A Look at 2020 Senate Elections

By John Isaacs

Flash Senate race updates (Nov. 12, 2019): Alabama – Former Senator Jeff Sessions has entered the Alabama Senate race, adding to a multi-candidate GOP primary there.  New Mexico – Maggie Toulouse Oliver has dropped out of the New Mexico Senate primary, leaving Rep. Ben Ray Luján as the Democratic nominee.


Alabama – The most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in 2020 is Sen. Doug Jones (D). In 2017, Jones won a stunning upset victory 50%-48% over former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore (R) in this usually solid Republican state. There is no clear Republican nominee, but Jones is considered underdog. In June, to the dismay of many Republicans, Moore announced he would run again. There were already  two announced Republican candidates – U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R) and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville (R). In the meantime, state Rep. John Rogers (D), who has represented the Birmingham suburbs for almost 40 years, will run against Jones in a primary.

Arizona – Martha McSally (R), after losing a close election in 2018 to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) by 50%-48%, was appointed to take the seat of late Senator John McCain (R), and has to run again in 2020. Mark Kelly (D), astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is her challenger.

Colorado – Sen. Cory Gardner (R) is considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the 2020 election. In 2018, Democrats won the governorship in Colorado and picked up one House seat, and Hillary Clinton carried the state in 2016. In August, former Governor John Hickenlooper dropped his candidacy for President and announced he will run for this Senate seat. Most other Democratic candidates then dropped out.

Georgia A – The state has been moving towards a purple status; Stacey Abrams (D) lost her 2018 race for governor in a very close race by only 50%-49%, but declined entreaties to run for Senate. Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson (D) is running as is Jon Ossoff (D), former congressional candidate.

Georgia B – Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson announced in August that he will retire at the end of 2019 for health reasons. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp will name a replacement who will hold the seat until a November 2020 special election, creating two elections then. Other potential candidates are waiting until there is a new appointment.

Iowa – Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst (R) is running for reelection. National Democrats, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Emily’s List, appear to be rallying around real estate executive and former congressional candidate Theresa Greenfield (D). However, there are other candidates in the race, including  insurance company owner Eddie Mauro, retired Navy Admiral Michael Franken, and still others considering. Ernst is considered the favorite.

Kansas –Incumbent Senator Pat Roberts (R) will retire after this term, his fourth. The state has not elected a Democratic Senator since 1932, and although a Democrat captured the governorship in 2018, Republicans are heavily favored to hold the seat. A number of Republicans are considering the race, with some high-level Republicans urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to run. However, former Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), who managed to lose a race for governor in 2018 to a Democrat, announced he would run for Senate in 2020, as is U.S. Representative Roger Marshall (R), and other candidates.

Kentucky – Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) surmounted a tough challenge in 2014, 56%-41%. But he could face a difficult election next year because of his close connection to President Trump and his lukewarm ratings in the state. However, the Majority Leader is a strong campaigner who has shown an ability to raise vast amounts of money. In July, former fighter pilot and House candidate Amy McGrath (D) announced she is running.

Maine – Sen. Susan Collins (R) has been a highly popular incumbent in the state, but may have alienated some moderate voters with some votes, particularly to confirm Judge Kavanaugh. In 2018, Democrats picked up the governorship from a retiring Republican and won both House seats in the state. In late June, state House Speaker Sara Gideon’s jumped into the race, and immediately was endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List. Betsy Sweet (D), who took third place in last year’s primary for governor, Bre Kidman (D) and former Google Executive Ross LaJeunesse are also running.

Massachusetts – If there is any challenge to incumbent Democratic Senator Ed Markey, it is likely to come in a Democratic primary. Some pundits theorize that Markey, a long-time leader on nuclear weapons issues, could be vulnerable. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D) and labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan (D) have announced primary challenges to Markey.

Michigan – Army veteran John James (R), lost in 2018 to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, is challenging Democratic incumbent Gary Peters. James lost by a fairly close 52%-46 to Stabnow, and raised $12 million for his race.

