Senate Update (four weeks to go)

The election is exactly four weeks away, the vice-presidential debate is coming tomorrow, and it’s time for an update on the state of the closest senate races. But it’s also necessary first to acknowledge the elephant in the hospital room. After his criminal mismanagement of the covid crisis, Trump and several of his minions not so surprisingly got their own positive diagnoses. And then after receiving Cadillac medical treatment (presumably at taxpayer expense) and forgoing relevant contact tracing, Trump still has the cojones to tell his lemmings that everything is under control and that they shouldn’t worry about covid. Needless to say, public figures have tended toward the sanctimonious “thoughts and prayers,” while those not running for office or standing at a pulpit have been quick to note the obvious karmic irony. Nicholas Kristoff called for civility and the rejection of snark, which prompted one reader to respond that “our thoughts and prayers go out to the virus.”

But apart from pragmatic concerns about civility, or philosophical arguments about the ontological status of evil, or theological conversations about human redemption, it is fair to ask exactly what we should hope for a person who has wrought (and continues to wreak) so much chaos and division, who has been responsible for so much suffering, and who has promised in the coming weeks and months to facilitate a constitutional crisis and possibly incite violence. The Toteboard is of the opinion that it’s a legitimate fielder’s choice.

One thing is for sure: we’ve come to the point where when we wake up in the morning, we truly don’t know what bizarre plot twists will have unfolded overnight. Things are happening so fast, that it often feels like we are characters in an avant-garde postmodern play, one that is constantly being rewritten by an author with a dissociative disorder. Life in 2020 has been exhausting.

And so, onto the senate, where we are at a crucial time in the cycle. The most competitive races are still in a handful of blue-ish, blue-ing, or burgundy-purple states, exactly the kinds of places where voter disillusionment with Trump has spread, and where there may be some evidence that desertion of Trump could translate into desertion of the republican incumbents who enabled him. Importantly, almost all of the key senate races are smack dab in the middle of debate season, and a few encounters have already produced some noteworthy fireworks. If the Toteboard were in a position to advise democratic candidates, it would encourage them to hammer their opponents on their sycophancy, and on Trump’s debate performance and overall character. “Is this the way you want to see political discourse in our country?” “Is this a good role model for our children?” “Is calling me a socialist really the most adult way to debate policy issues?” “Believe me, if the leader of my party abuses other people or behaves unethically, I’ll look him (or her) in the eye and say so, and I’ll say that to the people of (state your state) and to the people of America.”

Note: This update assumes a few starting points. If those change, so does everything else.

Premise 1: A Biden victory. If Biden wins, the democrats need to net three seats. If he loses, which only happens if Trump wins key swing states, that magic number goes up to four. The problem is that those four would have to be in those swing states, and the Toteboard doesn’t see a lot of ticket-splitting this year.

Premise 2: A near certain democratic loss in Alabama. Yes, Doug Jones is a decent man and commendable public servant who stitched together a wonderful, diverse coalition two years ago. But to quote My Cousin Vinny, “you’re in Ala-fuckin’-bama,” and there’s really no way Jones can get reelected there in a presidential year. That means the democrats have to flip four other states (five, if Biden loses, and that’s just not going to happen).

Premise 3: No other democratic losses. The only other possible republican target apart from Alabama has been Gary Peters in Michigan, but both he and Biden seem to be leading comfortably there. For the most part, the democrats get to play offense this year.

And so, where are we in the quest for four or more seats?

THE BEST TARGETS:

Colorado: As anticipated, former governor (and short-lived presidential candidate) John Hickenlooper won the nomination to unseat Trump-ally Cory Gardner, And also as anticipated, Hickenlooper hasn’t exactly lit up the campaign trail. Gardner went bulldog attack in the first debate, but the Hick-ster held fast to his calm-and-steady persona and tried to keep the focus on bread-and-butter issues like healthcare. Colorado is an indigo-to-blue state in a bad republican year that Trump doesn’t particularly seem to be contesting, and the polls show Hick up in the high single-digits, but it’s a lightly polled state, and the Toteboard will breathe a sigh of relief when new numbers start coming in.

Arizona: Ex-astronaut, ace fundraiser, and Gabrielle Giffords spouse Mark Kelly has been consistently leading the polls, though not quite running away with it yet – after all, this is Ari-fuckin’-zona, which is still technically an Aspirational Purple state, albeit a rapidly blue-ing one. If Kelly and Biden can win decisive victories here, it may indicate that the state is finally ready to forget Barry Goldwater. Kelly debates Martha McSally tonight, and political junkies can probably find it streaming on one of the local NPR stations.

THE TIPPING POINTS:

Maine: Susan Collins has doubled down on her Mainer moderate act, while portraying Sarah Gideon as too partisan and getting too much outside money. She’s even trying to deflect her asinine vote to confirm Brett Kavanagh by charging that Gideon wouldn’t have voted to confirm John Roberts . . . fifteen fricking years ago! The debates haven’t been pretty, with Collins trotting out a mean card people didn’t know she had in her, and a lot of airtime getting chewed up by a perennial Green candidate and a libertarian nutcake who sliced up covid masks while answering a question. The polls show a narrow lead for Gideon.

