Senate Power Rankings: Out with the tide

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On the roster: Senate Power Rankings: Out with the tide – Trump dogged by corona revelations on trail – GOP super PAC rides to rescue – Whistle-blower: D.H.S. downplayed threats from Russia – Authentic fake alligator

With the primaries done and the conventions over, it’s time to update our Senate rankings for the home stretch of the 2020 campaign.

There are 35 Senate seats on the ballot this year – 23 Republican and 12 Democratic – but we only expect nine of those races to be really competitive.

Republicans currently control the Senate with 53 seats to Democrats’ 47. To take control of the chamber, Democrats need a net gain of four seats (or three seats and the vice presidency).

Our new numbers have Democrats strongly or slightly favored, a “lean,” to win in 13 races this year and Republicans favored or leaning to win in 19 others. That leaves three races as toss ups, all currently Republican-held seats.

That would put the battle for the control of the Senate at 48 Democrats, 49 Republicans and three up in the air – very much in reach for the Blue Team but hardly a sure thing.

Notable changes in this edition include shifting the contests in Arizona and Colorado both to “Lean Democratic.” As the presidential race has firmed up, the hopes are fading for the Republican incumbents there.

We’ve also taken Kansas out of play after Republicans survived a scare in their primary to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts. Alabama is also coming off the board after the GOP primary produced an uncontroversial challenger for Democratic Sen. Doug Jones.  We’ve also moved the regular Senate election in Georgia into less certain territory as Republican incumbent David Perdue continues to struggle.

Incumbent: Susan Collins (R)
Democratic nominee: Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon
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 remains Senate Democrats’ passion project for 2020. Locked out of the Pine Tree State’s Senate seats for 32 years, despite repeated presidential wins, Democrats believe that they have what it takes to finally unseat Collins. Her role in saving the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh ended the long, unspoken truce Collins held with Maine Democrats. Dems are also bullish on their nominee, Gideon, a well-known, well-funded challenger. Collins, though, remains one of the great escape artists of the Senate. Her appeal may have lessened among more affluent, typically left-leaning coastal residents, the Kavanaugh incident probably improved her standing with the more pro-Trump inland part of the state. What we don’t know is whether it will be enough.

Incumbent: Steve Daines (R)
Democratic primary: Gov. Steve Bullock
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’s Senate race 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. 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. With Trump underperforming his 2016 numbers in the Treasure State, Daines will have to make his own momentum this time around.

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  

If any Senate Republican’s story speaks to the challenges of swing-state Republicans this year, it’s Tillis’. After unseating incumbent Hagan in 2014 by pitching himself as a pragmatic conservative with a record of bipartisan achievement in the statehouse, Tillis maintained that posture at the start of his Senate career. But after 2016 and with the threat of a primary challenge looming, Tillis was reborn as a MAGA Republican. It got him past the primary threat, but he now finds himself in a different pickle: struggling against a candidate who is replicating Tillis’ strategy from six year ago. North Carolina has shaped up as a persistent problem for Trump’s re-election campaign, consistently trailing Biden by a handful of points. But Tillis is faring worse than Trump, a switch from the experience of other Senators and Republicans in 2016. While we do still expect the party that prevails in the presidential contest here to also carry the Senate race, Republicans have to face the chance that a narrow Trump win here might still leave Tillis behind.

(* denotes incumbent)

Incumbent: David Perdue (R)
Democratic nominee: Jon Ossoff
Republican held since 2003
Last election (2014): Perdue 52.9%, Michelle Nunn 45.2%

The Perdue name goes a long way in Georgia politics. Perdue’s cousin, Sonny, now the secretary of Agriculture, was the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction and a very popular figure. That, and a good Republican year, helped Cousin David into the Senate as a first-time candidate. Perdue took a lot of heat for his work as an executive for companies that outsourced jobs and imported from China, which may help explain his enthusiastic embrace of Trump-style economic nationalism in the Senate. Now, with the president struggling to put the race away at the presidential level and Democrats touting gains in the state, Perdue finds himself in a competitive race with Ossoff, who became a national figure among Democrats during the 2017 special election for a suburban Atlanta House seat. There’s no easy explanation for why Perdue wouldn’t be doing at least as well as Trump here, but also we haven’t yet seen the full onslaught of GOP dollars against Ossoff, who is trying to project an image as a pragmatic moderate against while still trying to maximize African-American turnout.

