Election 2020 Weekly Roundup
September 8, 2020
Our ‘Election 2020 Weekly Roundup’ takes a look at the latest developments in the presidential race between President Trump and former Vice President Biden, in addition to some key Senate and House contests from across the country. This week, we examine Senate races in Maine, Arizona, and Alabama, and House races in New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Utah.
In one of the recent developments in the 2020 presidential race, President Trump has made headlines after reports surfaced of him denigrating American service members, specifically members of the military who were killed or wounded in action. The report, first released by The Atlantic, references disparaging comments made by the president in which he criticized deceased members of the military. The president refuted the contents in The Atlantic’s story, but over the weekend, seemingly doubled down on his criticism of the military when he accused senior Pentagon officials of wanting to keep American troops in conflict zones in order to appease defense contractors. Additionally, the story was confirmed by multiple different news outlets and senior officials within the military and Trump administration. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who had a son serve in the military, called President Trump’s remarks “deplorable.”
The latest polls concerning the race for the White House indicate former Vice President Biden holding a slight advantage. In six nonpartisan polls, Biden’s advantage ranges from seven to ten points over President Trump. Biden also continues to lead in key battleground states, such as Wisconsin, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, which President Trump won in 2016 and political analysts point to as being critical to the outcome of the upcoming election in November. Both campaigns have recently stepped up their efforts in key swing states, with Wisconsin in particular being the most recent focus of attention. In the past week, both prospective vice presidents visited Wisconsin, with Mike Pence and Kamala Harris highlighting their respective campaign’s approach to the recent unrest in the state following widescale protests in the city of Kenosha.
Maine, Susan Collins (R) vs. Sara Gideon (D)
In Maine, incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Susan Collins is facing off against Democratic challenger state House Speaker Sara Gideon in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. Democrats are eyeing this contest as one of their best opportunities to flip a Senate seat in November, as they look to win enough seats to regain control of the upper chamber of Congress. Collins is a four-term senator who was first elected in 1996 and currently serves as the senior U.S. Senator from the state of Maine. Gideon was elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 2012 and has been serving as the state House Speaker since 2016. Collins has relied on her image as a moderate Republican to maintain her Senate seat in a state which has tended to vote for the Democratic nominee in recent presidential elections, and with this being a presidential election year, this should be a very close contest.
The Cook Political Report qualifies the race between Collins and Gideon as a “toss-up” and according to polling data aggregator RealClearPolitics, Gideon holds an average edge of 4.5% based on the latest polls conducted by Bangor Daily News, Quinnipiac, Colby College, and others. Additionally, with respect to the newest data regarding incumbent Collins’ favorability, a recent Bangor Daily News poll found that 49% of Maine voters disapprove of the job she has done in the Senate, while 37% approve of it. Highlighting the perceived competitiveness and largescale attention that the senatorial contest has received is the fact that in terms of fundraising, it has been one of the most expensive in the country, with Gideon raising about $23 million so far this cycle and Collins drawing in around $16.3 million. In a couple of the race’s latest high-profile endorsements in recent weeks, The Sierra Club has backed Gideon, while former President George W. Bush has come out in support of Collins.
Arizona, Martha McSally (R) vs. Mark Kelly (D)
One of the nation’s most high-profile Senate races this November features incumbent Republican Martha McSally squaring off against Democratic challenger and former astronaut Mark Kelly in the state of Arizona. After the passing of the previous office holder in August 2018, the widely-respected and longtime U.S. Senator John McCain, McSally was eventually appointed to temporarily fill the seat and is now running against Kelly to complete the term until 2022. McSally is a former U.S. Representative from Arizona’s 2nd congressional district who unsuccessfully ran for the state’s other U.S. Senate seat back in 2018, losing to Senator Krysten Sinema. In addition to his background as an astronaut and in the Navy, Kelly is a gun violence prevention advocate who co-founded the Giffords Foundation with his wife – former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords – who was shot and seriously injured while meeting with constituents in 2011. Due to their respective backgrounds, both McSally and Kelly are familiar figures to the residents of Arizona, adding to the contest’s intrigue.
Multiple political observers have projected a slight edge to Kelly over McSally in this Arizona Senate race. Both reputable sources of The Cook Political Report and RealClearPolitics categorize it as a “lean Democratic” contest. Additionally, the nonpartisan Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics also rates it in the same manner as well. In regards to the latest polling data, Kelly holds an 11.3% lead over McSally based on the averages from a wide variety of polls, according to RealClearPolitics. The most recent poll conducted by Fox News shows Kelly with a 17% lead over McSally. Furthermore, FiveThirtyEight’s tracking of Arizona Senate polling finds that Kelly has led McSally by 4% or more in every nonpartisan poll conducted in 2020. In terms of fundraising, the race between Kelly and McSally has drawn in the 2nd most amount of money of any Senate race in the country, slightly trailing only the Kentucky Senate race, as Kelly has raised around $45 million while McSally has raised about $30 million. Not surprisingly based on these figures, Arizona’s Senate election is a major target for both Democrats and Republicans, as the race could play an important role in the overall balance of the U.S. Senate.
Alabama, Doug Jones (D) vs. Tommy Tuberville (R)
Alabama’s crucial Senate race sees incumbent Democrat Doug Jones seek re-election against Republican challenger and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. Jones pulled off a surprising victory in a special election back in December 2017 to replace outgoing Senator Jeff Sessions, who vacated one of the two Senate seats from Alabama to become the U.S. Attorney General. In the special election, Jones narrowly defeated scandal-plagued Republican candidate Roy Moore and became the first Democratic U.S. Senator elected in Alabama since 1992. This year however, Jones is one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents and faces a far more significant challenge to hold on to his seat against Tuberville, who is a very popular and well-known figure in the state having coached football at Auburn University – one of Alabama’s largest schools. Tuberville is a political newcomer, but is fresh off of a huge 20-point primary victory over Sessions in July.
