Democrats are looking to regain the majority in the Senate come November, Jacqui Heinrich reports.
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PRESENTING YOUR SENATE POWER RANKINGS
It may be helpful to think about this year’s Senate contests in the way that meteorologists think about river levels in a hurricane. It depends on how big the storm is out on the ocean and where it hits.
While a popular incumbent senator can make his or her own weather in a midterm year – think of Joe Manchin winning re-election in MAGA-fied West Virginia in 2018 – in presidential years, it’s extremely hard to fight the current.
Republicans currently control the Senate with 53 seats to Democrats’ 47. Thirty-five Senate seats are on the ballot this fall, 23 Republican and 12 Democratic. To take control of the chamber, Democrats need a net gain of four seats (or three seats and the vice presidency).
We see 10 seats right now as being at least potentially competitive this cycle, and all but two of them are Republican-held. So, it’s certainly fair to say that the Senate is within reach for the Blue Team. But it isn’t that simple.
Many of these seats are from Mitch McConnell’s greatest triumph of the Obama era: Democratic-held seats in traditionally Republican or swing states where the then-president’s approval rating was the pits.
This was the class that made the Republican majority, defeating Democratic incumbents in five states and flipping four more open seats for a jaw-dropping nine-seat reversal, the largest since 1998. The bad news for Republicans is that means they are defending a lot more seats this cycle – similar to the disadvantage Democrats had in 2018. The good news for Republicans is that most of the seats are in states their party won in the last presidential election.
In a hard-to forecast presidential year, handicapping Senate races is tricky. Given the fact that such a wide range of outcomes on the presidential level is possible – from a Democratic landslide to the Republican incumbent improving on his 2016 victory – we need to be capacious in our initial list.
We still don’t know the size or direction of the hurricane of a presidential election churning in the steamy waters of late spring.
We also don’t yet know much about the challengers, especially with coronavirus-delayed primary elections. It will be months more before we know who is challenging whom in several races. We also don’t know which incumbents are neatly rigged for stormy weather, and which will come apart in a gale.
But here’s a place to start.
You’ll find the most competitive races above the fold as “Toss Ups,” then below the fold there are less competitive races that are still worth watching, “Lean Republican” or “Lean Democratic.”
We expect lots to change as the primary calendar plays out and the national race goes on. As always, we love hearing your assessments and observations.
Incumbent: Martha McSally (R)
Democratic primary: August 4
Republican-held since 1969
Last election: McSally appointed in 2019
2016 presidential result: Trump by 3.5 points
This is the race Democrats love the best. McSally is a former congresswoman who lost her 2018 bid but was appointed to the Senate anyway after Sen. John Kyl, tapped to replace the late John McCain, retired. McSally’s loss to now-Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, resentment over McSally’s appointment and Arizona’s new status as a swing state would have made her a prime target no matter what. But when national Democrats landed Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and the husband of popular former Rep. Gabby Giffords, the Blue Team was all in on Arizona. While Kelly has to wait for August to be crowned the nominee, his fundraising and endorsements reflect a unified Democratic effort. One upside for McSally: because Arizona is a presidential swing state, she will continue to benefit from spending and voter mobilization for the national race.
Incumbent: Cory Gardner (R)
Democratic primary: June 30
Republican held since 2014
Last election: Gardner 48.2%, Mark Udall* (D) 46.3%
2016 presidential result: Clinton by 4.9 points
Gardner’s 2014 win was perhaps the high-water line for Republicans in that midterm year. Colorado has become increasingly hostile to the GOP in recent years, so beating an incumbent, especially one with a famous last name in Western politics, there was a big deal. Gardner, a former congressman, executed a near-perfect campaign. But things look different this time around. With Democrats heavily favored to win the state again on the presidential level, Gardner faces seeking re-election with a Republican president unpopular in his home state. But maybe the biggest difference is in Gardner’s likely opponent. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper may not have been popular with Democratic primary voters, but his popularity hasn’t wavered at home. Gardner will have to show he can make this a real race in the early summer or he may find funds hard to come by. Good news for voters: Both are temperate, thoughtful men, so the race may be a shade better than the typical mud wrestling match.