GEORGIA (special)
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 initially seemed to be leaning toward Matt Lieberman, a businessman from suburban Atlanta and the son of 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman. But Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, has seen his share of the vote soar since he officiated the nationally televised funeral for Rep. John Lewis. But since it’s improbable that any candidate will get above the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff, Democrats will face longer odds in a head-to-head with Loeffler or Collins.

Incumbent: Joni Ernst (R)
Democratic primary: Theresa Greenfield
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: Martha McSally (R)
Democratic primary: Mark Kelly
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. 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: John Hickenlooper
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 opponent. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper may not have been popular with Democratic primary voters, but his popularity hasn’t really wavered at home.

Incumbent: Gary Peters (D)
Republican primary: John James
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 nominee 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.

(16 states)

Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming

(10 states)

Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia

“Another advantage accruing from this ingredient in the constitution of the Senate is, the additional impediment it must prove against improper acts of legislation.” – Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, explaining the Senate’s power to pass or fail legislation, Federalist No. 62

History: “You either had to be part of a fairly small subculture of music fans or a professional on the business side of the music industry to have heard of Nirvana before the autumn of 1991. …Nirvana had announced themselves as a band to watch with their independently produced 1989 album Bleach. … In just a few short months, a group that was a complete nonentity to the mainstream music-buying public would become the most important rock band on earth. The transformation began on September 10, 1991, with the release of Nirvana’s landmark single, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ … ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was released quietly and without significant promotion in the hopes that it would begin building awareness of the new album among listeners to college and alternative radio. ‘None of us heard it as a crossover song,’ Nirvana’s manager, Danny Goldberg, later recalled, ‘but the public heard it and it was instantaneous. They heard it on alternative radio and then they rushed out like lemmings to buy it.’”

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Trump: 43 percent   
Biden: 50.4 percent   
Size of lead: Biden by 7.4 points   
Change from one week ago: Biden ↓ 0.6, Trump ↓ 0.2 points   
[Average includes: Kaiser Family Foundation: Trump 43% – Biden 48%; Monmouth University: Trump 44% – Biden 51%; CNN: Trump 43% – Biden 51%; Quinnipiac University: Trump 42% – Biden 52%; USA Today/Suffolk: Trump 43% – Biden 50%.]   

(270 electoral votes needed to win)
Toss-up: (109 electoral votes): Wisconsin (10), Ohio (18), Florida (29), Arizona (11), Pennsylvania (20), North Carolina (15), Iowa (6)
Lean R/Likely R: (180 electoral votes)
Lean D/Likely D: (249 electoral votes)

Average approval: 43.2 percent   
Average disapproval: 53.4 percent   
Net Score: -10.2 points
Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.2 points 
[Average includes: Kaiser Family Foundation: 45% approve – 52% disapprove; Monmouth University: 42% approve – 55% disapprove; CNN: 41% approve – 54% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 43% approve – 54% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 45% approve – 52% disapprove.]  

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AP: “Reeling from the fallout of another crisis of his own creation, President Donald Trump was trying to move past revelations that he was determined to play down the threat of the coronavirus as he headed for a rally in battleground Michigan Thursday. But the president was facing renewed pushback from local leaders worried that his rallies are growing in size and flouting public health guidelines intended to halt the spread of the virus. This week, the state of Nevada became the first to scuttle Trump’s plans for rallies initially set for Las Vegas and Reno. Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has also raised alarms about Thursday’s event. The back-and-forth comes as the White House is grappling with fallout from a new book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward. … In a burst of tweets Thursday morning, Trump defended his comments admitting that he had been warned about the danger of the virus. … Woodward has defended his decision to hold off by saying he needed time to make sure Trump’s private comments were true.”

Behind the book that blew up in Trump’s face – Politico: “Aides spent months fretting about President Donald Trump opening up to the famous Watergate journalist, fearing the consequences all the way through Wednesday’s bombshell revelations. Trump bulldozed through them all, believing he could charm the man who helped take down a president and chronicled half a dozen administrations over the past half-century. Now, Trump’s impulse may cost him as the interview transcripts and recordings are released this week, just under just eight weeks from Election Day and as some Americans start receiving mail-in ballots. The revelations in ‘Rage’ have sent the Trump White House scrambling, with aides blaming one another for the predictable fallout from injecting even more chaos into an already challenging reelection race.”