Political analysts have identified this Alabama race as one of the Republican Party’s best chances to flip a Senate seat in November and maintain their majority. The Cook Political Report categorizes it as a “lean Republican” contest, thus giving the slight edge to Tuberville over Jones. Furthermore, RealClearPolitics ranks it as a “likely Republican” race and the latest polling shows Tuberville with a consistent double-digit lead over incumbent Jones, from anywhere in the 10%-17% range. With respect to fundraising, as the incumbent Jones unsurprisingly holds the edge over Tuberville having raised $14.3 million so far this election cycle compared to around $3.4 million for the Republican candidate. However, this is to be expected especially considering that Tuberville only secured the nomination a couple of months ago in July. Ultimately, Tuberville is likely to go into the November election as the clear favorite, as a result of both the latest polling figures and the high-profile endorsement of President Trump, who holds a substantial lead in the state of Alabama himself over Biden.
New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, Jeff Van Drew (R) vs. Amy Kennedy (D)
Among the dozens of House races that are tightly contested heading into November, New Jersey’s 2nd congressional district stands out. In 2018, the district became one of 31 nationally to elect a Democrat after voting for President Trump in the 2016 presidential election, by electing Jeff Van Drew. However, Van Drew made national headlines during the impeachment hearings against President Trump when he became one of two Democrats to vote against bringing impeachment against the president. Following a meeting with the president, Van Drew then switched party allegiances, joining the Republicans. As a result of this, Democrats have made Van Drew a major target in 2020 as they seek to build upon their majority. Van Drew won the Republican nomination with 82% of the vote, and he is being challenged by Amy Kennedy, who won the Democratic nomination handily. Kennedy has painted herself as an anti-establishment Democrat, and she defeated a primary challenger who was supported by the leadership of New Jersey’s state senate.
Nonpartisan outlets such as the Cook Report have indicated that the race is a toss-up, with Van Drew favored by one point. This mirrors the overall partisanship of New Jersey’s 2nd district, which is split almost evenly on party lines, but with a one-point Republican advantage. Additionally, FiveThirtyEight also rates the race as a toss-up, with Van Drew holding a slight advantage. However, internal Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee polling indicates a slight lead for Kennedy, although at 51%-46%, the results fall within the margin for error. Giving Kennedy an additional boost are Van Drew’s approval ratings, which remain slightly negative at 41% favorable and 46% unfavorable.
Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, Kendra Horn (D) vs. Stephanie Bice (R)
In 2018, Kendra Horn became the first Democrat since 1975 to represent Oklahoma’s 5th district when she defeated incumbent Rep. Steve Russell by a two-point margin. The district is seen as Republican leaning, and was carried by President Trump in the 2016 election. Last February, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) identified the district as a frontline district as the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) began targeting it as part of its larger strategy to regain the House majority. Rep. Horn handily won the Democratic nomination in the primary, whereas her challenger Stephanie Bice needed a run-off election to secure the Republican nomination. However, Bice has strong support from Oklahoma Republicans and a proven legislative record thanks to her position in the Oklahoma State Senate, which she has held since 2014.
The latest polling from Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district indicates Rep. Horn holding a slight advantage over Bice, 51%-46%. Three nonpartisan analysts have rated the race as a toss-up, with a small advantage for Horn as the incumbent, which largely supports the findings from the polls. The district is rated as Republican +10 which would embolden the NRCC as it seeks to win back a House seat that it previously held for over 40 consecutive years. However, internal DCCC polling shows strong support for Rep. Horn, including a nearly insurmountable advantage among independents and a much higher favorability rating than Bice. Horn’s job approval rating is also strong, with polls showing a +15 net positive approval. Most crucially, Horn has shown an ability to work in a bipartisan manner, teaming up with her Republican colleagues in the House, which has increased her support in a heavily Republican district.
Utah’s 4th Congressional District, Ben McAdams (D) vs. Burgess Owens (R)
In heavily Republican Utah, the 4th congressional district remains an outlier in that it is currently held by a Democrat. The district, which encompasses portions of Salt Lake, Sanpete, Juab, and Utah counties, is currently represented by Ben McAdams, who is Utah’s lone House Democrat. Accordingly, the Republican Party has made flipping the 4th district a high priority, with the NRCC throwing their full weight behind McAdams’ challenger, Burgess Owens. McAdams originally won the 4th district in 2018, defeating incumbent Republican Rep. Mia Love by 694 votes. However, the district voted for President Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, indicating its general partisan leaning. McAdams previously served as the mayor of Salt Lake City, and has pointed to his track record of passing bipartisan legislation while in this position as evidence he can represent a generally Republican district.
The latest polls indicate an extremely tight race in UT-04, with McAdams and Owens level at 35% among 800 registered voters who were surveyed. Crucially, nearly a quarter of the polled voters said they were still undecided on who they would be voting for in November. Independent pollster Scott Rasmussen, who helped to organize polls in the district, said McAdams winning a second term would be unsurprising, but Owens’ competitiveness in the race could be a good indicator for Republicans nationwide as they work to win the majority in the House. National analysts, such as the Cook Political Report, indicate the district is “leaning Democratic” but could be heavily influenced by the presidential campaign, as voters tie themselves to a party rather than specific candidates. With just under two months until the election, UT-04 is the tightest House race in Utah and will continue to draw national attention.