Incumbent: Thom Tillis (R)
Democratic nominee: Cal Cunningham
Republican held since 2014
Last election (2014): Tillis 48.8%, Kay Hagan* (D) 47.3%
2016 presidential result: Trump by 3.6 points
There may be no other race that will depend more on the presidential outcome more than North Carolina. Tillis, initially facing a primary challenge, has lashed himself to President Trump. If Trump repeats his solid showing of 2016, Tillis has every reason to expect re-election. But he may face the same fate as his predecessor, former Sen. Hagan. Tillis, the former speaker of the state house of representatives, ran as a mainstream moderate alternative to an incumbent he said was too closely connected to a president unpopular in the Tar Heel State. With Cunningham, Democrats hope to run the same operation. He’s an Army Reserve colonel and a former state senator from the Winston-Salem suburbs who is careful to maintain his moderate brand. If Trump struggles in North Carolina, Tillis could certainly find himself Haganed.
Incumbent: Susan Collins (R)
Democratic primary: July 14
Republican held since 1979
Last election (2014): Collins 68.5%, state Sen. Shenna Bellows (D) 31.5%
2016 presidential result: Clinton by 2.9 points
Maine drives Senate Democrats batty. Republicans haven’t carried the Pine Tree State on the presidential level for 32 years, but no Democrat has won a Senate race there in the same span. Every cycle, Democrats say this time will be different. But there’s reason to think they might be right this time. Collins’ brand has been perfect for a Maine Republican in her previous four victories. She’s a moderate on social issues who favors big defense spending and generally maintained her independence, regardless of who was in the White House. But Collins got sucked into the culture wars in a big way with the confirmation hearings for now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination she was instrumental in saving. Collins lost the backing of feminist supporters and found herself an immediate target for pro-choice groups. Democrats are lining up behind state House Speaker Sara Gideon and, working on the assumption that Trump’s stock has fallen with Mainers, believe this is the year to oust the incumbent. Collins, though, remains one of the great escape artists of the Senate.
Incumbent: Steve Daines (R)
Democratic primary: June 2
Republican held since 2015
Last election (2014): Daines 57.8%, state Rep. Amanda Curtis 40.1%
2016 presidential result: Trump by 20.3 points
The advantage of incumbency is a great deal about having a famous name. But it won’t likely work that way in Montana this year. Despite Republicans holding the state on the presidential level for almost three decades, Montana often goes Democratic for its senators, including Daines’ stable-mate, Jon Tester. The same goes for governors, including current Gov. Steve Bullock. After abandoning his long-shot presidential campaign, Bullock jumped in the Senate race, causing big headaches for Daines. Bullock is moderate, popular and a household name — likely better known than the incumbent he is facing. Daines got into the Senate without a real test. His 2014 opponent was a little-funded, very young state legislator who was picked after the incumbent Democrat dropped out amid a resume scandal. The good news for Daines is that we can pretty much tell which way the wind will be blowing in Montana. State politicos don’t expect Trump to do quite so well this time around, but a double-digit winner at the top of the ticket would do him lots of good.
(* denotes incumbent)
THE RULEBOOK: WHEN YOU KNOW, YOU KNOW. YOU KNOW?
“Experience is the oracle of truth; and where its responses are unequivocal, they ought to be conclusive and sacred.” – Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Federalist No. 20
TIME OUT: THE MYSTERY OF ST. HELENS
NatGeo: “More than 25 miles to the west of the other explosive peaks, in the southwest corner of Washington State, sits Mount St. Helens. It’s been 40 years since Mount St. Helens famously roared to life… Today, the volcano is still one of the most dangerous in the United States, and the most active of the Cascade Range. Where all this firepower comes from, however, has been an enduring mystery. … Four decades after Mount St. Helens’ eruption, scientists finally are unearthing some clues to its curious position. In one of the most comprehensive efforts to trace a volcano’s roots, the Imaging Magma Under St. Helens project, or iMUSH for short, used a slew of analyses to bring these subterranean secrets to light. Overall, the volcano doesn’t follow the textbook picture of a peak sitting above a chamber of molten rock. Instead, it seems, a diffuse cloud of partially molten blobs lingers deep below the surface, offset to the east of the edifice, toward the neighboring Mount Adams.”
Flag on the play? – Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.
PRESIDENTIAL POWER RANKINGS
(270 electoral votes needed to win)
Toss-up (103 electoral votes): Wisconsin (10), Ohio (18), Florida (29), Arizona (11), Pennsylvania (20), North Carolina (15)
Lean R/Likely R: (186 electoral votes)
Lean D/Likely D (249 electoral votes)
[Full rankings here.]
TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE
Average approval: 45.6 percent
Average disapproval: 51.6 percent
Net Score: -6 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.2 points
[Average includes: Gallup: 49% approve – 48% disapprove; CNN: 46% approve – 51% disapprove; CNBC: 46% approve – 54% disapprove; Monmouth University: 44% approve – 51% disapprove; PRRI: 43% approve – 54% disapprove.]
