Election Results 2018: Six takeaways on Republicans’ Senate victories and what they mean for 2020

WASHINGTON — Votes are still being counted from Tuesday’s election but a picture of the 2020 campaign is coming into focus.

Republicans not only emerged with their majority intact but expanded it by at least two seats. That cushion will make it harder for Democrats to retake the chamber two years from now.

Unlike 2018, 2020 is a presidential election year in which Donald Trump will be on the ballot as he seeks a second term. Voter sentiment about the president will play a big role in determining who turns out to the polls and which party they support. 

Here are six takeaways from the Senate races:

The Trump effect key for Senate races in 2020

Not only did Republicans keep the Senate, they outperformed many pollsters’ expectations in that chamber by trouncing Democratic incumbents in conservative states such as Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana. The president immersed himself in trying to rally support for GOP Senate candidates in the final weeks of the midterm races. He and his aides view the Senate results as a vindication of the president’s power as a political force, even as Republicans lost their majority in the House. Trump’s popularity with the conservative base could present daunting obstacles for Democrats trying to make inroads in red states in the 2020 Senate contests. 

Map for GOP challenging but not that bad

Of the 33 seats up for election, 20 are Republican. A 21st —  Mississippi — will be decided by a runoff election still up for grabs in the 2018 election.

Of those, only three appear to be Democratic pickup opportunities: Colorado, Iowa, and Maine. A fourth, North Carolina, could be in play given that Republican Tom Tillis is likely running for re-election to a seat Democrat Kay Hagan won in 2008.

Conversely, the GOP could flip three of the 12 Democratic seats up for election: Alabama, Michigan and New Hampshire.

With Republicans adding to their margin Tuesday, it makes it more likely the GOP will hold the Senate beyond 2020 as well.

Will older Republican incumbents run again?

A third of the GOP senators up for re-election two years from now will be 70 or older in 2020. That list comprises David Perdue of Georgia, James Risch of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas,  Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and Michael Enzi of Wyoming.

McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, is so far the only one of that group to announce he’s running for reelection. He’a already been assembling  a campaign staff.

Given that it’s usually more difficult to defend an open seat, expect lots of pressure on those as-yet-uncommitted GOP senators to run again. One who’s likely to seek re-election is Sen. Jim Inhofe, who turns 84 next week, now that he’s become chairman of the Armed Services Committee following Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain’s death in August.

Democrat Doug Jones prime GOP target

Alabama wasn’t supposed to go blue last year.

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