North Carolina: A few months ago, the Toteboard suggested that few readers would be able to name either the republican incumbent (Thom Tillis) or the democratic challenger (Cal Cunningham), but my oh my how a covid diagnosis and a sequence of amorous text messages can change the tone overnight. The numbers have been consistently good, albeit very close, for Cunningham, but there’s no telling how the latest turns of events will influence things. The Toteboard’s best guess is that Cunningham’s and Tillis’s fortunes are still tied to those of Biden and Trump respectively. Nevertheless, if the democrats fail to flip the senate because of Cunningham’s indiscretions, the Toteboard will be seriously pissed.

Iowa: Previously listed as a “Next Tier” state, Iowa is now real close to a pure tossup. Upstart farmgirl Theresa Greenfield has been leading incumbent Joni Ernst by a point or two, but she’s outperforming Biden in a burgundy state, so it’s not clear if that lead will hold. Ernst is a smooth and sleazy debater, with a Palin-esque combination of self-righteousness and go-for-the-jugular nastiness, and the greener Greenfield has seemed a little tentative at times, and reluctant to mount a strong defense against Ernst’s accusations of socialist extremism. If Cunningham bungles North Carolina, this could be the one to watch.

THE NEXT TIER:

Montana: There’s still not enough recent high-quality polling to tell how much headway current governor Steve Bullock is making against incumbent Steve Daines, though word on the streets is that it’s close but still the republican’s to lose. Montana is still Montana, and Daines is trying to portray Bullock as in cahoots with the liberal socialists (do you sense a recurring theme here?), while Bullock talks about how excited he is to go hunting. Still, Trump’s approval rating is not free and clear there, and this could be a democratic sleeper.

Georgia Special Election: Most of the analysts are not especially bullish on Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Raphael Warnock’s chances, but the Toteboard thinks this race is actually the more competitive one in the Peach State. Anointed republican incumbent and proto-fascist ignoramus Kelly Loeffler and credentialed republican fascist Doug Collins have been blood-letting each other in the jungle primary as only Georgia rednecks can, presumably in lieu of attending a cockfight, leaving an opportunity for Warnock to rise above the fray and take advantage of a hobbled opponent. The main impediment to Warnock’s otherwise sure place in the likely runoff is political novice Matt Lieberman, who is under pressure from the left to hang it up, but who shares his father’s sense of entitlement and overestimation of how much people like him. At this point, polls show a mad scramble for position, though it’s probably only the wildcard round.

Georgia: The Toteboard’s preferred candidate, Columbus mayor Teresa Greenfield, failed to hold her own in the primary, but the young documentary filmmaker (and failed congressional candidate) Jon Ossoff has surprisingly held his own in the current polls. This has gotten the attention of the nasty Trumpian incumbent David Perdue, who has set into motion his own vile attack apparatus, including ads with doctored photos of Ossoff to make the Jewish Atlanta native’s nose look bigger. Yes, really! The Toteboard suspects that Georgia isn’t quite ready to pull the lever for the young and somewhat wooden policy wonk of Hebraic ancestry, but it would certainly love to see both of the Georgia seats turn blue.

LANDSLIDE SCENARIOS:

South Carolina: The Toteboard had not previously acknowledged the possibility that the likeable, media-savvy democratic challenger Jaime Harrison could make a run for Lindsey Graham, but it is slowly joining the rank of believers. South Carolina is red, but it’s not Alabama, and if there’s a Biden landslide, it could be the first reliably red state to fall after Burgundy Ohio and Iowa, and the Aspirational Purples of Georgia and Texas. More importantly, Harrison looked sharp in the debate last week, as he chided Graham to be a man and admit that he changed his position on SCOTUS confirmations. Graham, on the other hand, for such an old salt looked surprisingly uncomfortable behind the podium, trying to wiggle out a defense of his indefensible position, while literally wiggling around as though the moderator wouldn’t let him take him a bathroom break. If South Carolinians decide that maybe Trump isn’t their savior after all, they may reconsider giving the nod to a guy who has had nose stuck so far up Trump’s ass that he could put on a headlamp and perform a colonoscopy while he’s up there.

Kansas: The state republican party is in some disarray, but they managed to avoid nominating a divisive figure for the senate seat. And though the smart and persistent state senator Barbara Bollier went toe to toe debating the smug congressman Roger Marshall, and has been keeping it close in several polls, she’s still topping out in the low 40’s, and it’s hard to imagine the late deciders won’t break red. But then again, this is what landslides are for.

If Trump continues to tank, it’s possible that a few current Hail Marys – Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas – could provide an upset, but let’s not waste any prayers (or campaign donations) in those neighborhoods yet. Biden is still on track to restore sanity to the White House, and there’s a plausible path for flipping the Senate. So, now is the time to write letters, make phone calls, nudge apathetic relatives, and pop a few dollars where they might help. We’ve got twenty-eight days to go.