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New data indicates that Democrats will have to do better with rural voters to take back control of the Senate in 2020


Tuesday, One Country Project (OCP) released new, original data they claim shows the correlation between Presidential and Senate election outcomes, proving the Democratic road to victory is contingent upon rural support. Open Country Project says that if Democrats continue to perform poorly with rural voters they will not retake the Senate even though Republicans are defending 22 seats; while Democrats are defending only 12 seats, thus appear theoretically that Republicans would be vulnerable in 2020.

“Our data shows that Republicans have a 40 seat, built-in base in the Senate, meaning unless we do a better job engaging rural Americans, Republicans will have a massive head start in every race for a Senate majority and a lock on enough seats to stand in the way of a Democratic president’s agenda,” said former Senator Heidi Heitkamp. “If nothing changes, Democrats will never have more than a hope and a prayer of eking out a slim Senate majority. Voters are not connecting with Democrats and we risk being stuck in the minority for decades to come if we do not re-open the dialogue with Americans who live in the countryside and small towns across every region.”

Heitkamp is a founding board member of OCP. She was defeated defending her South Dakota seat in 2018 by her Republican challenger after she voted against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

OCP found that Presidential outcomes matter when it comes to the Senate majority. In 2016, every single Senate result matched the top of the ticket in the state. The GOP Senate majority is built on rural states. 19 percent of the population yields a state “base” of 40 seats. Only Manchin, Tester, and Alabama’s Doug Jones (D) hold seats in that GOP base geography.
Since 2000, the party defending the most Senate seats have suffered a net loss in seven out of ten elections. The average loss is 5 seats.

Democrats need a net gain of 4 seats if Trump is re-elected. If the Democratic nominee is elected they only need a net gain of three Seats to take control with the Democratic vice president providing the tie breaker.

In 2018, Republicans translated their structural advantage to a two seat net gain.

While Democrats have fewer seats to defend this year than do Republicans; the GOP does have some advantages. The biggest of these may be Donald Trump. Increasingly people vote for the same party for both President and Senate. In 2016 every Senate race result matched the top of the ticket in the state, unlike previous years. In 2016, Trump beat Hillary R. Clinton 62.9 to 34.6 percent in the state of Alabama. If something similar were to happen in 2020, then Doug Jones would need for over 20.5 percent of Trump voters would have to split their ticket and vote for Jones. In 2018 over 60 percent of Alabama voters voted straight party.

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According to their analysis of the 22 Republican seats only four are vulnerable. They list possible pickups for the Democratic Party in: North Carolina, Arizona, Colorado, and Maine. There are three possible pickups for Republicans and these are: Michigan, New Hampshire, and Alabama, where Jones is the incumbent.

Right now Republicans have 53 seats to 47 for Democrats (that includes two independents that caucus with the Democrats). According to their analysis, if they can hold Doug Jones seat, the Democrats would still need to win all of the remaining six seats that are likely in play to take a 51 to 49 majority. If the Democrats were to lose Jones’ seat, it suddenly becomes very tricky for Democrats. Republicans would only need to win one of the other six Senate seats that are likely in play to retain a 51 to 49 majority in the Senate. According to their analysis, the best case scenario for Democrats is a 51 to 49 narrow majority. The worst case scenario for Democrats would be a 44 to 56 seat minority.

The One Country Project is working to promote greater opportunities for rural communities and
ensure leaders earn support from rural Americans.

One Country says that it is reengaging with the American Heartland, serving as a clearinghouse of research and information for rural Americans, and working to ensure leaders regain trust by fighting for these communities.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.


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