Do Not Sleep on the Senate

As the 2020 elections approach, the political spotlight will be focused on the presidential election.  Expect months of nonstop coverage of rallies, debates, election analysts, polls, and—yes—Trump.  While this election will be one of historical importance, there are multiple congressional elections in 2020 that could similarly change the operation of our government (or not).  In this article, I will discuss four of the most competitive elections in the Senate.  Three of these elections are for seats held by Republicans and one is currently held by a Democrat.  Since Republicans have a majority of 53 seats, Democrats could divide the Senate by winning all four of these elections.  Below are the four states with competitive 2020 Senate elections.


On November 3, 2020, Arizona will hold a special election to fill the seat that was vacated by John McCain’s death on August 25, 2018.  McCain was elected in 2016 and his seat was filled on December 18, 2018 by Martha McSally, a Republican who had just lost to Democrat Krysten Sinema in a Senate race that surprised many pollsters and analysts.  Arizona had not elected a Democratic senator since 1988 and has only voted for a Democratic presidential nominee once since 1948, which is why the election result so surprising.  The changing political demographics of this state should make for a particularly interesting 2020 election, not to mention that the two most prominent candidates are a former Air Force colonel (Republican Martha McSally) and a former astronaut (Democrat Mark Kelly).


This election will fill a seat held by Republican Senator Cory Gardner in a state that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2018.  Gardner won his 2014 election by 2.5% and has not yet announced his decision to run for reelection in 2020.  The list of Democrats running for this seat include: Lorena Garcia, Michael Johnston, Keith Pottratz, Andrew Romanoff, and Trish Zornio.  This is a seat that Democrats are targeting, and we can expect a high volume of campaign spending (as will occur with the other races on this list) in what is sure to be a competitive race.


This is another seat of interest for all Republicans and Democrats.  The 2017 special election for this seat gained national attention because of allegations of sexual misconduct facing the Republican candidate Roy Moore.  Despite these allegations, Moore did not remove his name from the ballot and only lost to current Senator Doug Jones by 1.7%.  Whereas the Colorado seat mentioned above could easily flip from Republican to Democrat, this seat will likely become Republican assuming there are no allegations this time.  This prediction has been made given Alabama’s voting history; the state voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by nearly 28% and the 2016 Republican senatorial candidate received almost twice as many votes as the Democrat.  Republicans Bradley Bryne and Tommy Tuberville have already filed to challenge Senator Jones for his seat.

North Carolina

As many Duke students are registered to vote in North Carolina, this election will be particularly relevant.  The election will fill a seat currently held by Republican Thom Tillis, who ousted Democrat Kay Hagan in 2014, winning by only 1.5% of the vote.  Although North Carolina has since elected another Republican Senator and voted for Donald Trump by 3.6%, this race could be very competitive.  Voter turnout will play a significant role in this election and high spending can be expected.  Democrats Trevor Fuller (a local government leader from Mecklenburg County) and Erica Smith-Ingram (state senator) have filed to run in the Democratic Primary while Republican Sandy Smith (entrepreneur) has filed to challenge Senator Tillis in the Republican Primary.

Looking Ahead

While primaries are nearing for these 2020 senate elections, the races for these seats are just beginning.  We will be covering congressional and presidential elections closely as candidates file for election and polling begins.  I will pay special attention to North Carolina races, as they directly impact the most students and faculty at Duke.

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