September 5, 2019
With the shift of Maine’s 2020 Senate race to Toss Up, the map is shaping up to have 4 states take the brunt of 2020 political activity. At this point in the 2018 cycle there were the same number of Toss Up races and 5 races rated as Lean. The 2020 cycle, however, has no lean races, and a considerable amount of Likely races that could either become competitive or slide back towards Solid territory. 2018 did finish with 10 Toss Up rated races, so by that model it is likely that more states will become competitive. However, it is also likely that 2020 will be a considerably narrower battlefield than 2018. This makes each individual race even more vital to controlling the Senate.
Senate Spending Predictions and Analysis
Susan Collins might be in for her toughest campaign in decades. In her last reelection campaign in 2014, only $3.7M was spent in the race and Collins cruised to reelection over Democrat Shenna Bellows. Maine is also a state in which it has been difficult to spend tremendous amounts of money. It has only three media markets, all of which are relatively small. However, since Collins’ last campaign, Main has seen a marked increase in political activity. Maine’s 2nd Congressional district increased from $4m in spending in 2014, to $8.5M in 2016, and $18.3M in 2018. This growth indicates that Maine, if it is as competitive as it appears to be, will see some serious money spent on its Senate race. Already in 2019 a Democratic Issue group, Maine Momentum, has spent $942k running ads against the incumbent. This is three times as much as any Democratic issue group spent in 2014. These factors lead us to believe that this race will see more than $55M in spending in 2020.
Arizona and Colorado have been two of the most competitive (and expensive) Senate seats over the past few cycles, and there is no reason for that to change this cycle. We expect each of them to see $107M of spending in 2020. The $214M from these two races is expected to be about 28% of the money spent in the entire Senate universe in the 2020 cycle. The 2018 Senate race in Arizona saw $78M in spending. With McSally back on the ticket for the GOP, and Mark Kelly raising extremely impressive sums of money, there is no evidence that this race will be less expensive.
Colorado saw $70M of spending in 2014 during Senator Gardner’s last campaign and given the explosion of political money since then, that seems like the absolute floor for the 2020 cycle. Colorado voted for Clinton by 5 points in 2016, and there looks to be a competitive Democratic primary shaping up for the right to take on Senator Gardner. Democratic issue groups have already started attacking Corey Gardner. Giffords PAC has spent half a million dollars, and Majority Forward spent another $110k on ads attacking the incumbent.
The remaining Toss Up rated Senate seat is Alabama. Despite its many media markets, it is one of the cheapest states in the country for advertising. These low advertising costs, combined with its ruby red inclination has led Alabama to usually see more money in the GOP primary than in the general elections. However, following the shocking rise of Roy Moore to the GOP nomination in 2017, Alabama is going into 2020 with a Democratic incumbent in Doug Jones. Losing this seat would be a large blow to Democratic hopes of reclaiming the Senate, but winning a Senate election in Alabama with President Trump at the top of the ticket will prove challenging. We don’t expect this race to see any more spending than it had in 2017, and consequently it clocks in as our 9th most projected spending Senate seat of 2020, at $33M.
Of the $789M in political advertising we expect to see in 2020 Senate races, 39% of it will come in these four races. They represent each party’s best pickup opportunities, and we expect them all to be heavily contested, as control of the Senate is likely in play. As has been covered repeatedly, no state split its Senate and Presidential votes in 2016. It remains to be seen if this will be the case in 2020, but it can’t be good news for Senator Jones. No matter what happens at the top of the ticket, these four Toss Up races will see high levels of investment from both parties, and will likely be the largest spending races in the country.