The Most Important Senate Races, Explained
These key eight races could flip the Senate
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Though the presidency is the top consideration for many American voters today, Democrats and Republicans are also waging a fierce battle over which party will ultimately have control over the Senate.
Democrats already have control of the House, where they are likely to keep their majority, but they'll need to gain either three or four seats in order to gain control of Republicans' 53-47 Senate majority. (If the Senate is split 50-50 and Joe Biden is elected president, the vice president would be the tiebreaker, also giving the Democrats control.)
The outlook is somewhat bleak for Republicans, with even the president recently admitting to donors that keeping the Senate will be "very tough."
Here is a look at a handful of races that could determine which party will control the chamber in 2021.
Alabama was won by Donald Trump by nearly 30 points in 2016, making Democrat Doug Jones’ 2017 election something of an anomaly in the very red state.
Jones, 66, won a special election after Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions left office to work as Trump’s attorney general. Sessions returned to his home state after being forced to resign by Trump and made another go for his Senate seat. He ultimately lost the primary to fellow Republican Tommy Tuberville, a former Alabama University football coach who’s molded himself in the image of Trump since launching his bid for Senate.
In the week leading up to the election, Tuberville, 66, held a double-digit lead over Jones — a sign that the seat is unlikely to flip, though it's worth noting that Jones has out-raised Tuberville by a significant margin.
Though his re-election chances are grim, Jones' race is one to watch, if only for the simple fact that he's unlikely to fade from the political landscape. Some analysts have speculated that if he loses, the former prosecutor is rumored to be among a Biden administration's top choices for attorney general.
Just two years ago, Arizona was represented in the Senate by two Republicans. In 2018, that changed when former Air Force colonel Martha McSally lost a Senate race to Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.
McSally, 54, still managed to secure an Arizona Senate seat, however, after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her to the seat opened up in the wake of Sen. John Kyl's resignation.
A strained relationship with Trump — whom the Republican Senator has tried to ingratiate herself with in recent months — has plagued McSally in the two years since, and she now faces an uphill battle in holding on to her seat.
Shifting demographics in Arizona have helped Democrat Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut married to shooting survivor Gabbie Giffords, open up a lead in the polls against his opponent.
Kelly, 56, has run a campaign that promises science- and evidence-based policy, a theme that so far appears to be resonating with voters. If elected, he would be the the first astronaut on Capitol Hill in roughly 40 years.
Former two-term Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper looks to seize on left-leaning trends in Colorado, where incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner aims to reclaim his seat.
A stream of polls show Gardner, 46, heading for a loss, however — a downward trend that’s led Republican groups to decrease their spending in Colorado, fearing a blowout.
According to the Colorado Sun, more than a quarter million voters have switched political parties in Colorado in the past six years. And with more than half a million new voter registrations, Gardner has his work cut out for him.
Though Gardner has aimed to appeal to both liberals and conservatives, campaigning as a "new kind of Republican," he's also made appearances at campaign rallies for Trump — a move that could backfire in the end.
Since taking office, Trump’s job approval rating in Colorado has faltered and Hickenlooper, 68, has benefited from voters' resistance to the president.
Georgia has been a historically reliable state for Republicans, with Democrats not winning a Senate race in the Peach State since 2000 (the state hasn't elected a Democratic president since 1992).
Still, it's become more competitive, with liberal candidates now aiming to unseat two Republican incumbents: David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
Democrat Jon Ossoff first burst onto the Georgia politics scene in 2017, when he ran in a special election for Georgia's 6th congressional district.
Though he ultimately lost the race, Ossoff, 33, cemented his standing in the state's political scene and broke national fundraising records for a U.S. House candidate.
Nearly two years later, Ossoff waded back into campaign waters, aiming to unseat Perdue, 70. In the weeks leading up to Nov. 3, Ossoff out-raised Perdue by millions, with much of his fundraising spurred by Perdue's own behavior.
