The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● Race Ratings: Daily Kos Elections is pleased to announce our first set of Senate race ratings for the 2020 election cycle. Republicans currently hold the Senate by a 53-47 margin, meaning Democrats would need to pick up a net of three seats to gain control of the chamber if they also retake the White House (since a Democratic vice president could break ties in the party's favor), or four if they do not.
In total, voters will cast ballots in 35 Senate races across the country this fall, including in special elections in Arizona and Georgia. Thanks in part to their strong performance the last time this Senate class was up for election in 2014, Republicans are defending 23 seats, while Democrats are defending just 12. A further 35 seats held by Democrats and 30 seats held by Republicans are not up for election in 2020.
For Democrats, the most plausible path back to the Senate majority starts with winning the presidency. Given how closely outcomes at the top of the ticket are tied to those farther down the ballot in today's politics—a phenomenon known as polarization, and a theme you'll see come up often in our write-ups below—it's unlikely Democratic Senate candidates can win races in swing states if the party's presidential nominee isn't also carrying those same states, or at least coming very close.
With Alabama likely to revert to Republicans, Democrats would then need to flip four Republican-held seats to throw the Senate into a 50-50 tie. At the moment, their top pickup opportunities are in Colorado, Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina, with Georgia's two seats just behind those in competitiveness. Beyond Alabama, Republicans have few realistic targets, with only Michigan standing out.
The table just below summarizes all of our ratings:
These ratings represent our attempt to forecast the outcomes of this November's elections, using the best information we have available. We've also explained our rationale for each rating in this post. As circumstances warrant, we'll issue changes in these ratings from time to time, which we'll announce in the Morning Digest.
● GA-Sen-B: DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, who earlier this month said he had not ruled out a Senate bid, reportedly will stay out of the race and seek re-election instead. Thurmond was the last notable Democrat to clarify his intentions, though there's still a little bit of time ahead of the March 9 filing deadline for any late announcements.
● MT-Gov: Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer has endorsed businesswoman Whitney Williams in the Democratic primary for Montana's open governor's race. Williams and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney are the only two candidates still seeking the party's nod after former state Rep. Reilly Neill dropped out last month.
● CA-50: The Club for Growth, which had already spent $384,000 opposing former GOP Rep. Darrell Issa's comeback bid, has thrown down another $50,000 into attack ads just days before California's primary. The spot accuses Issa of voting to "fund a government giveaway program that hands out billions of dollars to help big companies make more profits overseas." This is a reference to the Export-Import Bank, a federal entity that extremists on the right—including the Club for Growth—hate with a passion. In other news, Donald Trump signed a bill in December reauthorizing the bank's charter for another seven years.
● LA-05: There's been little chatter in the way of possible replacements in the days since Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham announced his retirement, but the congressman's chief of staff, Luke Letlow, now says he's "considering" a bid and will decide "soon." Abraham also promised Letlow his "full backing" if he were to run.
One candidate had kicked off a bid prior to Abraham's announcement, Ouachita Parish police juror Scotty Robinson (in Louisiana, a parish police jury is similar to a county commission or board of supervisors). Robinson raised just $13,000 in the fourth quarter of last year, but he may have been hampered by the fact that Abraham had yet to make up his mind about seeking a fourth term.
Louisiana, which lacks a traditional primary, has the latest candidate filing deadline in the country, July 17. As a consequence, campaigns are often slow to take shape in the Pelican State, and it's not uncommon to see them kick off right before or even on deadline day.
● OR-02: Bend City Councilor Justin Livingston has joined the crowded Republican primary in the race for Oregon's 2nd Congressional District, which is open this year due to GOP Rep. Greg Walden's retirement. At least four other notable Republicans are running for this conservative, rural seat, which covers the entire state east of the Cascades mountain range.
● TX-28: Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar isn't just getting help from the right-wing Koch network in next week's primary: He's also received an infusion of aid from an ostensibly progressive super PAC called the Voter Protection Project, which has spent $250,000 on ugly mailers attacking attorney Jessica Cisneros for "bringing New York flavor to Texas," complete with pictures of "NYC Pizza" and "NYC Bagel." (Cisneros was born and raised in south Texas and returned home after briefly practicing law in New York.)
So how did this organization, which says its mission is to "fight back against President Trump's and Republicans' attacks on our right to vote," come to take sides in this race? HuffPost's Paul Blumenthal explains that VPP received $250,000 from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' BOLD PAC earlier this month; two days later, it began spending on Cuellar's behalf. Why VPP would want to get used as a cut-out in this way is not clear, since the group did not respond to Blumenthal's request for comment.