Control of the Senate is the biggest storyline of the 2022 midterm elections. With Democrats holding a tight 50-50 majority, Republicans only need to net one seat to win control. The situation’s looking favorable for the GOP, but their path is filled with landmines — especially in primaries across the map.
Here are the seven most competitive Senate races to watch that will determine control of the chamber.
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Now let’s get to it.
Democratic target: Pennsylvania
Primary date: May 17
This is Democrats’ best pickup opportunity in their fight to hold on to the chamber. GOP Sen. Pat Toomey is retiring, subjecting Republicans to a messy primary as they survey the Senate landscape.
The Republican race is the most crowded and uncertain, after self-funders Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick joined the field (and longshot Kathy Barnette enjoyed a late surge in the polls). The Democratic race is smaller, with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman leading the pack, along with Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.
Democratic target: North Carolina
Primary date: May 17
Forecast: Leans Republican
A protracted GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr could set the stage for a competitive general election. After struggling for months, Donald Trump’s pick Ted Budd built a commanding advantage over the final months of the primary — ending speculation that the former president badly miscalculated by endorsing the little-known House member.
On the Democratic side, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has cleared the primary field. But Democrats haven’t won a presidential or Senate election in North Carolina since 2008.
Republican target: Georgia
Primary date: May 24
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker are on a November collision course in the most closely divided state of the 2020 presidential election.
Trump recruited Walker, a former football star, to run against Warnock after the Democrats’ victory in a special election. Both men have been outstanding fundraisers, which will help their messages break through in a state that also features one of the most competitive governor’s races this year.
Republican target: Nevada
Primary date: June 14
Despite Democrats’ winning streak in Nevada (Republicans haven’t won a presidential election here since 2004 or a Senate race since 2012), the political environment for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is brutal. An April poll from Suffolk University and the Reno Gazette Journal showed her losing to both GOP challengers.
The GOP frontrunner is former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who’s been endorsed by both Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But Laxalt faces a spirited primary challenge from Sam Brown, a West Point grad and Army veteran who was severely injured in Afghanistan in 2008.
What happens here in Nevada — a state that voted overwhelmingly in 1990 to codify Roe v. Wade — could also show whether Democrats can effectively channel the presumed demise of Roe into a turnaround win this November.
Republican target: Arizona
Primary date: Aug. 2
The GOP field is packed with candidates who will face off in the primary to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly — one of the most vulnerable senators up for reelection this year — in a closely divided state.
State Attorney General Mark Brnovich was the GOP frontrunner for nearly a year, but he lost his lead as he struggled to articulate a clear position on the 2020 election. He’s been surpassed by wealthy solar power executive Jim Lamon, a self-funder who has spent $3.8 million on TV advertisements. Meanwhile, Trump and Sen. Josh Hawley have both shown interest in Blake Masters, tech billionaire Peter Thiel’s former de facto chief of staff.
Democratic target: Wisconsin
Primary date: Aug. 9
GOP Sen. Ron Johnson announced he’ll seek a third term this year, giving Republicans a proven — if controversial — incumbent. Johnson has become the face of Covid-19 and election conspiracy theories in the Senate. He’s said that gargling mouthwash can kill Covid, Jan. 6 was a mostly “peaceful protest” and unvaccinated people around the world are being sent “basically into internment camps.”
But despite Johnson’s hard turn to the right, Democratic and GOP consultants say this race is still a coin flip.
Democrats will be navigating their crowded primary into the late summer, meaning this race won’t be set until three months before the November election. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is the Democratic frontrunner, while a pro-Bernie Sanders group is throwing its weight behind underdog Tom Nelson.
Republican target: New Hampshire
Primary date: Sept. 13
Forecast: Leans Democratic
Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan dodged a bullet when GOP Gov. Chris Sununu decided not to challenge her, leaving a growing field of little-known Republican candidates — none of whom have demonstrated impressive fundraising abilities.
But New Hampshire has a penchant for swinginess, which means it could be much more competitive than Biden’s 7-point win there in 2020. The campaign is attracting attention for all sorts of reasons: Last month, Hassan faced fierce criticism from all sides over her immigration stance; this month, she’s one of the vulnerable Senate Democrats campaigning as a bulwark against abortion bans.
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