Minnesota – Senator Tina Smith (D), appointed to replace Sen. Al Franken, won in 2018 by 53%-42% over former state senator Karen Housley for the last two years of Franken’s term. Smith faces another election in 2020 for a full six-year term, and could get another major challenge. Jason Lewis, who served as U.S. representative for one term before being ousted by Rep. Angie Craig in 2018, is running against Sen. Tina Smith.

Mississippi – Democrat Mike Espy, a former Congressman and Secretary of Agriculture, who held Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith to a 54%-46% win for the last two years of Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R) seat, has filed to run against her again. Hyde-Smith could also face a Republican challenger.

New Mexico – Sen. Tom Udall (D) has announced his retirement at the end of this term. While Democrats have dominated elections in recent years, Republicans are still competitive.  Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D) is the Democratic candidates.

North Carolina – Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) is being primaried by wealthy businessman Garland Tucker, with some Republican groups dissatisfied with the incumbent’s record and his changing positions. Former Democratic state Sen. Cal Cunningham joined the race in June and is running close in polls.

South Carolina – Senator Lindsey Graham (R) has gone from Trump opponent in 2016 to Trump critic to Trump ally. His major threat to re-election almost surely comes from a Republican primary. In 2014, Graham took only 56% of the primary vote against six opponents. However,  Democrats are rallying around former South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison, also former top aide to Rep. Jim Clyburn (D).

Tennessee –Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has served since 2003, has announced his retirement at the end of this term. His replacement is likely to be a Republican; In 2018, Democrats thought they had a chance to win a Senate seat in this state, but ex-governor Phil Bredesen (D) won only 44% of the vote against then Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R). Attorney and Iraq War Army veteran James Mackler (D), who ran in 2018 before dropping out when Bredesen entered the race, has said he will run.

Texas – Republican Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn will be the favorite to be re-elected.  In late April, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar (D), who lost a close 51%-48% House race in TX-31, announced she will run.

Virginia – In early July, ex-Rep. Scott Taylor (R-02) announced he will challenge Sen. Mark Warner (D). Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, lost his re-election last year to now-Rep. Elaine Luria (D-02).

Wyoming – Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY) has announced his retirement at the end of this term. Former Rep. Cynthia Lummis is running. Rep. Liz Cheney (R) may give up her leadership position in the House to run as well, but is leaving everyone in suspense.


33 Senators Up for Election in 2020

Democrats – 12

Booker, Cory A. (D-NJ)

Coons, Christopher A. (D-DE)

Durbin, Richard J. (D-IL)

Jones, Doug (D-AL)

Markey, Edward J. (D-MA)

Merkley, Jeff (D-OR)

Peters, Gary C. (D-MI)

Reed, Jack (D-RI)

Shaheen, Jeanne (D-NH)

Smith, Tina (D-MN)

Udall, Tom (D-NM) – retiring

Warner, Mark R. (D-VA)


Republicans – 23

Alexander, Lamar (R-TN) – retiring

Capito, Shelley Moore (R-WV)

Cassidy, Bill (R-LA)

Collins, Susan M. (R-ME)

Cornyn, John (R-TX)

Cotton, Tom (R-AR)

Daines, Steve (R-MT)

Enzi, Michael B. (R-WY) – retiring

Ernst, Joni (R-IA)

Gardner, Cory (R-CO)

Graham, Lindsey (R-SC)

Hyde-Smith, Cindy (R-MS)

Inhofe, James M. (R-OK)

Isakson, Johnny (R-GA) – retiring December 2019

McConnell, Mitch (R-KY)

McSally, Martha (R-AZ)

Perdue, David (R-GA)

Risch, James E. (R-ID)

Roberts, Pat (R-KS) – retiring

Rounds, Mike (R-SD)

Sasse, Ben (R-NE)

Sullivan, Dan (R-AK)

Tillis, Thom (R-NC)