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In battle for Senate control, nine races to watch

A small American flag on a fence outside the Capitol in Washington.
Democrats need a net gain of four seats to seize the majority in the Senate, or three if Joe Biden wins the presidency.
(Al Drago / Getty Images)
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In the shadow of the presidential campaign, the parties are also waging a fierce battle over control of the Senate in 2020.

Republicans hold a 53-47 edge, so Democrats need a net gain of four seats to seize the majority — or three if Joe Biden wins the presidency. (When the Senate is split 50-50, the vice president is the tiebreaker.) With Democrats likely to keep their majority in the House, the Senate outcome will determine whether the next president will be dealing with a divided Congress or, as political handicappers increasingly predict, one with Democrats controlling both chambers. That would be a big boon for Biden if he wins or a big headache for President Trump if he gains a second term. Here are some of the key races:

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Alabama: Jones vs. Tuberville

Sen. Doug Jones and Tommy Tuberville.
Sen. Doug Jones, left, and challenger Tommy Tuberville.
(Getty Images)

First-term Sen. Doug Jones is the most vulnerable Democrat up for reelection this year. He won his seat in a bit of a fluke, in a 2017 special election, and is a long shot for reelection in a conservative state where Trump remains very popular. Jones, a former U.S. attorney who made his name by prosecuting Ku Klux Klan members, beat his GOP opponent last time — former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore — after allegations surfaced that the Republican had sexually assaulted women and engaged in other misconduct, in some cases with minors. Moore denied the allegations. Now, Jones is an underdog as he faces a more formidable GOP opponent, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville.

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Arizona: McSally vs. Kelly

Sen. Martha McSally and former astronaut Mark Kelly.
Sen. Martha McSally, left, and former astronaut Mark Kelly.
(Getty Images)

GOP Sen. Martha McSally is struggling to hold her seat, facing a well-funded challenge from former astronaut Mark Kelly. He is married to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who became a heroine of the gun safety movement after she was shot during a campaign event in 2011. McSally lost a bid for the Senate in 2018 to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Just over a month later, McSally was appointed by the governor to fill the state’s other Senate seat, which had been vacated by the death of John McCain and filled temporarily by Jon Kyl. Arizona has long been reliably red but is becoming more competitive with the growth of its Latino population and a shift toward Democrats among suburban residents in the Phoenix area. McSally is considered one of the most likely GOP incumbents to be defeated.

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Colorado: Gardner vs. Hickenlooper

Sen. Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper.
Sen. Cory Gardner, left, and challenger John Hickenlooper.
(Getty Images)

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner faces stiff headwinds because he is running for reelection in a state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and that Biden is almost sure to carry this year. He faces a well-known and well-funded challenger in John Hickenlooper, the former Colorado governor who joined the race after dropping his short-lived bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Despite the state’s Democratic tilt, Gardner has been loyal to Trump on key questions, including his decision to name a Supreme Court successor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg so close to the election. His reelection is widely considered an uphill fight.

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Georgia: Perdue vs. Ossoff

Sen. David Perdue and challenger Jon Ossoff.
Sen. David Perdue, left, and challenger Jon Ossoff.
(Getty Images)

Usually a reliably conservative state, Georgia has become more competitive, giving Democrats a surprising chance to unseat GOP Sen. David Perdue. His Democratic opponent is Jon Ossoff, a prolific fundraiser who gained notice in 2017 when he nearly won a nationally publicized special election in a House district near Atlanta. If this seat goes Democratic, it will be a sign that the party is probably having a very good night everywhere.

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Iowa: Ernst vs. Greenfield

Sen. Joni Ernst and Theresa Greenfield.
Sen. Joni Ernst, left, and challenger Theresa Greenfield.
(Getty Images)

GOP Sen. Joni Ernst’s race is one of the party’s most recent headaches. She had been expected to have a relatively safe run for reelection to a second term in a state that Trump won by almost 10 percentage points in 2016. But Trump’s approval rating has dropped in the state, where Democrats flipped two GOP House seats in 2018. Polls show Ernst in a tight race with her Democratic opponent, businesswoman Theresa Greenfield.

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Maine: Collins vs. Gideon

Sen. Susan Collins and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon.
Sen. Susan Collins, left, and Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.
(Associated Press)

GOP Sen. Susan Collins is facing the toughest race of her 24-year career and may not survive this time. Her reputation as an independent voice for the state and one of the least conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill has come under challenge in the Trump era. Her 2018 vote for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh, put a national target on her back, and Democratic donors across the country contributed money toward her defeat even before her opponent was known. Sara Gideon, the state’s House speaker, is a well-funded opponent. If Democrats don’t win this one, their road to a Senate majority will be tough.

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Montana: Daines vs. Bullock

Sen. Steve Daines and Gov. Steve Bullock.
Sen. Steve Daines, left, and his challenger, Gov. Steve Bullock.
(Associated Press)

Democrats have no business being competitive in this state, where Trump won in 2016 by 20 percentage points and where he remains popular. But they recruited just about the only Democrat who could make a credible fight against GOP Sen. Steve Daines — Gov. Steve Bullock. Bullock has been a popular governor and won kudos and attention for his management of the state’s COVID-19 response. Still, if Bullock wins this long-shot race, Democrats will probably be cleaning up everywhere.

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North Carolina: Tillis vs. Cunningham

Sen. Thom Tillis and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham.
Sen. Thom Tillis, left, and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham.
(Associated Press)

GOP Sen. Thom Tillis is counting heavily on a strong showing for Trump to help carry him to reelection in this battleground state. Having fended off a primary challenger who said he was not loyal enough to Trump, Tillis now hews closely to the president on all issues. But in fundraising, he’s fallen short of his Democratic opponent, attorney and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, in a state that has drawn national attention for being both a presidential and senatorial battleground. The race has been thrown into turmoil in recent days, as Tillis tested positive for the coronavirus and Cunningham, who is married, acknowledged exchanging sexually suggestive texts with a woman who is not his wife.

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South Carolina: Graham vs. Harrison

Sen. Lindsey Graham and Jaime Harrison.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, left, and challenger Jaime Harrison.
(Associated Press)

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham is facing a surprisingly strong challenge in a deeply red state that Trump won in 2016 by 14 percentage points. Making the contest even more surprising, his opponent, Democrat Jaime Harrison, is a Black former state party chair and protege of South Carolina Democratic power broker Rep. James E. Clyburn in a state with a long history of racial bloc voting. Polls show him running neck and neck as Harrison rakes in cash from across the country and from the national party. A new national focus on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, could help Graham consolidate conservative support behind him: As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will play a central role in Barrett’s confirmation process. But he’s taking heat for having brazenly flip-flopped on the question of whether it is appropriate to consider a court nominee in an election year.

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