Senatorial races to watch


Balance of the chamber could come down to four
states where Democrats are up for reelection

By Marianna Sotomayor and Dan Balz

Updated May 18 at 6:02 p.m.Originally published May 16, 2022

The days of an evenly split Senate may be no more after the midterm elections, with Democrats and Republicans each striving to pick up just one more seat to break the tie.

The Senate map suggests that 2022 could be a tough year for Republicans. They must defend 21 of the 35 seats up this November. Two of those races are in states President Donald Trump lost in 2020: Wisconsin, where Sen. Ron Johnson is vulnerable to a Democratic challenge, and Pennsylvania, where the retirement of Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R) leaves a wide-open race. Democrats, meanwhile, only have 14 incumbents to defend, all in states that President Biden won.

But concerns about inflation and Biden’s dwindling job approval ratings have buoyed Republicans into believing they can win in some states that otherwise would lean the Democrats’ way. And for that reason, there is unanimous agreement from strategists in both parties that the balance of the Senate could be determined in four states where Democratic incumbents are up for reelection: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire.


Anespecially competitive race is shaping up in Georgia, where Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) will probably face former University of Georgia and National Football League running back Herschel Walker, the favorite in the GOP primary. Warnock never truly stopped campaigning after surprisingly winning in a runoff election in January 2021, fundraising aggressively to builda staggering$25.6 million cash on hand by the end of March. Walker has high name recognition but is untested as a candidate and faces allegations of domestic abuse. Polls show the two men tied in hypothetical matchups.


Arizona is in the spotlight once again as Sen. Mark Kelly (D) hopes to win his first full term in the Senate. Kelly has relativelyhigh jobapproval and has built his own campaign operation that many credit for helping Biden carrythe state in 2020. But the race remains competitive, even after Republicans failed to recruit relatively popular Gov. Doug Ducey to run. Withvoters giving Democrats low marks on the economy and immigration, two definingissues for Arizonans, whomever Republicans nominate from a deep field of hopefuls is sure to pose a strong challenge to Kelly.


Democrats breathed a sigh of relief when New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu decided not to challenge Sen. Maggie Hassan (D). Republicans saw Sununu, a moderate who is popular with the state’s voters, as the ideal candidate to flip the seat. Hassan won by just over 1,000 votes in 2016 — and in a year that so far is trending in Republicans’ favor, she will be vulnerable November.


Of the four competitive races with Democratic incumbents, Republicans are the most bullish about Nevada. The GOP has been hammering Democrats for prolonging coronavirus restrictions that hurt Las Vegas’s tourism-based economy. Nevada also has a growing number of Latino and Asian voters, two groups that have shown more openness toward Republican candidates than other minority groups.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) has more money on hand than her likely Republicanopponent, former state attorney general Adam Laxalt, who benefits from Trump’s endorsement. To gain Trump’s backing, Laxalt has repeatedthe former president’s false claim that the 2020 election was riggedand campaigns on fighting election fraud, which could turn off more moderate voters.


The most vulnerable Republican incumbent is Johnson, whose job approval ratings are lower than Biden’s. Democrats express considerable confidence that they could unseat Johnson and charge that hehas prioritized Trump over his ownconstituents. However, Johnson has proved thathe can prevail in toughraces,winningreelection in 2016 by nearly 100,000 votes after some had counted him out.


In Pennsylvania, a state that has quickly become a battleground over the years, Toomey’s retirement has created an open race. Democrats are banking on a Trump-aligned Republican nominee to turn off independent voters in the state. Trump endorsed television host Mehmet Oz over former hedge manager David McCormick in the Republican primary. The two candidates spent millions and sought to win over Trump’s voters. Thehard-fought May 17 primary was too close to call, with Oz holding onto a razor-thin lead as thousands of mail-in ballots were still to be counted. Democrats nominated Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who has a strong following with working-class voters.

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