BIG PICTURE: SENATE REMAINS IN PLAY. Democrats began the 2020 cycle facing a tough map on the road to win back the Senate but impressive challengers forced Washington Republicans to focus their time, attention and resources defending a dozen GOP-held seats. That opened up a path for Democrats to flip two critical seats in the West from red to blue, protect our incumbents in nearly every competitive race and hold an open seat. Now, with both Georgia races heading to January runoffs, control of the Senate remains firmly in play.

DESPITE A CHALLENGING MAP, DEMOCRATS FORCED REPUBLICANS ON DEFENSE. In January 2019, no GOP Senate incumbents were predicted to lose or faced a toss-up race. By Election Day, strong Democratic candidates had expanded the map to put Republican-held seats in jeopardy across the country. The result: Mitch McConnell’s allies were spending to rescue nearly a dozen states, forcing them to divert spending from more vulnerable incumbents to protect those struggling in what were supposed to be safe seats and easy re-election races.

McConnell’s Super PAC and the NRSC had to spend money they hadn’t budgeted to defend vulnerable incumbents and weak candidates across the map in states that Republicans usually won comfortably like Iowa, Montana, Kansas, and South Carolina. This offensive strategy forced Republicans to use up resources they otherwise would have spent to try to save Senators Gardner and McSally, keep Senator Perdue from facing a competitive runoff, or defeat Senator Peters and other Democratic incumbents:

  • IA: total GOP outside spending: $75 million – in a state Trump won by 9 points in 2016 and more than 8 points in 2020.
  • MT: total GOP outside spending: $48.3 million – in a state Trump won by 20 points in 2016 and more than 16 points in 2020.
  • KS: total GOP outside spending: $31.8 million – in a state Trump won by 20 points in 2016 and more than 15 points in 2020.
  • SC: total GOP outside spending: $32.4 million – in a state Trump won by 14 points in 2016 and more than 11 points in 2020.
  • MI: total outside spending: $47 million – in a state Trump won narrowly in 2016 but was called for Vice President Biden in 2020.
  • GA: total outside spending: $67.5 million – in a state Trump won by 5 points in 2016 but where Vice President Biden has pulled ahead with a narrow lead in 2020 as votes are still being counted.
  • AZ: total outside spending: more than $71 million over two cycles for a candidate who lost in 2018 and 2020.

DEMOCRATS ELECTED THREE NEW SENATORS IN THE WEST. Democrats flipped Colorado and Arizona and held New Mexico with top-tier candidates who ran smart campaigns. Winning these states in the West was critical this cycle:

  • Mark Kelly became only the second Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Arizona in three decades. Kelly’s decisive win was fueled by his commitment to being an independent leader for Arizona in Washington, a focus on the issues that matter – like protecting pre-existing conditions coverage – and record-breaking fundraising.
  • John Hickenlooper handed Senator Cory Gardner the first electoral loss of his political career and the largest margin of defeat for a U.S. Senator from Colorado in 42 years. Hickenlooper ran a sharp campaign that focused on his popular accomplishments and pragmatic work ethic as governor, which delivered a clear victory.
  • Ben Ray Luján will be the first Latino to represent New Mexico in the Senate in four decades, bringing more diverse leadership to the chamber. Luján’s effectiveness and experience in Congress put him in a strong position to clear the primary field and win the general election.

DEM INCUMBENTS RE-ELECTED IN KEY STATES. Democrats re-elected nearly every Senate incumbent this cycle. The sole exception was Senator Doug Jones, who did overperform the presidential race in one of the most pro-Trump states in the entire country.

In Michigan, a competitive state that Trump carried in 2016, Senator Gary Peters beat his well-funded Republican challenger. National Republican groups spent nearly $50 million on John James’ behalf this cycle, but James ultimately came up short again. Peters ran a disciplined campaign that focused on his bipartisan work ethic, his record of results, and his commitment to working on Michigan-specific issues like protecting the Great Lakes, while Democrats led an aggressive effort to scrutinize James’ record and hold him accountable.

Republicans had other potential offensive opportunities on the Senate map this cycle, but they failed to put them in play. Despite Republicans’ claims early in the cycle that they could make some of these races competitive, Democratic incumbents in traditional battleground states like Jeanne Shaheen and Tina Smith were in such strong shape that their races moved completely out of reach for national GOP groups spread thin on defense across the rest of the map.

HIGHLY COMPETITIVE GEORGIA RUNOFFS KEEP SENATE CONTROL IN PLAY. Both Georgia Senate races are headed to a runoff on January 5, with Reverend Raphael Warnock finishing in first place against unelected Senator Kelly Loeffler in the special election, and Senator David Perdue getting dragged under 50% in the regular election. With two highly competitive runoff elections against two deeply flawed Republican incumbents, the fight for Senate control continues into January.

The DSCC spent nearly $4.7 million this cycle supporting Jon Ossoff’s campaign in the general election to help force this runoff. The committee spent more than $1.8 million on mail and almost $400,000 on phone calls to reach Georgia voters, in addition to a more than $1 million investment in the Democratic Party of Georgia to support field organizing and other staff and $1.5 million in coordinated funds to expand Ossoff’s spending on TV ads going into Election Day.

Reverend Raphael Warnock vs. Unelected Senator Kelly Loeffler

An unelected senator, Loeffler enters the runoff in a severely weakened position after a scandal-plagued year and her “brutal feud” with Congressman Doug Collins. Now she faces the steep challenge of uniting all Republicans behind her and overcoming underwater favorability numbers – including a double-digit deficit with independent voters – in just two months.

Loeffler’s pandemic stock trading scandal has severely damaged her candidacy and drawn criticism from even within the GOP, with “several high-placed Republicans” once saying “she should consider dropping out” and other party leaders calling the scandal “an issue” that she’s “going to have to answer” for. Republicans have also worried that Loeffler’s embrace of Q-Anon believing Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Green will be “devastating to her in a runoff.” Meanwhile, Warnock’s campaign has consistently outraised his Republican opponents this year and was able to consolidate Democratic support to secure a first-place finish and momentum earlier this week.

Jon Ossoff vs. Senator David Perdue

Senator Perdue won election outright in 2014 by an 8-point margin – six years later, the vulnerable incumbent failed to clear 50% of the vote as Jon Ossoff’s campaign momentum forced a runoff. McConnell’s Super PAC spent more money attacking Ossoff than nearly any other Democratic Senate challenger this year, a sign of how nervous Washington Republicans were about losing this seat in a highly competitive runoff.

Perdue has spent his last six years in Washington hiding from constituents and avoiding local media, refusing to hold a single public town hall his entire term, and he ended his general election campaign ducking a debate against Ossoff to avoid being taken to task again for downplaying the pandemic and voting to take away Georgians’ health care. In the competitive runoff, Perdue will be forced to defend his toxic record dismissing concerns about the pandemic while protecting his personal stock portfolio and voting repeatedly to gut protections for Georgians with pre-existing conditions.


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