Control of US Senate in play with primary elections in 3 states

President Donald Trump’s poor public approval weighs on fellow Republicans, putting previously safe seats in question.

Texas primary voters
Voters cast their ballots on Tuesday in Houston, Texas, a previously solid Republican state that has become more competitive as US President Donald Trump suffers in the polls [David J Phillip/AP Photo]

Democrats in the United States could take a step towards wresting control of the US Senate from Republicans on Tuesday when voters in Maine, Texas and Alabama cast ballots in nominating contests.

Maine Democrats pick a challenger to Susan Collins, one of the Senate’s most at-risk Republicans; Texas Democrats choose who will go up against Republican Senator John Cornyn in a Republican-leaning state that analysts said has become more competitive, and Alabama Republicans pick a candidate to take on Doug Jones, widely considered the chamber’s most vulnerable Democrat.

President Donald Trump’s dismal public approval numbers are weighing on his fellow Republicans, dimming the re-election hopes of senators in Colorado, North Carolina and Arizona and leaving even senior Republicans in conservative stakes like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky having to work harder than expected to defend their seats.

Democrats would need to pick up four seats in the 100-member chamber for a majority if Trump is re-elected, or three if presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins the White House, giving the party a tie-breaking Senate vote.

“If the coronavirus continues to get worse and the economy doesn’t improve, it’s hard to imagine any president … getting re-elected very easily, and it’s hard to imagine that president’s party doing well,” said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is surrounded by reporters as she rushes to a vote at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
US Senator Susan Collins of Maine is considered to be one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the Senate [File: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

Top Democratic Opportunity

Democrats see Collins’ Senate seat representing Maine as one of their top pick-up opportunities. Sara Gideon, the Democratic speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, has been leading Collins by a few percentage points in recent opinion polls even before Tuesday’s primary between Gideon and two more left-wing Democrats, Betsy Sweet and Bre Kidman.

Collins is a moderate Republican first elected in 1996 who has long enjoyed a reputation for bipartisanship in a state with many independent voters. Her support eroded after she sided with Trump in several votes, including backing his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

Collins’ vote for Kavanaugh served to “enrage many Mainers, and it’s caused a different reaction to Collins than there ever really has been before,” said Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine.

U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) is flanked by Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and John Cornyn (R-TX) as he speaks about his new police reform bill unveiled by Senate Republicans during a news confe
Republican US Senator Tim Scott is flanked by Senators Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and John Cornyn of Texas, who is struggling as the previously solid red state becomes increasingly competitive [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

Texas Tangle

In Texas, state Senator Royce West and Air Force veteran MJ Hegar are battling in a runoff race for the Democratic nomination to take on Cornyn.

The growth of young non-white populations on the outskirts of Texas’ urban areas has made the state long dominated by Republicans more competitive, Blank said. Biden has built a five-point lead over Trump in Texas, a Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler poll said on Sunday.

The voting in all three states was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats play defence in Alabama

In Republican stronghold Alabama, Republicans will pick between Jeff Sessions – a former US attorney general fired by Trump who now wants his old Senate job back – or political newcomer Tommy Tuberville, a former Auburn University football coach endorsed by Trump.

Jeff Sessions
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who wants his US Senate seat in Alabama back, has drawn the ire of President Donald Trump for recusing himself from the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election [File: Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

A poll from Auburn University at Montgomery last week said Tuberville is 15 points ahead of Sessions. The results also showed the incumbent, Jones, faces a difficult battle for re-election against either Sessions or Tuberville, said poll director David Hughes.

In a 2017 special election, Jones became the first Democrat to win a Senate seat from Alabama in a quarter-century after defeating Roy Moore, whose campaign was derailed by accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls.

“Look, we’ve won when no one thought we could win,” said Joe Trippi, strategist for the Jones campaign. “Most of the conventional wisdom out there about Alabama, and this race is wrong.”

Source: News Agencies