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SENATE POWER RANKINGS
Incumbent: Doug Jones (D)
Republican primary: July 14
Democratic held since 2018
Last election (2017): Jones 50%, Roy Moore 48.3%
2016 presidential result: Trump by 27.6 points
Democrats’ dreams of holding on to this seat died along with the primary candidacy of Roy Moore. It took some pretty bizarre circumstances to pick up a seat in one of the most Republican states in the Union, and lacking those, Democrats have all but written this one off. Republicans will choose in July between the seat’s former occupant, Jeff Sessions, and former Auburn University football Coach Tommy Tuberville. Either should handily beat Jones.
Incumbent: Kelly Loeffler (R)
Special election: November 3
Republican held since 2004
Last election (2016): Johnny Isakson 54.8%, Jim Barksdale 41%
2016 presidential result: Trump by 5.1 points
Republicans could certainly mess around and lose this seat. After being spurned in his quest to be appointed to replace retiring Sen. Isakson, Rep. Doug Collins opted to run anyway, kicking off an ugly, expensive intra-party fight. Collins and Loeffler are busy attacking each other while Democrats are unscathed. This is a jungle primary election. If no candidate gets more than half of the vote on Nov. 3, the top two finishers will go on to a runoff. Democrats seem to be leaning toward Matt Lieberman, a businessman from suburban Atlanta and the son of 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman. If the two Republicans succeed in tearing each other far enough down, they could leave the door open.
Incumbent: Joni Ernst (R)
Democratic primary: June 2
Republican held since 2014
Last election (2014): Ernst 52.1%, Rep. Bruce Braley 43.8%
2016 presidential result: Trump by 9.4 points
Democrats have lost some of their early ardor for challenging Ernst. Despite hopes for a top-tier recruit, fears about Ernst’s popularity and Iowa’s prodigious Republican machine kept big names out of the race. Ernst will have to pay attention to the presidential contest, though. If Joe Biden does as well as Democrats hope with union-allied voters in the Hawkeye State, she will have to hustle.
Incumbent: Pat Roberts (R) – retiring
Republican primary: August 4
Republican held since 1996
Last election (2014): Roberts 53.2%, Independent Greg Orman 42.5% (Democratic nominee Chad Taylor withdrew from the race)
2016 presidential result: Trump by 15.4 points
It’s never a good sign when the senate majority leader and president are both sweating the primary field in a state. While Kansas is very Republican, it’s not particularly radical in its politics. That’s how former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach managed to lose to now-Gov. Laura Kelly in 2018. Despite the loss, anti-immigration hardliner Kobach is back, this time for a Senate run and his fellow Republicans fear a repeat performance. State GOP leaders have tried to clear the field for Rep. Roger Marshall, who represents western Kansas, but Kobach is far better known. That’s why McConnell and Trump are both still lobbying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, to take the plunge. Democrats, meanwhile, have embraced state Sen. Barbara Bollier from the Kansas City suburbs. She switched parties in 2018 but maintains plenty of Republican-friendly positions. If Dems can draw Kobach, she might be able to pull it off.
Incumbent: Gary Peters (D)
Republican primary: August 4
Democratic held since 1979
Last election (2014): Peters 54.6%, Terri Lynn Land 41.3%
2016 presidential result: Trump by 0.3 points
If Republicans shoot the moon in 2020, this would be the place. The GOP frontrunner is John James, the businessman who was soundly defeated by Sen. Debbie Stabenow two years ago. But James never really stopped campaigning and came sprinting into this cycle, as demonstrated by his prodigious fundraising. While it’s true that Peters is far less known than Stabenow, it’s also true that this will likely be a tougher year for Michigan Republicans than 2018. James has been walking the Trump tightrope pretty well so far in a state where the incumbent is consistently unpopular, but the truth is that James’ fortunes likely depend not just on Trump repeating his nail-biter win but rather expanding on it.
Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia (regular), Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming
Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“From [Friday’s] Halftime Report on the ‘would you pull a Ford, VP Biden’ play, and I quote below: ‘Chairman Peter Rodino, the Jerry Nadler of his day, summoned Ford to testify in mid-October.’ Pellegrino (Peter) Rodino was a womb-to-tomb Democrat, no question there, and highly liberal and partisan to the core. But the only comparison Nadler is both were House Judiciary Chairman. Pete Rodino was a good man at heart, and Nadler is not. It would be as if to call Tip O’Neill the Nancy Pelosi of his day – and that is so wrong also. Keep up the otherwise insightful writing!” – Gregg Hart, Buffalo Grove, Ill.
