centrists like Senator Kyrsten Sinema and former Republican Governor William Weld support Mr. Kennedy.
As voters go to the polls, the name recognition of Mr. Kennedy is sure to clash with the undeniable energy on the left wing of the Democratic Party. In the face of Mr. Trump’s rightward lurches, the Democrats have a choice: to reclaim the center ground and the blue-collar, working-class vote; or to continue leftwards and rely on a more niche, committed base. Nevertheless, Massachusetts’s Senate primary will prove a defining moment in the trajectory of the Democratic party.
2020 At Large
In its totality, America is faced with an election year like no other. President Trump is a divisive and controversial figure whose policies will continue to brand the Republican Party as protectionist and isolationist for decades to come. In turn, conservatives in smaller races will have to sit on the fence: simultaneously supporting him for political clout and distancing themselves from him as impeachment heats up. Across the aisle, Democrats must grapple with existential races that will mold their party and identity for a new generation of voters. A progressive path may be more ideologically appealing, but a moderate one may win more elections.
Irrespective of the party, the other 2020 races will be ones to watch.