Diary

Early Look at the 2020 Senate Races, Part 3: The South

Today, this writer looks at 2020 Senate races in the South.  For practical purposes, I have included Texas in the final installment in the West.  Approval/disapproval ratings, according to Morning Consult, are in parentheses next to the names of incumbents running for reelection or undecided at this point.

ALABAMA

Doug Jones is the surprising Democratic incumbent (40/31) in Alabama after defeating Roy Moore in a 2017 special election to replace Jeff Sessions who resigned to become Attorney General in the Trump administration.  Despite allegations of sexual impropriety on the part of Moore, he lost by about 21,000 votes.  Other than Wyoming, Alabama is the strongest Trump state where the President enjoys a 61% approval rating.  Hence, who Trump endorses here is important and thus far, it does not look good for Moore who is back for another run at the Senate.  This writer is very much aware of support for Moore as an unabashed, staunch conservative.  But, Trump likes winners, especially in states that are as red as Alabama and for a Democrat to be representing Alabama in the Senate, that may be a bridge too far.  Besides Moore, there are five other declared Republicans in the mix with Bradley Byrne and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville leading in very early polls.

And there is still time to enter the fray with over a dozen Republican possibilities being mentioned.  The most intriguing, however, is Jeff Sessions.  He enjoyed approval ratings well north of 50% when he resigned to become Attorney General.  The question is how popular is he now after Trump’s sometimes sharp criticism, most of it justified in hindsight, of his performance as Attorney General.

With so many Republicans in a primary fight, we will likely see an April runoff (they hold their primary in early March).  Doug Jones is more than beatable and if the goal is to unseat him, then Moore is not the answer.  Prediction:  Assuming it is NOT Moore, GOP pick up.

ARKANSAS

Tom Cotton (48/29) is the Republican incumbent running for reelection.  So far, only Josh Mahony, who lost the Third District race in 2018, has declared for the Democrats.  Unless the Democrats have film of Cotton with a donkey in Tijuana, Mexico, Cotton will be reelected.  Prediction:  GOP hold

GEORGIA

Republican incumbent David Perdue (47/25) is running for election in the Peach State.  First, let’s dispense with the elephant, or in this case, heifer in the room- Stacey Abrams.  In April, the very large former gubernatorial LOSER, announced she would not run for this seat in 2020.  Several candidates have entered the Democratic field with only Teresa Tomlinson, the first female mayor of Columbus, of any note.  There are some interesting possibilities with last names common to Georgia politics- Jason Carter (grandson of Jimmy Carter) and Michelle Nunn (daughter of Sam Nunn).  Also in the mix is former Atlanta mayor, Kasim Reed who earlier this year said he still has another campaign in him, but did not specify for what office.  NOTE: It is currently unclear whether perennial candidate Derrick Grayson has entered the GOP primary.  Prediction: They’ll come after Perdue, but GOP hold.

KENTUCKY

At first glance, one would think Senate Majority Leader and Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell (36/50) is ripe for the picking.  The fact is that he has never lost a primary with less than 60% of the vote with that coming in 2014 against Matt Bevin.  And the fact is that other than his first run for Senate, none of the general election results have really been that close either.  C. Wesley Morgan, a former state legislator will be his losing primary opponent this time out.

On the Democratic side, only Amy McGrath is the most viable of the two declared candidates.  She lost in the 2018 midterm election in Kentucky’s 6th District by about 5 points.  But, the Sixth is perhaps the weakest of GOP districts in the state.  She was recruited by Chuck Schumer to run.  However, some Democratic strategists believe sports radio talk show host Matt Jones may be the candidate of preference since he has a certain working class credibility that may resonate with Kentucky voters.  Should he enter the fray, these Democratic strategists say it would be a fascinating race.  Before they get to that fascination, the real fascination will be in the Democratic primary and seeing how Jones, should he enter the race, matches up against Schumer’s hand-picked recruit, Amy McGrath.  Note: If the Democrats go against McConnell by invoking Trump, the President has a 56% approval rating in Kentucky.  Prediction: Six more years of McConnell, GOP hold.

LOUISIANA

This state uses the jungle primary system where, if no one gets 50%+1 on Election Day, the top two contenders advance to a runoff in December.  Bill Cassidy (49/23) is the Republican incumbent and likely to sail back into the Senate.  No Democrats have declared their candidacy as of this time, although they have plenty of time to do so.  Prediction:  GOP hold

MISSISSIPPI

Cindy Hyde-Smith (38/37) was first appointed to the Senate to replace the retired Thad Cochran who had earlier announced he was not running for reelection.  In a special election in 2018, she defeated Democratic opponent, Mike Espy.  During that campaign, Hyde-Smith made some off-the-cuff remarks that land politicians with loose tongues in unnecessary hot water.  Perhaps that is why she barely defeated Espy in the initial round of voting where no one reached the 50% mark.  Or perhaps it was because of the presence of Chris McDaniel who garnered 146,000 votes.  Regardless, she defeated Espy by 69,000 votes in the runoff to keep the seat in GOP hands.

