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Rating changes: Collins, Tillis now underdogs, Graham in tougher race

12 House ratings also change, most in Democrats’ favor

ANALYSIS — While everyone is infatuated with the past and upcoming presidential debates, the fight for Congress — particularly the Senate — rages on.

As President Donald Trump continues to struggle to recapture his 2016 magic, his underperformance compared to four years ago is jeopardizing GOP control of the Senate and leaving House Republicans with only a slim chance of getting back to the majority.

Democrats have been in good shape to take control of the Senate for at least a few months. And now, rating changes in a few key races makes their path more specific. 

In this new round of rating changes from Inside Elections, the reelection races of GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Thom Tillis of North Carolina both move from Toss-up to Tilt Democratic. While each race has some unique characteristics, both incumbents have been consistently behind or just even with their challengers in the polls for a while, and both should now be considered at least narrow underdogs to win in November. 

Democratic prospects in South Carolina are also improving as the Senate race moves from Lean Republican to Tilt Republican. Democrat Jaime Harrison has the momentum against GOP incumbent Lindsey Graham. The question is whether he can get the last few difficult points to win or he becomes this cycle’s Beto O’Rourke

With the recent rating changes, Democrats currently have the advantage in four races with Republican incumbents: Colorado (Cory Gardner), Arizona (Martha McSally) and now Maine and North Carolina. If Democrats indeed win that quartet of races, they can control the Senate if Joe Biden wins the presidential race, even if Democratic Sen. Doug Jones loses in Alabama since a Vice President Kamala Harris would break any 50-50 ties. 

The good news for Democrats is that they have more opportunities than just those four races. Iowa, Montana, Kansas, South Carolina, and the two Georgia races are very competitive. And Texas and Alaska can’t be ignored.

The current overall Senate projection is a Democratic net gain of three to five seats. 

House changes: 8 move toward Democrats, 4 to GOP

Recent House rating changes are symptomatic of the broader fight for the chamber. 

GOP chances have improved in four races, a couple of which are on the margin of the competitive battleground, including Oregon’s 4th District (held by Democrat Peter A. DeFazio) and Wisconsin’s 3rd (Democrat Ron Kind).

Democratic chances have improved in eight races, including four — Arizona’s 6th (Republican David Schweikert), Indiana’s 5th (Open), Michigan’s 3rd (Open) and Missouri’s 2nd (Republican Ann Wagner) — that moved either to Toss-up or Tilt Republican.

Under almost every November scenario, Democrats will maintain control of the House. The question is whether they can expand their majority. The current outlook for the House is no net partisan change to a Democratic gain of 11 seats. That projection will likely change on the margins but is unlikely to shift dramatically unless the presidential race gets turned on its head. 

While Republicans might be able to cherry-pick a few races to win and pull out some candidate-specific victories, the general landscape remains the same. Democrats are on offense and Republicans are trying to hold down their losses. 

Ratings Summary

Senate changes

  • Maine (Collins, R): Toss-up to Tilt Democratic
  • North Carolina (Tillis, R): Toss-up to Tilt Democratic
  • South Carolina (Graham, R): Lean Republican to Tilt Republican

House changes benefiting Democrats

  • Arizona’s 6th (Schweikert, R): Lean Republican to Tilt Republican
  • Colorado’s 3rd (Open, R): Likely Republican to Lean Republican
  • Indiana’s 5th (Open, R): Lean Republican to Toss-up
  • Michigan’s 3rd (Open, L): Tilt Republican to Toss-up
  • Missouri’s 2nd (Wagner, R): Lean Republican to Tilt Republican
  • Texas’ 3rd (Van Taylor, R): Solid Republican to Likely Republican
  • Texas’ 7th (Lizzie Fletcher, D): Lean Democratic to Likely Democratic
  • Virginia’s 5th (Open, R): Likely Republican to Lean Republican

House changes benefiting Republicans

  • California’s 21st (TJ Cox, D): Tilt Democratic to Toss-up
  • Oregon’s 4th (DeFazio, D): Solid Democratic to Likely Democratic
  • Pennsylvania’s 1st (Brian Fitzpatrick, R): Tilt Republican to Lean Republican
  • Wisconsin’s 3rd (Kind, D): Solid Democratic to Likely Democratic

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.

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