Senate Races to Watch in the 2022 Midterms

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  • 30 July 2021

An oddity for the party of power, Democrats are favoured to keep the Senate in next year’s mid-terms.

With a 50-50 Senate the Democrats have a favourable map coupled with numerous Republican retirements (open seats are traditionally harder to defend). Recent analysis by Alan L. Abramowitz also showed that to stand a ‘good chance’ of keeping control of the Senate Democrats would only need to maintain single digit lead on the generic ballot going into next year’s midterms. Even in the worst-case scenario – a 10-point lead for the GOP – Democrats would only lose a single seat (and albeit their majority).

Moreover, the GOP periodically self-destructs by nominating fringe candidates in winnable races – Alabama 2017, Missouri and Indiana 2012 and Delaware 2010. Then, of course, the potential ‘Trump factor’ lurks. The former President may peril GOP Senate hopes in certain states and is even coming after Senators, like Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who voted for his impeachment.

Below we take an early look at the state of affairs in what will be an extremely close mid-term election.

Pennsylvania (Toss-up)

Sen. Pat Toomey (R) is retiring after two term he won by razor thin margins. Joe Biden flipped Pennsylvania in 2020, and in 2018 Sen. Bob Casey (D) won re-election by 13% as Democrats also flipped the governor’s mansion. Pennsylvania is by far the easiest pick-up opportunity for Democrats with two high-profile candidates declared. Losing here would indicate a bad night ahead.

Wisconsin (Toss-up)

Sen. Ron Johnson (R) promised not to run for a third term. A wealthy businessman, who ran as a political outsider, his victories were narrow and surprising. Johnson became increasingly Trump-sounding at the end of 2020, claiming the capital riots ‘would have scared’ him if ANTIFA or BLM were storming the building and that January 6 wasn’t an insurrection. Biden carried Wisconsin, and in 2018 Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) won re-election by 11% as Democrats also narrowly flipped the governorship. An April poll also had Johnson trailing after receiving Trump’s endorsement.

North Carolina (Toss-up)

Sen. Richard Burr (R) announced his retirement back in 2016. In 2020, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) won re-election here quite easily, whereas Republicans only won the Senate and presidential elections by a whisker. The Senate victory came largely after news broke of the Democratic candidate’s extramarital affair. Generally favourable to Republicans, North Carolina’s suburbs are growing fast and getting bluer. Both parties’ primaries are crowded and Trump has already endorsed a GOP candidate. Expect a close and expensive race.

Georgia (Toss-Up)

Rev. Raphael Warnock (D) is running for a full term after flipping the seat in a 2020 special election. The two Georgia Senate races clinched Democrats the majority as Biden flipped the state. Since then, Georgia’s Republican-led state legislature passed a law severely curbing voting rights and registration. However, Warnock’s fundraising is exploding and he will likely be running alongside Stacey Abrahams (D) in a 2018 rematch for governor. He has yet to attract a high-profile challenger, either. Abrahams’ efforts to turn out voters, primarily of colour and in the Atlanta suburbs, helped flip Georgia. All eyes will be on the peach state again.

Florida (Leans Republican)

‘The ultimate swing state’ is firmly under Republican control. Florida Democrats are in tatters with just one state wide elected official, challenging Ron De Santis for governor. Sen. Marco Rubio (R), the son of Cuban immigrants, has approval ratings under water. His opponent will likely be Rep. Val Demings (D), a House manager in Trump’s first impeachment. Though vulnerable, Rubio will be tough to beat. He led comfortably in the first poll match-up with Demings and Florida is an expensive state. Moreover, the Spanish speaker locked down Miami-Dade in both Senate wins – key to any Democrat winning the state. Whose party will be in Miami?

Arizona (Leans Democrat)

Astronaut Mark Kelly (D) is also seeking a full term. Charismatic with high approval ratings, Kelly is also an impressive fundraiser. Demographic changes have seen Arizona turn a deep purple in the last few election cycles. Biden flipped it and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) narrowly won the other seat in 2018. Kelly has a clear head start; local Republicans continue tearing themselves apart over the 2020 election results and have censured the McCain family, current Republican governor and former Sen. Jeff Flake for criticising Trump or certifying Biden’s election win.

Ohio (Leans Republican)

Sen. Rob Portman (R) is retiring in an increasingly red state. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) was re-elected comfortably in 2018 but he is the exception. Republicans hold all other state-wide offices and Trump won Ohio convincingly. However, initial polling shows the race to be extremely close, and the GOP primary is a crowded bar fight vying for Trump’s endorsement. Rep. Tim Ryan (D), a labour rights champion, has the Democratic primary to himself. All candidates on both sides have already raised seven figure sums. Buckle up, Ohio!

Missouri (Likely Republican)

Missouri’s Senate races are much closer than presidential elections (except 2008). Clare McCaskill (D) won and lost narrowly in 2006, 2012 and 2018. The incumbent Roy Blunt (R) is retiring, and he barely eked out a win in 2016. Republicans start as favourites, but a disgraced former governor entering the race has created a messy primary.

New Hampshire (Likely Democrat)

Current Gov. Sununu (R) beats Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) in two hypothetical polls. The Senate GOP are begging him to run as his candidacy would expand their map. It would still be a steep uphill climb, though. Hassan is popular and negotiating the bi-partisan infrastructure bill – as is Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) who won re-election by 15% in 2020. Biden also won NH by 7%.

Nevada (Likely Democrat)

Democrats hold nearly all state wide offices and perform well here at the presidential level. But 2020 was extremely close, giving the GOP a glimmer of hope. Adam Laxalt (R), who succeeded incumbent Sen. Cortez Masto (D) in the attorney general’s office in 2014 and lost a bid for governor four years later, is her likely challenger. Laxalt’s support of Trump’s false election fraud claims could hurt his chances along with Nevada’s demographics. Most of the population live in two solidly Democratic counties and Laxalt needs to make inroads with Latino voters running against one of their own.

Will Democrats Hold On?

Democrats got over-confident in 2020. Despite polls showing close races in places like Montana, Kansas, Iowa and South Carolina, strong candidates lost decisively (though all outperformed Biden). In-house biopsies of those races showed that the GOP successfully painted moderate candidates as far-left extremists. The states up in 2022 are friendlier to Democrats, but better messaging and ‘turning out voters will be crucial. As well as voting law changes, the infrastructure bills and Supreme Court decisions on abortion and gun rights could tilt the balance. It’s really the Democrats’ to lose.

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