In 2020, although technically undeclared, she needs to watch her comments, whether in jest or not, for anything that can remotely be considered racially insensitive.  Democrats will hound her no matter her opponent, and especially if Espy is again their candidate.  He is well-connected and well-financed in Mississippi.  Soon after losing in 2018, Espy, according to The Hill, filed papers with the FEC to run again for the Senate in 2020.  Don’t count this seat in the GOP column just yet.  Prediction: GOP hold in another- for Mississippi- close race.

NORTH CAROLINA

Thom Tillis (34/33) is the troubled incumbent Republican Senator in North Carolina.  Besides those dismal approval ratings, early hypothetical polling shows him losing to a number of potential Democrats.  Those numbers show that 33% of North Carolinians don’t know or have no opinion of Tillis.  Part of it is that there are seven distinct media markets in the state and they do not necessarily cover DC politics.  Richard Burr has a higher profile because he is Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  Tillis, on the other hand, centers on veteran’s affairs- not necessarily high profile stuff.

Regardless, this will be an expensive race expected to be in the top five among expenditures in the 2020 elections.  There are four Democrats currently declared with Cal Cunningham and state senator Erica Smith being the biggest names.  For Tillis to win, he has to run as a Republican in what many describe as the most purple of purple states.  Besides the Senate race, this will be hard-fought on the presidential level.  Trump won North Carolina in 2016 and his approval rating is still relatively high at 46%.  With the RNC nominating convention in Charlotte, perhaps this is a prime opportunity for Tillis to make himself known to the state’s voters.  Prediction:  TOSS UP at this point

SOUTH CAROLINA

Lindsey Graham (52/31) seems destined for another term in the Senate.  Combined with getting out from under the shadow of longtime friend, John McCain, coupled with his performance during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, he seems to have recovered his conservative mojo.  He faces two nondescript GOP opponents in the primary who he should easily dispatch.  There are reasons to sometimes dislike Graham, but overall and especially since Kavanaugh, you have to appreciate his performance, especially when it comes to the Russiagate hoax.  It should also be mentioned that Trump handily won South Carolina and still enjoys approval ratings above 50%.

The Democrats believe they have their candidate in former state party chair Jaime Harrison, a black politician linked to the Podesta  Group and if you think Graham won’t make hay out of that fact, think again!  He faces Gloria Tinuba, a politician who twice lost congressional bids in the Seventh District.  Prediction:  GOP hold

TENNESSEE

Lamar Alexander, the Republican incumbent, is retiring leaving this an open race.  Although several big name Republicans have been mentioned as potential candidates, only two unknown candidates have officially announced their candidacy.  Among those said to be considering are Diane Black, Steve Fincher, Chuck Fleishman, and even NFL star Peyton Manning.  Former governor Bill Haslam has officially declared himself out of the race.

There is only one Democrat officially in so far- James Mackler, an attorney who has picked up support from Phil Bredesen and Tim Kaine.  Some have suggested that former Nashville mayor, Karl Dean, who had his butt handed to him in the 2018 gubernatorial race, could be a possibility.  But, others are pushing Knoxville mayor Madeline Rogero.  Whoever emerges for the Democrats will have an uphill climb replacing Alexander.  Thinking they had their candidate in 2018 to replace another retiring Republican at the time, Bob Corker, Bredesen was handily defeated by Marsha Blackburn.  And, Trump has a 57% approval rating in Tennessee that must be overcome.  Prediction:  GOP hold

VIRGINIA

Finally in the South, there is Virginia where Democratic incumbent Mark Warner (48/29) seeks reelection most likely, although he has not officially announced his candidacy or intentions.  There are five declared Republicans with the biggest name being that of former 2nd District Congressman Scott Taylor.  He lost his seat in 2018 amid a voter fraud scandal when it was discovered some of his staffers obtained illegal signatures on a petition to get independent candidate Shaun Brown’s name on the ballot in an effort to siphon votes from his Democratic opponent and eventual winner, Elaine Luria.  Despite this baggage, it was a close loss in this Norfolk-based district.

The key to electoral victory in Virginia runs through the DC suburbs and now exurbs which are populated by government workers, many of them faceless deep state bureaucrats.  If Taylor can break through in these areas, he stands a chance.  However, Warner, in his first losing Senate bid, actually outperformed his Republican opponent in the traditionally conservative southern part of the state.  Thus, with decent approval ratings in a state where Trump’s approval ratings approximate the high end of the national average, this race may be a lot closer than most think.  However, the GOP lost a chance in 2018 against a weaker opponent in Tim Kaine.  Hopefully, they will not make the same mistakes in 2020.  Prediction: Democrat hold (with reservations).

Tomorrow: The West