In late July, Perdue released an ad in which Ossoff, who is Jewish, appeared to have an enlarged nose — a marketing tactic widely viewed as anti-Semitic, though Perdue’s campaign denied that it had made any alterations and then blamed the ad on an outside vendor.
Perdue's blunders continued in the weeks leading up to the election. In October, he faced nationwide backlash after mocking vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ name at a Trump rally in Macon. Ossoff, meanwhile, raised nearly $2 million in the two days following the event.
A statewide poll conducted days before the election showed the two deadlocked.
Georgia's other Senate seat is unlike any other in the country, in that it involves three candidates, two of whom are seemingly trying to out-Republican one another.
When Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson announced his retirement from the Senate in 2019, Sen. Kelly Loeffler was appointed as his successor.
She now faces fellow Republican Doug Collins (currently a member of the House of Representatives) and Democratic pastor Raphael Warnock, who has a slight lead in polls.
Over the past year, Loeffler, 49, has made a name for herself due to suspicious stock trades made before the COVID-19 pandemic bean ravaging the market and a continual move to the right, one that puts her squarely in lockstep with President Trump.
It's unlikely that any of the three candidates will receive more than 50 percent of the vote (the threshold required to win), meaning a federal runoff election, set for January, is likely.
Iowa, a state that is almost always at the center of the political universe, finds itself in the midst of an increasingly hard-fought Senate race, one recently found to be the second most expensive in U.S. history.
Republican incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst’s fate seems increasingly tied to Trump’s. Though he won the state by a wide margin in 2016, Iowans have harshly assessed his pandemic response — and, by extension, Ernst’s, 50.
Ernst’s political evolution is notable. In 2014, she strode on to the political scene with a promise to “unload” (quite, literally, in an ad that showed her visiting a shooting range) on Obamacare. Now in the middle of a pandemic, Ernst’s message centers on preserving parts of the Affordable Care Act that would guarantee coverage for those with preexisting conditions.
She faces Democrat Theresa Greenfield, a moderate who Ernst and other Republicans have attempted to cast as a progressive radical. A recent poll from The New York Times and Siena College found the two in a statistical tie.
Republican incumbent Susan Collins has historically cruised to re-election, but her fractured relationship with President Trump (not to mention Democrats) makes her road ahead a lot bumpier in 2020.
She faces a formidable opponent in Sara Gideon, the Democrat house speaker of Maine. Polls show a narrow edge for Gideon, 48, who is campaigning on a platform of preserving health care coverage.
Over her four terms in Congress, Collins, 67, has attempted to craft an image of bipartisanship, but has also managed to alienate both Republicans and Democrats along the way. She's attempted to stay out of presidential politics in recent weeks and has publicly opposed the president in the past.
Still, Trump's lack of popularity among voters could harm many Republicans — even those, like Collins, who have tried to distance themselves from the president. Late polls showed Biden leading Trump statewide in Maine, while Gideon held a slim lead over Collins.
Though Republican Steven Daines is the incumbent in Montana's Senate race, Democrat Steve Bullock has slightly higher popularity and name recognition in the state, where he previously served as governor. While the state itself is independent, it did go for Trump in 2016.
The president’s approval rating has slipped in Montana over the last four years, though, meaning Daines, 58, could have his work cut out for him.
Polls show Daines and Bullock, 54, in a statistical dead heat, indicating that the high-stakes battle could be one determined by a few thousand of votes.
Republican incumbent Thom Tillis has tied himself closely to Trump when it comes to issues of immigration and taxes. The 60-year-old senator hopes that relationship will help his win re-election in a state Trump carried by more than three percentage points in 2016.
Democrat Cal Cunningham, a former state senator, seemed to face an even tougher battle, though, when ensnared in an October surprise.
Cunningham, 47, admitted to having an extramarital relationship after text messages he sent to a woman that is not his wife surfaced in the media.
The full impact of the scandal remains to be seen, with Tillis and Cunningham polling neck-and-neck in the final days of their campaigns.