U.S. Senate Races Worth Careful Attention as November Nears

Control of the U.S. Senate is almost as important to LGBTQ people this year as control of the White House.

Under Republican control, the Senate has ignored bills to make schools safer for LGBTQ students or to stop discrimination against LGBTQ youth seeking child welfare services. While the Equality Act, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and federally funded programs, has passed the House, it has languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee, without hearing or vote.

And, under Republican control, the Senate has “rubberstamped” confirmations, at every level of the federal court system, for nominees who have records of hostility to LGBTQ people.

Having Democrats control the Senate and the House would create a line of defense against any number of schemes President Trump might employ to declare himself the winner of the presidential race. It would also provide Congress with a realistic means of holding Trump accountable for any crimes he might commit, or has committed, against the nation and improve the chances that any upcoming U.S. Supreme Court vacancy could be filled by nominees who have a commitment to LGBTQ rights.

If Trump retains the White House, Democrats will need 51 seats in order to take control of the Senate. They currently have 47, but polling indicates they will lose one held by Alabama Sen. Doug Jones. Michigan’s Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is also in a tough race for re-election.

Assuming Jones and Peters lose, the Democrats would be down to 45 seats and need to flip six Republican seats to take the Senate. Here are the races where U.S. Senate seats have the best chance to change from Republican to Democrat:

Arizona: Mark Kelly, husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Gifford, is running to replace first-term Republican Martha McSally. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) endorsed Kelly, saying he has been a “steadfast ally.” An average of recent polls, calculated by RealClearPolitics.com, shows Kelly with a 8.3 percent lead, as of October 16.

Colorado: John Hickenlooper, the former governor, is leading incumbent Republican Senator Cory Gardner. The only recent poll there, conducted in early October, showed Hickenlooper up by nine points. Hickenlooper has won HRC’s endorsement.

Georgia: Jon Ossoff, a media owner and journalist, almost won a U.S. House seat from Georgia two years ago. He had HRC’s endorsement then and now and he and special election Senate candidate Raphael Warnock (see below) have both earned gay presidential contender Pete Buttigieg’s endorsement. Ossoff is hoping to unseat Republican incumbent David Perdue. RealClearPolitics’ average of polls shows Perdue ahead by only one point as of October 12.

Georgia: Raphael Warnock, is the personal pastor of openly lesbian State Rep. Park Cannon, who has endorsed him, along with HRC. Warnock, while having “evolved” on issues such as marriage for same-sex couples, has welcomed LGBTQ people and promised leaders to passionately argue against anyone trying to use religion to discriminate. The Republican incumbent, Kelly Loeffler, has not been in the Senate long enough to obtain a score from HRC, but she recently introduced legislation to limit Title IX protection in educational sports to sex discrimination “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” RealClearPolitics calculations show Warnock leads by 7.7 points as of October 12.

Montana: Steve Bullock, former governor of the state, has seen a recent surge in support, from nine points down on October 7 to a tie on October 10. As governor, Bullock signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ state employees and supported the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike state bans on marriage for same-sex couples. HRC has endorsed Bullock.

North Carolina: Cal Cunningham appeared to be running away with the election in his bid to unseat incumbent Republican Thom Tillis. Then news broke that he had been sexting with a woman other than his wife, and his polls slipped. But FiveThirtyEight.com reported last week that Cunningham appears to have survived. A recent New York Times polling shows him with a one-point lead, but RealClearPolitics’ average of polls shows him with a 4.3 point lead. HRC and Buttigieg have both endorsed Cunningham.

Iowa: Theresa Greenfield, a real estate executive, has been consistently polling three to five points ahead of incumbent Republican Joni Ernst in recent weeks, but the “undecided” votes are running about 10 percent. She’s got the support of HRC and Buttigieg, and Ernst’s HRC score is a zero. Two early October polls showed Greenfield up by four points, but a margin of error of 3.5.

Maine: Sara Gideon, Speaker of the Maine House, might once have been considered a long-shot to unseat long-time Maine incumbent Republican Susan Collins. Collins was seen by many in the LGBTQ community as among the very few allies on the Republican side, but then she voted for Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which rendered Collins’ re-election “simply untenable,” said HRC President Alphonso David. On the other side of the aisle, Log Cabin Republicans is announcing its endorsement of Collins. RealClearPolitics’ averaging of polls shows Gideon up by 4.2 points in early October.