“I liked your piece about the Gerald Ford pardon and it got me thinking, never a good sign. Recall that Ford did not pardon Nixon for actual crimes but rather for any crimes he may have committed. I wonder if Trump would consider granting a pardon to Obama for any crimes he may have committed. Wouldn’t that set the cat ‘mongst the pigeons?” – George Fuller, St. Louis[Ed. note: Now THAT would be the Nobel Prize in presidential trolling!]
“…‘predecessor and his 2016 rival punished’ … ‘It’s a terrible cycle that, if sustained, will quickly lead to ruin.’ Please clarify if the intent of this commentary paragraph is to suggest that the Nation accept a potential overthrow of the Peoples’ choice for the result of the 2016 election? If it is proven that a cabal of persons attempted to subvert the 2016 election results for the Presidency, I cannot believe that you are suggesting there should be no punishment for the crimes possibly committed. Please clarify this paragraph for me.” – David L Kramer Sr., Wesley Chapel, Fla.[Ed. note: We could debate the specifics, but it certainly is not far-fetched to argue that John Kennedy and his team stole the 1960 election. Illinois was a fraud-o-rama and there are lots of questions about the numbers from Louisiana and Texas, the home of “Landslide” Lyndon Johnson. Not only do we know it now, but Richard Nixon knew it then. Nixon decided that claiming fraud would be too divisive and that given the unlikelihood of a clear reversal, doing so would not only undercut national unity and respect for institutions but end up leaving him looking like a sore loser anyway. It was the same thinking that led Nixon to resign rather than be impeached. (Of course, it was partly his recollection of 1960 that led Nixon to cheat in 1972 despite a clear path to re-election). In their presidencies, Kennedy and Johnson had both engaged in serious misdeeds, including using federal agencies to target their political rivals. One of the frustrations that Nixon’s supporters had was they felt their man got the political death penalty for things that had been winked at before. Or how about Bill Clinton selling presidential favors? Our recent history is littered with presidential misconduct, some of it very serious. But in all of those cases, their successors opted to not prolong what were politically charged investigations in favor of unity and forward progress. If Joe Biden were to follow Trump’s lead and demand the prosecution of his predecessor, how would that go? Would the Biden Justice Department be viewed as more impartial by Republicans then than the current administration is seen by Democrats today? Criminalizing politics erodes confidence in both criminal justice and politicians. Certainly, members of administrations should be subject to the criminal code and, when merited, carefully and impartially prosecuted. But when it comes to presidents, the better remedies for misconduct are removal from office by voters or Congress.]
“Your view of politicians being responsible for the bad government simply does not contort with the facts. ‘…but it’s the one voters would probably be most inclined to want done.’ If the voters did not want the criminality that Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, et al were responsible for they would never have been presidents. Want proof that it is the American people that are responsible for bad corrupt govt. Simply look at the current president and the presumptive nominee. All that is left is for the USA to make the ‘other’ parties views illegal and start jailing the opposition and you have completed the wishes of one half or the other’s true dream come true. … Who are you blaming again? I blame the voters. You can see by my name my heritage, Thucydides made the dangers of what ‘the voters would probably be most inclined to do’ quite clear and it ain’t pretty.” – George Chapogas, Rivas, Nicaragua[Ed. note: You’re not all wrong, Mr. Chapogas! But I would say that our system is very much arranged these days to shut out the majority of voters who are less partisan and favor moderation. Our two-party system is failing us in part because the parties themselves have lost the ability to function as intended. I think given the chance to vote for a unifying candidate (if the person had an impressive resume and good character), Americans would go for it in a big way. Voters are responsible for their choices, but we have to take the system in which they are operating into account.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
DON’T BE A MELON-HEAD
WRC-TV: “Two thieves decided to forego face masks and opt instead for watermelons while stealing from a store in central Virginia, police say. The suspects arrived at a Sheetz convenience store in Louisa on May 6 wearing hollowed-out watermelons with eye holes. Louisa police said the suspects then stole from the store. Police didn’t say what the melon-wearing thieves took. Police released photos of the suspects on Facebook, asking for anyone with tips to call them and reference the ‘MELON-HEADS’ case. On Saturday, police announced they arrested the suspects. They did not identify them. Louisa is about 15 miles west of the Richmond area and about 100 miles south of Washington, D.C.”
AND NOW A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Reagan was optimistic about America amid the cynicism and general retreat of the post-Vietnam era because he believed unfashionably that America was both great and good — and had been needlessly diminished by restrictive economic policies and timid foreign policies.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on June 11, 2004.
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.