Senate Dems deny GOP skinny virus deal – AP: “Senate Democrats scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package on Thursday, saying the measure shortchanged too many pressing needs as the pandemic continues its assault on the country. The mostly party-line vote capped weeks of wrangling over a fifth relief bill that all sides say they want but are unable to deliver. The bipartisan spirit that powered earlier aid measures has given way to election-season political combat and name-calling. The 52-47 vote fell well short of what was needed to overcome a filibuster and seems likely to end hopes for coronavirus relief before the November election. The $500 billion measure is roughly half the size of legislation promoted by GOP leaders this summer, but was too big for most conservatives. Instead, the GOP bill was stripped back to focus on school aid, jobless benefits and help for small businesses.”

Emails show Trump appointee tried to muzzle Fauci – Politico: “A Trump administration appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to prevent Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, from speaking about the risks that coronavirus poses to children. Emails obtained by POLITICO show Paul Alexander — a senior adviser to Michael Caputo, HHS’s assistant secretary for public affairs — instructing press officers and others at the National Institutes of Health about what Fauci should say during media interviews. … Alexander’s lengthy messages, some sent as recently as this week, are couched as scientific arguments. But they often contradict mainstream science while promoting political positions taken by the Trump administration on hot-button issues ranging from the use of convalescent plasma to school reopening.”

Kaiser Poll: Voters leery of administration pressures – Kaiser Family Foundation: “Many (62%) are worried that the political pressure from the Trump administration will lead the FDA to rush to approve a coronavirus vaccine without making sure that it is safe and effective – including 85% of Democrats and 61% of independents. … About four in ten adults overall say both the FDA (39%) and the CDC (42%) are paying ‘too much attention’ to politics when it comes to reviewing and approving treatments for coronavirus or issuing guidelines and recommendations. The latest KFF Health Tracking Poll finds a shift in the public’s attitudes on the coronavirus outbreak. More than six months into the pandemic, about four in ten (38%) now say ‘the worst is yet to come’ (down nearly half from 74% in early April), while an equal 38% say ‘the worst is behind us’ (up from 13% in April).”

CNBC: “A super PAC backing President Donald Trump is unleashing a wave of new ads against Democratic nominee Joe Biden as the commander in chief struggles in nationwide polls and the campaign appears to be in need of air cover. The PAC, America First Action, is announcing a $22 million spending spree on digital and TV ads that will target the key battleground states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio. These ads will air from now until Election Day in November. It’s in addition to the PAC’s recent decision to spend more than $18 million on ads in those four states. The spots focus, in part, on the ongoing protests in states such as Wisconsin. One of the PAC’s messages is that under a Biden administration, small business owners won’t be as protected from potential rioters as they are under Trump.”

Despite allegations of Trump disparaging armed forces, polling remains the same – Monmouth University: “Joe Biden is seen as more respectful of American troops than Donald Trump, but recent news stories about this issue have not impacted the overall race for president. The Monmouth (‘Mon-muth’) University Poll finds Biden with a 9-point lead over Trump among registered voters and a 7-point lead among likely voters. The registered voter result is similar to where the race stood a month ago, while this is the first time Monmouth is using a national likely voter model. The poll also finds some evidence about potential for voter distrust in whatever the eventual outcome may be, including the prospect of foreign meddling, the possibility of campaign cheating, and a belief in the existence of ‘secret voters’ who will materialize on Election Day. Biden is currently supported by 51% of registered voters and Trump by 42%. … This is similar to the Democrat’s pre-convention lead of 51% to 41% last month.”

What’s behind Trump’s struggle with older voters? – FiveThirtyEight: “In attempting to speak what he thinks is the language of an older generation of white Americans — racially tinged talk about the destruction of the suburbs, for instance — Trump might actually be shooting himself in the foot. Even as white Americans’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement has waned over the course of the summer, this doesn’t appear to have had a significant effect on Biden’s lead. Voters seem to separate him from the movement even as Trump has tried to tie it to him. … Older white suburbanites, the sort with culturally conservative values who might look askance at the present-day Democratic party, also matured in an America that harshly stigmatized overt racism. These voters might share Trump’s views on race but be turned off by the way he expresses them.”

