While you would be hard-pressed to find anyone on campus unfamiliar with the candidates in the presidential election, competitive national Senate races are not filled with as many household names. Yet the makeup of the Senate will have huge implications for the political landscape of the next few years and beyond. If Democrats keep the House of Representatives and win the Senate and White House, it will be the first time Democrats have had full control of the federal government in 11 years. Especially if progressive Democrats push the party left, Congress could pass important legislation on COVID-19 relief, climate change, health care, police reform, economic reform, and expanding voting rights in the upcoming years.
Just this weekend, President Donald Trump nominated conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, leaving many feeling anxious and frustrated with the political system. There are 35 Senate seats up for election this November, and Democrats are on the offensive, hoping to win a majority. Republicans are defending 23 seats while Democrats are defending only 12. To get a majority in the Senate, Democrats need to win four seats (three if Joe Biden wins the presidential election, as the Vice President breaks any ties).
Sydney Leidig ’22, an intern for Senate candidate Sara Gideon and an executive board member of Vassar College Democrats, explained that phone banking is a great way to support Democratic Senate candidates this cycle. “Because of the pandemic, many field teams are relying on remote phone banking to get out the vote. Links to sign up to phonebank are usually on campaign websites, and the Vassar Democrats also list a few phone banking links in their emails,” she said. “Campaigns are always looking to get students involved and many even offer volunteer leadership positions so you can gain experience while helping to elect the candidate.”
For Vassar students looking for competitive races to give their time or resources to, here are a few of the Senate races to watch this November:
- Maine: Susan Collins vs. Sara Gideon
In Maine, Republican incumbent Susan Collins is being challenged by the Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon. Collins frames herself as a moderate Republican but has lost popularity in her home state as she has fallen in lockstep with other Republicans to enable Trump over the last four years. She voted in 2018 to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh amid his sexual assault allegations, voted to acquit Trump on impeachment charges and voted in support of the 2017 Republican tax bill. As Speaker of the House in Maine, Gideon has pushed for climate change legislation that would reduce Maine’s carbon emissions and has passed health care reform that protects her constituents from being denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions.
- Arizona: Martha McSally vs. Mark Kelly
One of the strongest Democratic candidates is former astronaut and gun control advocate Mark Kelly. He is challenging Republican incumbent Martha McSally in Arizona. McSally lost in 2018 but was appointed to the seat after Senator John McCain died in 2018. Kelly has outraised McSally and is consistently leading in polls, but no victory is secured in a state that consistently votes for a Republican presidential candidate.
- Colorado: Cory Gardner vs. John Hickenlooper
Democrats have also set their sights on Colorado. Former Democratic governor John Hickenlooper is challenging Republican incumbent Cory Gardner. Gardner, similarly to Susan Collins, has attempted to walk the line between keeping Trump’s base support and trying to win over new voters in a state that has become increasingly blue. Clinton won Colorado by five points in 2016, and Hickenlooper has been quick to point out Gardner’s support of Trump in his campaign.
- Iowa: Joni Ernst vs. Theresa Greenfield
Iowa, a state Trump won by ten percentage points in 2016 after Obama won it twice, also has a competitive Senate race this year. Democratic real estate developer Theresa Greenfield is challenging Republican incumbent Joni Ernst. Ernst, who won her race in 2014 with corporate backing, has come under criticism for recent comments she made expressing skepticism about the COVID-19 death count. Greenfield’s campaign has emphasized her support of social security and unions, as she has argued that both helped her stay afloat after her first husband died in an accident working as a union electrical worker.
- North Carolina: Thom Tillis vs. Cal Cunningham
Another Senate race that has been attracting attention is in North Carolina. Republican incumbent Thom Tillis is being challenged by Democrat Cal Cunningham, a former North Carolina state senator. Cunningham outraised Tillis last quarter and was leading in public polling, but this race has tightened as Trump holds more rallies in the state. This race is shaping up to be the most expensive Senate race in the nation, with a total of $146 million having been spent and reserved so far in advertising.
- Alabama: Doug Jones vs. Tommy Tubberville
Democratic incumbent Doug Jones faces the prospect of having his seat flipped in Alabama by Republican challenger Tommy Tubberville. Jones narrowly upset Republican Roy Moore in a 2017 special election. Moore was accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls during the campaign cycle and underperformed in the election. This contributed to Jones’ victory in this deep red state, and it is unlikely that his next challenger will be as widely unpopular as Moore.
Other Senate races to watch out for are Democratic Governor Steve Bullock challenging Republican Steve Daines in Montana, Democrat John Ossoff challenging Republican David Perdue in Georgia, and Democrat Jaime Harrison challenging Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.
Democracy Matters Co-President Cassie Cauwels ’22 explains there are many ways for politically interested students to get involved in electoral politics this year beyond voting: helping friends and family secure their voting plans, volunteering for a campaign, researching candidates and donating to a campaign if possible.
“Above all, I strongly believe that Vassar students, faculty and administration should be using their privilege and influence whenever possible to make room for more erased and disenfranchised groups to share what matters to them,” Cauwels explained. “We collectively need to take part in the political process.”