August 19, 2020


As goes Trump, so goes the U.S. Senate, now 53-47 Republican.

And as goes the U.S. Senate, so goes the critical first 2 years of a potential Biden-Harris administration. The Democrats need a trifecta - control of the presidency, Senate and House - on Nov. 3 to govern properly. Otherwise, 2021-22 will be gridlock.

Right now a 52-48 democratic Senate looks likely. So it will be semi-gridlock: The House passes, the Senate dawdles.

In the 2016 Trump-Clinton contest, the Republicans won 30 states and the Democrats 20. The electoral vote was 304-227 for Trump, but the popular vote was 65,853,514-62,984,828 for Clinton. There are 35 senate seats up in 2020 (23R, 12D), with 16 competitive in varying degrees. Whether Mitch McConnell (R) or Chuck Schumer (D) will be majority leader depends on the outcome in AZ, NC, ME and CO, where Republican incumbents are trailing, and in MT, KS, KY, IA and GA, where Republicans are in the 47-49 percent range - where they should be.

And those outcomes are dependent on straight-ticket voting. There is no plausible reason why somebody who votes for Trump-Pence would vote for a Democrat for senator. Likewise, no Biden-Harris voter would opt for a Republican for senator. Therefore, a Trump win in the battleground states insures a Republican senate; Trump won 14 of 16 in 2016, losing only Colorado and Maine. Republican incumbents Cory Gardner and Susan Collins (and Trump) look like losers in the latter two states.

Straight-ticket voting was a permanent part of the U.S. political landscape from the 1840s to the 1950s. Vote-the-Party was the norm. Whichever party won the presidency invariably won Congress. The segregationist Solid South voted Democratic for every office and sent 22 Democrats to the senate. Those 11 states of the Old Confederacy (VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, LA, AR, TN and TX) now send 19 Republicans (with the AL seat sure to flip).

Split-ticket voting became fashionable in the 1960s and 1970s, when political "independents" began to sprout. The tendency was to "Vote the Man, Not the Party." Unaligned voters weighed such factors as partisan balance, candidate philosophy and judgment, and thoughtfulness. A lot of traditionally Democratic or Republican states had senators of the minority party due to crossovers.

Not anymore. Party allegiance was once a preference, sometimes ancestral or regional. Then through the era of Reagan and Gingrich it became a statement. The two parties had vague but clearly contrasting philosophies. Now the parties are just two hostile entities who covet power, oppose whatever the other wants or does, and the division is between pro-Trump and anti-Trump. Robotic adherence to your side is obligatory; no deviation is permitted. The 2020 choice is between MORE OF THE SAME and MORE OF THE SAME WITH MORE TAXES.

ALABAMA: Trump won the state 1,318,255-729,547, with 62.1 percent, and will replicate that feat this year. Then-senator Jeff Sessions (R) early endorsed Trump, and was made U.S. attorney general. He didn't last long. In the 2017 special election Republicans nominated former judge Roy Moore, who faced allegations of sexual misconduct with underage girls. Alabamians had a choice: Elect Moore and be a national laughingstock, or elect Doug Jones (D). Jones won, narrowly.

Republicans wised up in 2020. No people with baggage. Both Moore and Sessions, at age 73, ran for the hills. Instead, former Auburn University football coach and ESPN sports analyst Tommy Tuberville was chosen. He won the runoff 61-39 over ex-Trumpster Sessions. Tuberville had the president's endorsement. Outlook: Tuberville will easily beat Jones.

KANSAS: Trump won the state 671,018-427,005, with 56.7 percent. It will be less in 2020. Republicans caught a break when congressman Roger Marshall won the open senate nomination 40.4-26.1 percent over Trumpster Kris Kobach, who championed anti-immigration and anti-abortion policies as a state official. Kobach lost for governor in 2018, and was a loser to Barbara Bollier (D) in 2020. "I'm a fighter," proclaimed Kobach. That won't matter if McConnell loses his majority. Polls show Marshall up by 5 points, around 47-42. Outlook: Marshall wins.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Trump won the state 1,155,389-855,373, with 55 percent. The African-American population is 28 percent, and iconic congressman Jim Clyburn saved Biden's bacon by delivering Black voters in the 2020 primary. The Biden-Harris ticket will energize that base. The ubiquitous Lindsey Graham (R), a Trumpster, Senate Judiciary chairman, and regular talking head on FOX, is in a close race against Black activist Jaime Harrison. Polls show him up by a couple points, around 47-43. Outlook: Trump carries the state by 200,000, and Graham wins by a like amount.

