“2020 has been the craziest and wildest election cycle that I think anyone could ever imagine.”

By on October 31, 2020 in Featured News, News

Ripon Society Holds Final Election Preview with Political Director of the NRSC

WASHINGTON, DC — As the 2020 election comes to a close, and candidates across the country make their closing arguments, The Ripon Society hosted a virtual discussion this past Thursday with Betsy Ankney, Political Director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), who provided analysis on this year’s Senate races and the GOP strategy for maintaining the majority in the 117th Congress.

“2020 has been the craziest and wildest election cycle that I think anyone could ever imagine,” Ankney stated matter-of-factly. “Someone joked that the October surprise was like an Advent calendar, you open up a new door every day and you’re not sure what’s going to pop out. It has been a long, fun, exciting run. We have come a long way this cycle.

“We are defending 23 Republican seats and the Democrats have 12 seats to defend. There’s a lot of red on this map, and the Democrats have spent a lot of money in many of these red states and have really put us on our heels given everything that’s happening in the environment.”

“Cycle-to-date spending has just been astronomical. We are getting close to the $2 billion mark in the Senate races, which is hard to believe. We’ve been outspent to date pretty significantly. You can see that that disparity has narrowed in this final stretch. There’s a $100 million on the Democratic side being spent just in this final week here. We at the committee have raised and spent more money than we ever have in the history of the NRSC, but we are still getting outgunned.”

According to Ankney, there is a group of traditionally Republican “firewall states” where President Trump won by more than 5 percentage points in 2016 that Democrats are targeting this cycle. These states, she believes, should go the Republicans way on election night despite Democrats spending over $450 million in these races.


“They’ve done a good job of recruiting Steve Bullock as the Democratic candidate in Montana, even dispatching Barack Obama to recruit him at the beginning of the cycle. They knew it was so important to have Montana for their Senate majority and they knew that they needed a quality candidate to have any chance at taking on Steve Daines.The biggest mistake that Steve Bullock made was running for president. It pulled him way too far to the left. He’s on the record on a lot of things that are just out of step with Montana voters.”


“Democrats recruited a candidate named Al Gross, who is running as an independent, but was caught on video saying that he had a conversation with Chuck Schumer about how he’s really a Democrat. But Schumer understands that his best shot at being successful in Alaska, and having a shot against a phenomenal Senator in Dan Sullivan, is running as an independent.”


“The Democrats spent a lot of money in Kansas. We had a late, contentious primary here in August with Roger Marshall ultimately winning the nomination, and they spent money putting us on our heels.”

South Carolina

“There’s been a lot of sort of hubbub about South Carolina. Jaime Harrison raised an astronomical amount of money and has spent an insane amount of money. Lindsey Graham is now keeping pace with him. We feel good about where this race is. We have Lindsay, he’s up, and he’s in a solid position.”


“We have two races in Georgia. It’s a runoff state. We always knew the special election would go to a runoff but we’re now looking at that David Perdue race and the margins are really tight.”


“This one is sort of included in these firewall states, since it is a state that Trump won by 10 points. Although, I do think it’s important to keep in mind that Iowa in 2008 and 2012 went for Obama. It is a reddish state. We have been successful as Republicans there, but recall that Kim Reynolds in 2018 won a very narrow victory. There has been just an astronomical amount of spending in Iowa — $112 million to date on the Democratic side, Republicans at $80 million, which is a lot, but still falling short about $30 million.

“But, Joni Ernst has held her own. She surprised a lot of people in 2014 when she won, she has done a good job of working the ground. She does the full Grassley, touring all 99 counties in the state. She’s got a very strong ally in Chuck Grassley, who’s been relentlessly campaigning for her, as has Governor Reynolds. We have seen some ups and downs in Iowa. It has gotten tight, but we have both Joni Ernst and President Trump narrowly ahead in Iowa, but a lot is going to come down to how that election day vote turns out.”

Ankney went on to outline the “battleground states” of this election, which either were won by Clinton or went narrowly for Trump in 2016. These include Colorado, Maine, Arizona, North Carolina, and Michigan, and have been a focus for the NRSC since the beginning of this cycle.


“This is a state that I feel like a lot of pundits want to write this off. No one should write Arizona off. No one should ever write Martha McSally off. She is a fighter. She is relentless. Her campaign is one of the best run in the country. I love this quote from her, from her last ad, ‘If you want flashy, you’ve got a guy. But if you want a fighter, I’m your girl!’ This really is sort of the clash of the Titans in Arizona. You have Mark Kelly, he’s an astronaut, he has a beloved wife in Gabby Giffords, and he has raised an astronomical amount of money. But Martha has been the clubhouse leader on our side in terms of fundraising. And as you see in this final stretch, Democrats have a slight edge, but Martha is very much staying in the game.”


“I think a lot of people look at the dynamics in Maine, they look at the amount of money that’s been spent, they look at the fact that Susan Collins has always been successful in Maine, but the dynamics and the environment this cycle are a little different. Susan Collins is currently up in this Senate race. She has done an incredible job of getting the message out that she is the one who is working tirelessly for her state.

“She right out of the gate, did a good job of promoting her work on the Paycheck Protection Program, talking about how it’s helped small businesses in Maine. She’s running a lot of local targeted campaigns about the work that she’s done in these various communities. Maine has been an interesting and wild ride, but Susan Collins is just an incredible force of nature up there.”


“I am incredibly excited about Michigan. John James is just an incredible candidate. Candidates and campaigns matter and John James is an incredible candidate running a strong campaign. Gary Peters is a weak incumbent. He doesn’t have a lot of definition to him. Spending here has largely been at parity and we’re largely at parity for this final stretch. It’s a total jump ball in the numbers and the James team has really done a good job of hammering Peters.

North Carolina

“This has been a very interesting race, the highest spending of any race in the country. It’ll be $250 million in this race alone. The generic ballot in North Carolina is underwater. While, at the same time, voters overwhelmingly say that they prefer a conservative candidate for Senate. And this race has really been rocked in these final days with this scandal with Cal Cunningham.

“North Carolina is just on a razor’s edge. I could really see this going either way. I think that this is going to come down to what happens with turnout on the ground. This is one of those that again is targeted for both presidential campaigns. The Trump campaign has done a good job of investing a lot of resources in this state because it is incredibly important to that path to 270. It’s tight, it’s right there. I do think that at the end of the day North Carolina flips our way and Thom Tillis will be able to serve the people of his state for another six years.”

In addition to the virtual discussion with Ankney on Thursday, The Ripon Society also held a virtual discussion on Wednesday with the Executive Director of the NRCC, Parking Poling, who provided an overview of key House races around the country.

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people. 

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