Opinions, Op-Ed

2022 Midterms: Predicting the seven most competitive Senate races this November

With just days to go until the 2022 midterm elections, races across the country are heating up in this final stretch of the campaign. As Democrats seek to hold both chambers of Congress, Republicans are eager to flip both the Senate and House of Representatives to stall President Joe Biden’s agenda and hand the Speaker’s gavel to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. For the Senate races, Democrats are at an advantage, as only 14 Democratic seats are on the ballot, compared to 21 Republican ones. In spite of this, the road to a Senate majority for the Democrats will not be easy, as they try to uphold the historically difficult task of keeping the House and Senate in the midterms. Though Republicans have put forward weak candidates in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia, the wind is behind their backs heading into November 8. Here are my predictions for the top seven most competitive Senate races in the 2022 midterm election. 

Arizona

Winner: Mark Kelly (D) 

The race between incumbent Senator Mark Kelly and Republican challenger Blake Masters has been leaning more toward Kelly’s side recently as the former NASA astronaut dwarfs his opponent in donations and holds consistent polling leads. Additionally, he has been able to draw contrasts with himself and the president on two key issues in Arizona: inflation and immigration. Although Biden’s low approval rating has typically been a detriment for Democratic Senate candidates, Kelly has been able to run “the furthest ahead of Biden’s approval of any Democrat in a key race,” according to the UVA Center for Politics. With impressive fundraising numbers, comfortable favorability ratings, and an inexperienced opponent in Masters, Kelly can count on getting re-elected to a full term in the U.S. Senate this November.

Georgia

Winner: Raphael Warnock (D)

I predict incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock will narrowly defeat Republican challenger Herschel Walker in one of the most closely watched Senate races this cycle. Although recent allegations about Walker paying a woman to get an abortion have made significant headlines, his polling numbers have recovered since the news broke as he now reaches a virtual tie with  Warnock according to a RealClearPolitics polling average. The key to a Warnock win will be high turnout from Black voters, which is currently evident in early voting data, as well as split-ticket votes from moderates who view Walker as too extreme on issues like abortion and the 2020 election. Data from Cobb County, a suburb of Atlanta that voted for Biden in 2020, has also counted “more than three times the number of ballots collected at the same point in 2018,” according to The Washington Post, exhibiting an early enthusiasm for voting that is favorable to Warnock’s campaign. The possibility of a runoff is also not out of the picture, as Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver polls at four percent among voters who have already cast their ballots, which could lead to neither Warnock nor Walker reaching 50 percent, meaning a runoff would be held Dec. 6. 

Nevada

Winner: Adam Laxalt (R) 

Inflation, immigration, and crime are key issues in Nevada that will ultimately bring down incumbent Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and propel Republican former State Attorney General Adam Laxalt to the Senate. With gas prices above the national average hitting families hard and Latino voters slipping away from Democrats in Nevada, the road is looking bleak for Masto. Recent polls have shown Laxalt taking the lead, and I believe Masto’s push to center her campaign argument on abortion won’t resonate with Nevada voters who have been hit hard by inflation. 

North Carolina 

Winner: Ted Budd (R) 

In the increasingly purple state of North Carolina, the Senate race between Republican Congressman TedBudd and Democrat Cheri Beasley is competitive, but is leaning Republican in the final days leading up to the election. The massive spending to support Budd from GOP groups may be what pulls him over the finish line, in addition to the fact that he’s not as extreme as candidates like Herschel Walker or Ron Johnson (although he did vote against certifying the 2020 election), which can earn him votes from moderates. The Democratic Senate PAC has also not come close to matching GOP spending from the Senate Leadership Fund, preferring to spend it on more competitive races like Georgia and Pennsylvania. Additionally, North Carolina hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 2008, and Budd has consistently led in polling averages since June, with his lead gaining steam to an average 4.5 point lead recently, leading me to predict he’ll take down Beasley.  

Ohio

Winner: J.D. Vance (R) 

Although Democrats are optimistic about flipping Ohio in November, I don’t see a path for Democrat Tim Ryan—though he has run an admirable campaign. J.D. Vance, the Republican candidate, has garnered significant support from mega-donor Peter Thiel, and has held steady leads in recent polls. It’s important to remember that Trump carried Ohio by eight points just two years ago, making it abundantly clear that the “Buckeye State” is drifting red. Ryan, unlike Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, is running in a difficult election as his party defends control of the House and Senate—unlike 2018, when Brown ran in a favorable year for Democrats (and ended up winning by over six points). It’s worth noting that even if Ryan loses, he may improve the electoral chances of fellow Democratic senate candidates, as the GOP pours money into Ohio to guarantee the seat, rather than spending it on more competitive races like Nevada and Georgia. 

Pennsylvania

Winner: John Fetterman (D)

The Pennsylvania Senate race between Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and Doctor Mehmet Öz has been one of the most interesting races of this election cycle. Fetterman and Öz could not be more different candidates. Öz, a longtime New Jersey resident who changed his voter registration to PA in 2020, has been ridiculed for campaign stunts and lack of experience. He has been closing in on Fetterman’s lead in the past month as a new poll showed the Democrat up by only two points. Öz’s latest push for suburban voters through his messages on crime and inflation has seemingly paid off, and Fetterman’s shaky debate performance on Oct. 25 was a boost to the Öz campaign. But, Fetterman has led consistently in polling, and although this lead has recently been cut, I don’t see enough moderate voters swaying toward Öz to bring him over the finish line. Öz’s recent comment about abortion in their debate is also being used against him by the Democrats, providing some support for the Fetterman campaign. Though I predict Fetterman will squeak through to victory, I wouldn’t be surprised if Öz pulls out ahead in the end.

Wisconsin 

Winner: Ron Johnson (R) 

The Senate race between incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes was seen as a potential pickup for Democrats over the summer. Now, however, it is looking unlikely to flip, as Johnson pummels Barnes on crime—a key issue in the Wisconsin race. Advertisements fueled by conservative groups have emphasized Barnes’ support for defunding the police, with Republicans spending over $61.7 million in pro-Johnson ads. Incumbent Johnson had a six-point lead over Barnes in the latest Marquette University poll, while the percentage of voters who are concerned Barnes is too extreme went up 14 points from August to September, showing the likely impact of Johnson’s hard-hitting ads. I predict Johnson will narrowly win, as he will garner support from voters affected by inflation—these same voters will be dissuaded from Barnes due to attack ads. 

Senate Control

In all, I predict Democrats will narrowly hold the Senate with a 50-50 split, as it has been for the last two years. While the total remains the same year-over-year, the players will shift. To view my predictions for the 28 other states, click here for my Senate map.

November 1, 2022
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