Michael Sokolove: ‘How Trump could win Pennsylvania again’ – NYT: “Elections are in part about issues and personalities, but those most deeply involved in the process also tend to view them as mathematical equations. The formula for a Democrat to win in Pennsylvania has been understood for decades: Come away with huge margins in the state’s two big urban centers to offset deficits in the rural counties, some of them so small that they are sometimes said to have more bears than people. … Pennsylvania has 67 counties. Mr. Trump ran up the score in all of the least populated ones. Even tiny Cameron County, the state’s smallest, contributed 423 more votes to the Republican margin than it had in 2012. By the old formula, Mrs. Clinton should have prevailed. But these counties — some of which are 98 percent white — tilted the state to Mr. Trump. The totals in any one of them may seem small, but in the aggregate, they gave Mr. Trump a margin of victory at least 150,000 votes bigger than Mr. Romney had run up four years earlier.”

GOP sees voter registration surge in Keystone State – Politico: “President Donald Trump has trailed Joe Biden in virtually every poll in Pennsylvania this year. But there’s a more tangible piece of data in the state that tells a different story: Since 2016, Republicans have netted nearly seven times as many registered voters here than Democrats. The GOP has added almost 198,000 registered voters to the books compared to this time four years ago, whereas Democrats have gained an extra 29,000. Though Democrats still outnumber Republicans by about 750,000 voters in the state, the GOP has seized on their uptick in party members as a sign that Trump is on track to win this critical Rust Belt swing state a second time. … The GOP has also seen a larger boost in registrations than Democrats in three critical areas across Pennsylvania: Erie, Luzerne and Northampton counties, all of which helped Trump flip the state by backing him after supporting former President Barack Obama in 2012.”

Trump defiant as corona restrictions nix Nevada rallies – Las Vegas Review-Journal: “President Donald Trump’s two Nevada rallies planned for this weekend have been canceled because of limitations on public gatherings imposed in the spring by Gov. Steve Sisolak to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Despite that, however, the Trump campaign said the president still intends to travel to Nevada this weekend, and may yet hold rallies at other locations. But events slated for Saturday at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and Sunday at McCarran International Airport were canceled. The events were to have been held in airport hangars. Nevada since late May has been under a governor’s directive limiting the size of public gatherings to 50 people. That raised the earlier limit of 10 the governor imposed in March. Sisolak’s office on Wednesday issued a statement saying it was not involved in the cancellations.”

NYT: “Top officials with the Department of Homeland Security directed agency analysts to downplay threats from violent white supremacy and Russian election interference, a Homeland Security official said in a whistle-blower complaint released on Wednesday. Brian Murphy, the former head of the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence branch, said in the complaint that he was ordered this spring by Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary of the department, to stop producing assessments on Russian interference and focus instead on Iran and China. That request, Mr. Murphy said, was routed through Mr. Wolf from Robert C. O’Brien, the White House national security adviser. Mr. Wolf later told him not to disseminate a report on a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s mental health because it ‘made the president look bad,’ said Mr. Murphy, who warned that the actions in their totality threatened national security.”

Senate GOP to invest $1.5 million to unseat Michigan Democrat Gary PetersWashEx

Poll: Most Americans support athletes speaking out on social issuesWaPo

Trump announces updated potential Supreme Court justices listAxios

The Judge’s Ruling: Trump goes on the attack – against the militaryFox News

Bill de Blasio is the worst mayor in the history of New York City. That’s the whole ad.” – Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat running for reelection in Staten Island, in an ad.

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UPI: “A Florida sheriff’s deputy responded to a home on a report of an alligator in a storage shed and discovered the apparent reptile actually was an inflatable pool toy. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said in a Twitter post that Deputy Mark Texler responded to a home on a report of an alligator in a storage shed. The sheriff’s office reported that the woman who called 911 said her husband had spotted the gator while moving some boxes outside their apartment in Winter Haven. ‘Deputy Trexler went to a call about an alligator in a storage shed,’ the tweet said. ‘He came … he saw … he conquered the beast. He even knocked the wind out of it. Literally. The gator turned out to be a pool floatie.’”

“The cliche is that if you’ve infuriated both sides, it means you must be doing something right. Sometimes, however, it means you must be doing everything wrong.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about former FBI Director James Comey’s firing in the Washington Post on May 11, 2017.

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.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.