Ten races eclipsed by US presidential elections

With all eyes on the race for the White House, voters may easily forget about other elections that will determine the composition of government. Democrats are favored to control both houses of Congress while polls show close races in numerous Oregon state and local elections. Lewis & Clark community members should choose their preferred national and regional media outlets to follow these 10 races that do not feature President Donald Trump or Joe Biden on the ballot.

U.S. Senate

Unlike the 2018 midterm election, the 2020 Senate map clearly favors Democrats. However, even veteran political pundits did not predict the high number of seats that Democrats have a chance of flipping. In order to obtain a Senate majority, Democrats must see a net gain of three seats if Joe Biden is elected president or four seats if he is not. At this point, it would be surprising if Democrats fail to pick up seats in Arizona and Colorado currently occupied by Republican Sens. Martha McSally and Cory Gardner, respectively. While races in Alaska, Georgia, Kansas and Texas are also competitive, these five seats are bound to produce close results and, on top of Arizona and Colorado, are the most likely to help Democrats regain control of the Senate.

Iowa: Joni Ernst (R)* vs. Theresa Greenfield (D)

In 2014, Ernst succeeded retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin by advertising her Iowa roots. One campaign advertisement referenced her childhood farm and her experience castrating pigs; if elected, Ernst promised to draw upon her history of “cutting pork” to make Washington insiders “squeal.” The past six years have resulted in Ernst becoming one of the Senate’s least popular members and moderate constituents are unhappy with her allegiance to Trump. Greenfield, an Iowa native, is a businesswoman with a history in agriculture that has campaigned largely on expanding social benefits to the state’s lower and middle classes. She currently leads Ernst by 4.6% in recent polling.

Maine: Susan Collins (R)* vs. Sara Gideon (D)

First elected in 1996, Collins has touted her reputation as an independent maverick to easily win three reelections in heavily-Democratic New England. However, her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as her lackluster attempts to distance herself from Trump, may result in her loss. Gideon, the speaker of Maine’s House of Representatives, is a master fundraiser who has used millions of dollars to cast Collins as a typical Washington hack. A Gideon victory would almost certainly be needed for Democrats to take back the Senate, and she is currently polling above Collins by 4.2%.

Montana: Steve Daines (R)* vs. Steve Bullock (D)

Montana, a Republican stronghold in presidential elections, has long had an affinity for electing Democratic senators and governors. With an approval rating of 47%, Daines is facing a fierce challenge from Bullock, the state’s current, and popular, governor. While it is notoriously difficult to poll Big Sky country, experts agree that this race is neck and neck. Daines currently leads Bullock in polls by 3.3%. 

North Carolina: Thom Tillis (R)* vs. Cal Cunningham (D)

With a Republican recently diagnosed with the coronavirus and a Democrat in the midst of a sex scandal, North Carolina is easily the most dramatic, and expensive, of the Senate races. Tillis, unpopular for his initial reluctance turned unwavering support for Trump, was off the campaign trail for weeks after contracting COVID-19 at the White House announcement of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, in early October, Cunningham admitted to having an extramarital affair after salacious texts were uncovered by the press. Despite the affair, Cunningham leads Tillis in polls by 2.3%.

South Carolina: Lindsey Graham (R)* vs. Jaime Harrison (D)

Once the best friend of the late independent-minded Sen. John McCain, Graham has become one of Trump’s closest allies in the Senate and a bogeyman among Democrats. With Harrison, Democrats succeeded in recruiting a rare candidate that makes ruby-red South Carolina competitive. In his own words, Graham is being “killed” by Harrison’s remarkable talent for fundraising; Harrison recently broke the Senate fundraising record by raising $57 million in the campaign’s final quarter. Recent polls show Graham just 1.4% over Harrison.

U.S. House of Representatives

Democrats are clearly favored to retain control of the House; FiveThirtyEight gives this outcome a 96 in 100 chance. However, dozens of races are expected to be close, three of which are in the Pacific Northwest.

Alaska at-large: Don Young (R)* vs. Alyse Galvin (D)

Young, the longest-serving Republican in House history, has represented the entire state of Alaska since 1973. He remains a popular figure in Alaska politics despite a history of controversial behavior, including comparing same-sex relations to bestiality, using racial slurs in interviews and numerous ethics violations. Galvin, a registered independent who won the Democratic Party’s nomination, is a small business owner who lost to Young in the 2018 midterms. After beating her by 6.6% in 2018, recent polling of this rematch shows Young over Galvin by just 0.75%.

Oregon 4th: Peter DeFazio (D)* vs. Alek Skarlatos (R)

A true swing district, the Oregon 4th, which comprises the southwest portion of the state including Eugene and Corvallis, went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by just 0.1%. Yet, for 33 years, its residents have comfortably reelected Democrat DeFazio. This election, DeFazio faces a strong competitor in Skarlatos, one of the three American soldiers who heroically subdued a gunman in the 2015 Thalys train attack. While pollsters have stayed away from this race, experts agree that it will be the fight of DeFazio’s political career.

Washington 3rd: Jaime Herrera Beutler (R)* vs. Carolyn Long (D)

Democrats have long eyed the seat currently filled by Herrera Beutler, whose district, across the Columbia River from Portland, encompasses southwest Washington. Elected in 2010 with a reputation for partisanship, Herrera Beutler has gradually become more moderate during her time in Congress, even voting against the Republicans’ infamous 2017 bill to repeal Obamacare. Long, a tenured political science professor at Washington State University Vancouver, ran against Herrera Beutler in 2018 but lost by 5.4%. Recent polls show Herrera Beutler leading Long by 3%.

State and Local

Oregon Secretary of State: Shemia Fagan (D) vs. Kim Thatcher (R)

Oregon does not have a lieutenant governor, making the secretary of state first in the line of succession should the governor leave office. Unfortunately for Oregonians, the state is known for intense scandals that somewhat frequently bring down its politicians, including governors. While no one expects Gov. Kate Brown, J.D. ’85 to step down, this critical race will likely pave a path for the winner to someday seek higher office. Both Fagan and Thatcher are current state senators that are popular among their party bases. They have both also been criticized for being too partisan, despite running for the position that monitors Oregon’s elections and may be responsible for drawing new congressional districts.

Portland Mayor: Ted Wheeler* vs. Sarah Iannarone

Behind the battle for the presidency, few races are as important to Portlanders as this year’s mayoral election. The city has not reelected a mayor since Vera Katz left office in 2004. Most voters would agree that the choice between Wheeler and Iannarone is a referendum on the soul of Portland. Wheeler, a once-popular mayor that has seen his support evaporate in the wake of racial justice protests and police violence towards demonstrators, faces stiff competition from Iannarone, a community organizer and university bureaucrat. One recent poll showed Iannarone ahead of Wheeler by 11%, with 29% of respondents undecided; another gave Iannarone a one-point lead over Wheeler with 28% of voters remaining undecided. Teressa Raiford, a write-in candidate who received 8.4% of the May primary vote, is expected to earn support from less than 10% of Portland voters.

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