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Opinion

PARK: Presidential Ambitions May Stunt Democrat Senate Prospects

Democratic debates and 2020 presidential prospects have certainly been a primary focus among voters, particularly in a race with such high stakes. But the Democrats’ comparatively low-profile aim to secure a Senate majority in 2020 could have a lasting impact on the foreseeable future of U.S. politics.

With 15 months left before November 2020, Democrats are searching for the best candidates to knock out Republican incumbents, especially in purple states. The majority-red Senate is currently comprised of 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, with the former defending the top ten most contested seats heading into the election. Out of the 34 total seats up for grabs in 2020, Democrats will need three to four seats to win over the Senate.

Of the top ten contested seats, Republican senators currently occupy seven. Yet, three states in particular come to mind when comparing the Senate and presidential race: Texas, Colorado and Montana. 

Republican John Cornyn, 17-year Senate incumbent and former Texas Attorney General, is highly unpopular in his state. Yet, the Texas Democratic primary race is still considerably open, leaving Cornyn with a high chance of being reelected. A Quinnipiac poll from June shows that 60 percent of Texas Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters want to see O’Rourke challenge Cornyn, rather than continue his campaign as a presidential contender. The calls for O’Rourke’s abandonment of the presidential race for a Senate bid have further surged in national attention after the El Paso shooting on August 4th that left 22 people dead.

O’Rourke rose into the national spotlight last year when his first race for the Senate against Republican Ted Cruz came down to a mere difference of 2.6 percentage pointsthe closest Democrats have gotten to a win in Texas in over 30 years. O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign infused hope among pollsters in Texas who think the presidential hopeful’s momentum could carry the state to a Democratic victory against Cornyn.

Other high-profile Senate races have also gained traction in election coverage, including Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath’s campaign to unseat Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnella notorious bulwark against Democratic legislative progress in Congress.

Along with Texas and Kentucky, Colorado Democratic voters are urging Governor John Hickenlooper to abandon his run for the presidency and challenge Republican single-term incumbent Cory Gardner in 2020. Ever since he announced his bid for the presidency in March, Hickenlooper has generally rejected the idea of running for Senate. Yet, earlier this month, Hickenlooper said he would “be a fool” to continue running for president if he didn’t see a spike in his polling numbers. In the last few days, potential Senate campaign domain names for the candidate circled the Internet, including Hick4Senate.com.

Similarly, Montana Governor Steve Bullock could have a shot at defeating Republican incumbent Steve Daines whose controversial politics are considered “unrepresentative of Montana.” Following Donald Trump’s racist tweetstorm against four Congresswomen of color last week, Daines chimed in with his own Twitter statement saying that “Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals… I stand with @realdonaldtrump.” Editorials from The Missoulian denounced Daines’ words as doing “a disservice to the people of Montanaall the people of Montana, of every political persuasion.” 

In Thursday’s Monmouth poll gauging presidential interest in Iowa, all three candidates are polling at one percent or less. O’Rourke is the only one of the three to qualify for the upcoming fall debates. Hickenlooper and Bullock have not met either the polling or donation requirements. By rejecting a Senate run in their highly contested states, Beto O’Rourke, John Hickenlooper and Steve Bullock may be doing their party a disfavor. 

If Hickenlooper and Bullock don’t qualify for the fall debates, the future of their already long-shot campaigns may be at stake. Without the free publicity through network debates, the two governors’ name recognition will fall through the cracks. Dropping out of the presidency could open a new window of opportunity for the commander-in-chief hopefuls. The candidates still have a few months to file for a Senate race (the deadline for Colorado is as late as the third Tuesday in March). Ultimately, however, whether O’Rourke, Hickenlooper and Bullock can make a Senate splash in 2020 is up to the polls.