The conventional wisdom for most of the 2020 cycle has been that the Republicans have the advantage in the battle for the Senate. While they are defending far more seats, most of those seats are in states that President Donald Trump won by double digits and that will not be seriously contested in November. One person pushing this argument until recently was election forecaster Harry Enten.
Now, however, Enten has changed his mind. Writing for CNN on Saturday, he argued Democrats are now favorites to win the Senate in 2020 — if only slightly.
"To gain Senate control from Republicans in November's elections, Democrats will need a net gain of three seats (if former Vice President Joe Biden holds onto his lead over President Donald Trump and claims victory) or four seats (if Trump wins)," wrote Enten. "An early look at the data finds that Democrats are the slightest of favorites to take back the Senate. The chance Democrats net gain at least 3 seats is about 3-in-5 (60%), while the chance they net gain at least 4 seats is about 1-in-2 (50%)."
"There is still a lot of uncertainty," added Enten. "Democrats could realistically end up anywhere from a net loss of 4 seats to a net gain of 11 seats, though a few more times than not, they'll end up in the majority."
"The Democrats are doing fairly well not because they're overwhelming favorites in any one or a select number of seats," wrote Enten. "Rather, it's that they have a non-negligible to good chance in a lot of seats. Although Democrats only hold 12 of the 35 seats up, they have at least a 1-in-20 (5%) shot in 25 seats. Democrats almost certainly won't win all of these seats, though it speaks to the large playing field."
Furthermore, Enten argued, Democrats are polling well on the generic congressional ballot nationally — and unlike 2018, Democrats are only defending one seat where they are at a significant partisan disadvantage: Doug Jones' seat in Alabama.
"Right now, Democrats are clear favorites in three seats Republicans currently hold: Arizona (Sen. Martha McSally), Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner) and Maine (Sen. Susan Collins)," wrote Enten. "All three are in states that were decided by 5 points or less in the 2016 presidential election, and where the national environment is helping the Democrats. The limited polling in Arizona and Maine also point to Democrats being ahead by a small margin."
"If Democrats are going to net gain three seats while losing in Alabama, their best shot to get that additional pickup is in North Carolina," wrote Enten. "This is another state that was determined by less than 5 points in the 2016 presidential election, and where Republican Sen. Thom Tillis has actually been running slightly behind Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham in an average of polling." Beyond that, Enten argued, Democrats have an outside chance of winning seats in Kansas, Iowa, or Montana — and they also have a better than 1-in-20 chance of making either Georgia seat, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina or Texas competitive.
Taken together, he concluded, there are a number of paths Democrats have to winning a Senate majority — enough to make them the slight favorites. "Democrats simply have a wider playing field," he wrote.
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