What’s more, the biggest ticket-splitters might not be “likely” voters, according to Pew: “Lower-engagement voters — those who say they have given less than ‘a lot’ of thought to the presidential race — are more likely than others to split their tickets between the Republican and Democratic candidates in the presidential and congressional elections in their districts, though it is still very uncommon (6% of lower-engagement voters vs. 3% of those who are paying a lot of attention to the race).”
That said, there are states with razor-close races in the presidential contest (e.g., Georgia, North Carolina) and a couple that are less competitive (e.g., Montana, South Carolina) where the incumbent Republican senators may run behind Trump. A good example is the Georgia regular election, in which Democrat Jon Ossoff destroyed Sen. David Perdue (R) in the last few moments of their last debate:
Perdue won’t show up for another debate that had been scheduled, for obvious reasons. Biden is now leading within the margin of error in recent polling in Georgia, but even if he does not win the red state, one can imagine Ossoff’s viral moment attracting the sort of occasional voter most likely to ticket split.
The opportunity for ticket-splitting can stem from either a disliked incumbent (e.g., Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina) or a stellar challenger (Democratic Alaska Senate candidate Al Gross facing a nondescript incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan; Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock running to unseat a lackluster Republican Sen. Steve Daines). Most likely, it’s a combination of the two (e.g., Republican Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina facing off against Democrat Jaime Harrison; Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona against Democrat Mark Kelly; and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, running in a special election against Democrat Raphael Warnock).
Graham looks more panicked each time he goes on TV to plead for money. His migration from virulent Trump critic to Trump sycophant has convinced people on both sides of the aisle that he is a shameless panderer.
We should also remember that some of the weakest Republican candidates (Sullivan, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado) first got elected in an off-year election in the middle of a president’s second term. Some of them have never faced well-funded, viable opponents before.
In many of the competitive races, Republicans have risked their seats by jamming through the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who is perceived as antagonistic to Obamacare. Meanwhile, a desperately needed stimulus bill continues to languish. This is precisely the message Senate Democrats used to make the four-day Barrett hearings into a advertisement against Senate Republicans.
It might be that Biden comfortably wins the election while Democrats rack up a slew of Senate seats not previously thought competitive. If so, Democrats can thank Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) for recruiting one of the best set of challengers in recent memory, but also Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for prioritizing the repeal of Obamacare (with the confirmation of Trump’s third right-wing Supreme Court appointee) over the needs of their constituents. Donors and activists may like the ideological extremism, but voters expect their representatives to look after them and their families.