Don't rule out the possibility of a 50-50 Senate split after 2020

Don't rule out the possibility of a 50-50 Senate split after 2020

In order for Democrats to achieve a majority in the U.S. Senate in the 2020 election, they will need to flip at least four GOP-held seats while keeping all of the seats they are defending. In an article for the Boston Globe, journalist James Pindell describes one of the possible scenarios in 2021 — a 50-50 split among Democrats and Republicans in the Senate — and how the outcome of the presidential race could affect that scenario.


Republicans presently enjoy a 53-seat majority in the Senate, while Democrats hold 47 seats. If Democrats lock in enough wins to split the Senate 50-50, Pindell notes, the vice president's tie-breaking vote will become even more crucial. And it remains to be seen if, in 2021, the vice president will still be Republican Mike Pence or whoever presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden picks as a running mate.

“Because of the role the vice president plays in casting a tie breaking vote in the Senate,” Pindell observes, “Democrats need to either flip three seats if Biden wins the White House or four seats should Trump win reelection.”

Various names are being floated as far as a possible running mate for Biden, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

Pindell writes that flipping the Senate is a heavy lift for Democrats, although by no means impossible.

“Structurally, Republicans have an advantage,” Pindell observes. “There are 35 Senate seats up this fall, and Republicans currently control 22 of them. This shows these states have voted Republican before, and many of their candidates this year have the power of incumbency.”

The thing Democrats have going for them in Senate races, Pindell adds, is “momentum.”

“(Democrats) did a good job convincing their top-tier recruits to run in key races,” Pindell explains. “Democratic challengers are doing well in recent polling. They have also raised more money than Republican incumbents for the first three months of 2020 in Arizona, Maine, South Carolina, Montana, Colorado, North Carolina, and even bested Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky."

If the U.S. Senate did end up with a 50-50 split in 2021, it would not be unprecedented. The U.S. Senate’s website describes some evenly divided Senates of the past, including the ones in 1881 and 1953. And CBS News’ Rebecca Shabad, in an October 2016 article, contemplated the possibility of a split Senate — although as it turned out, Republicans kept their Senate majority in 2016 and slightly increased it in 2018.

Shabad explained, “An evenly split Senate has been rare in the (United States’) 240-year history. It occurred for the first time in 1881, again in 1953. And the last time it happened was just 16 years ago as a result of the 2000 election.”

Shabad noted that when a reporter asked Sen. Mitch McConnell about how he would handle a split Senate scenario in 2017, the Senate Majority leader responded, “We know we had that 16 years ago: the Senate, after the 2000 election, was 50-50. I think if we ended up 50-50, that we would simply replicate what we did in 2000.”

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