KENTUCKY: McConnell is widely-regarded as the "most hated" senator in America, but back in his Ol' Kentucky Home he is iconic and much-beloved by a majority. McConnell has power. He can deliver federal money to the state and he can influence national affairs. If Trump loses, 78-year-old McConnell will be the national anti-Biden-Harris Republican face, even as minority leader.

Trump won the state 1,202,971-628,854, with 62.5 percent. But a Democrat beat the Trump-like governor (R) in 2019. Democrat Amy McGrath, an ex-Navy fighter pilot, has raised a whopping $36.7 million through nationwide direct mail, to McConnell's $46.9 million. But it's implausible to expect that Biden-Harris will win Kentucky, and equally implausible to expect pro-Trump voters to ditch Mitch. Polls show McConnell in the 47-50 percent range, up by 7-8 points. Outlook: Trump/McConnell wins.

COLORADO: Trump lost the state 1,338,870-1,202,401, with 43.3 percent to Clinton's 47.8. A recent CBS News poll had Biden up 55-42. Therefore, consider pro-Trump incumbent Cory Gardner (R) gone. His numbers are atrocious: He barely tops 40 percent, and trails former governor (2010-18) John Hickenlooper (D) by 8-10 points. Gardner's only option is to "go negative," and Hickenlooper has a record, including his failed 2020 presidential bid and some past gaffes. But Gardner's plight is beyond hopeless. Outlook: The 68-year-old Hickenlooper goes to Washington.

MAINE: Trump lost the state 357,735-335,593, or 47.8-44.9 percent, which wasn't too bad 4 years ago. But that was then. The CBS poll shows Biden up around 55-42. That's toxic for incumbent Susan Collins (R), a longtime moderate/liberal (elected in 1996), who took a risk by supporting Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court Justice and opposing Trump's impeachment (as did Gardner).

Democrat Sara Gideon, the state House speaker, is hammering Collins as pro-Trump, and has maintained a lead of 45-40 over the past few months, with about 10-15 percent undecided. Collins needs two-thirds of that, plus 10 percent of the Biden-Harris voters, to break for her. That won't happen. Outlook: Collins loses.

NORTH CAROLINA: Trump won the state 2,362,631-2,189,316, with 49.8 percent. Incumbent Thom Tillis (R) beat a Democratic senator 1,423,259-1,377,651 in 2014, a margin of 45,408. Tillis is no Trump cheerleader, which has a downside: It dampens enthusiasm among Trumpsters, but does not placate the other side. The CBS poll has Biden up 51-46, but the state is definitely in play. Trump has the capacity to surge.

The Democrat is Cal Cunningham, an obscure state senator who has been leading Tillis in the recent polls by 6-8 points, 45-47 to 38-40 percent. Tillis has failed to establish name ID and issue-identification over his 6-year term. But it matters not. The vote will be Trump/Tillis vs. Biden/Cunningham. Outlook: Trump/Tillis wins by less than 10,000 votes.

ARIZONA: Trump won the state 1,252,401-1,161,167, with 48.7 percent, a margin of under 100,000. That has certainly eroded. The CBS poll has Biden up 51-46, which can be reversed. Appointed incumbent Martha McSally (R) has been reliably pro-Trump, and the AZ situation is much like NC and ME. Former astronaut Mark Kelly (D) has been polling over 50 percent against McSally, a former fighter pilot, with McSally mired in the low 40s. That is ominous. Arizona, once a conservative Republican bastion, is trending Democratic. Outlook: Kelly wins 52-48, and so does Biden.

GEORGIA: Trump won the state 2,089,104-1,877,963, with 50.1 percent. The Black population is 30.3 percent and growing. Stacey Abrams came close to winning the governorship in 2018. A White Republican now needs two-thirds of the White vote to win statewide, a task more difficult in the future.

Two senate seats are up in 2020: David Perdue's (R) Nov. 3 election for a full term and a special election for the last 2 years of resigned Johnny Isakson's (R) term. The dynamics are different. Perdue faces liberal Jon Ossoff (D) and leads in the 48-43 range. There are 20 candidates (6R, 8D) for the Isakson seat on Nov. 3, with a Jan. 5 runoff between the top two finishers - who appear to be appointee Kelly Loeffler (R), congressman Doug Collins (R), activist Matt Lieberman (D), son of the former Connecticut senator, and minister Raphael Warnock (D). Loeffler and Collins are one/two in the polls. Outlook: It is interesting to consider that Georgians could elect two liberal senators, but not in 2020. Trump wins Georgia, as do Perdue and Collins in the all-Republican runoff.

The wrap-up: Steve Daines (R) loses in MT, Joni Ernst (R) wins in IA, and Joe Kennedy III (D) loses the MA primary to Ed Markey.

That's a 52-48 Senate.