Democrats are on the defensive as they try to retain their majority in the 50-50 Senate. With President Joe Biden in the White House, his party narrowly controls the chamber, thanks to the ability of Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes.
Republicans hope to be able to thwart Biden’s agenda by capturing the Senate.
Analysts originally projected November to be a blowout victory for Republicans across the board in the face of low approval ratings for Biden and voter concerns about the economy and inflation. But a series of legislative wins for Democrats on Capitol Hill and primary victories by Trump-backed Republican candidates in battleground states have made control of the chamber more of a coin toss.
“Democrats’ standing has improved over the past few months in most of these races,” analyst Jessica Taylor wrote recently for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “However, with the races fully engaging post-Labor Day and rescue money coming in to bail out weak GOP nominees from super PACs, we expect them to tighten once again.”
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. has said he believes “there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate.” He commented that “candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome” in Senate races.
Here are important Senate races to keep an eye on (* denotes incumbent):
Georgia: Raphael Warnock* (D) vs. Herschel Walker (R)
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who won his Senate seat in a special election in 2020, is seeking reelection for a full six-year term. Former NFL running back Herschel Walker is his GOP challenger.
While Republicans have voiced concerns over Walker’s competency as a candidate, the Trump-endorsed candidate boasts name recognition that could be enough to propel him over the finish line in November. However, Walker has faced attacks over reports that he paid for a former girlfriend’s abortion over a decade ago.
Walker, who has advocated for a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, has denied the report, calling it a “flat out-lie” in a statement shared on Twitter. He said he had “no idea” who the woman could be on Fox News.
But on Wednesday night, the Daily Beast also reported the woman is the mother of one of Walker’s children.
Up for debate?:Midterm candidates dispute rules and dodge debates in a new campaign normal
Arizona: Mark Kelly* (D) vs. Blake Masters (R)
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., is one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents Republicans have their eye on unseating. Kelly, who has served only two years after winning a special election, has to face Arizona voters again to serve a full six-year term.
He is vying against Trump-backed venture capitalist Blake Masters. Masters earned Donald Trump’s backing partly because he has supported the former president’s baseless claims of election fraud. In an interview with NBC News, Masters said he would have objected to the certification of the 2020 election had he been a senator at the time.
Takeaways:In debate, Arizona secretary of state race all about 2020 election denials
Though GOP voters outnumber Democratic voters in Arizona, Kelly had a slight edge over Masters with a 3 percentage point lead at 51%-48%, within the margin of error, according to a CBS News and YouGov poll taken Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.
The two had a spirited debate dominated by abortion, immigration and the economy.
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Nevada: Cortez Masto* (D) vs. Laxalt (R)
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., is competing against former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt in a race national Republicans have identified as their best chance to flip.
Laxalt leads Cortez Masto by only 2 percentage points at 48%-46% according to a poll from CNN, within the margin of error.
The economy is the top issue for most Nevadan voters at 44%. Laxalt has centered his campaign on economic concerns, placing blame on Cortez Masto and Biden for high inflation rates.
In the CNN poll, 14% said abortion was their top issue.
It could be pivotal in the Silver State. In a decision that galvanized Democrats, the Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade, ruling that there was no constitutional right to abortion.
Related:Channeling abortion outrage, Democratic women push for upsets in Senate elections
Pennsylvania: Fetterman (D) vs. Oz (R)
Pennsylvania’s Senate race is open after Pat Toomey, R-Pa., announced his retirement. Democrats saw a chance to flip Toomey’s seat blue in one of the most consequential swing states.
Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is leading his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz by 6 percentage points at 46%-40%, according to a USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll.
Fetterman previously led Oz by several percentage points in other earlier polls, but Oz has managed to narrow the gap through a surge of spending from the GOP. Fetterman was forced to take a hiatus from the campaign trail during the summer after suffering a stroke in May.
How Oz closed the gap:Is it a warning sign for Democrats?
More:John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz exchange viral troll campaigns over traditional debate
A closer look at Pennsylvania:At rally for Fetterman in Pennsylvania – and beyond – abortion takes center stage
New Hampshire: Hassan* (D) vs. Bolduc (R)
In New Hampshire, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., is facing Don Bolduc, a Trump-style candidate who won the Granite State’s Senate GOP primary.
Bolduc’s victory was an outcome establishment Republicans tried to avoid after an outpour of money, believing his long-shot chances of being elected could jeopardize their plans to reclaim Senate control.
Democrats have attacked Bolduc for comments he made about Hassan, telling WMUR that Hassan should “get over it” in regards to abortion
Among independent voters, Hassan holds an 8 percentage point lead over Bolduc at 49%-41%, an indication that the fears of establishment Republicans could come to fruition, according to a poll by St. Anselm College. Hassan also holds a slightly smaller lead among all likely voters at 6 percentage points at 49%-43%, according to the same poll.
But voters in the poll gave her a fairly low approval rating of 44%, giving the GOP an opening.
Wisconsin: Johnson* (R) vs. Barnes (D)
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is the most vulnerable GOP incumbent on this list. After reneging on a self-imposed limit of 12 years in office, Johnson announced he would be running for a third term, writing in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that the country “is in too much peril.”
Johnson is running against Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, who would be the state’s first Black senator if he unseats Johnson.
Biden won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point in 2020 – as did Trump in 2016 – making this year’s Senate race anyone’s game.
But while Biden’s approval rating is tepid, Wisconsin voters have been cool on Johnson as well. Johnson had a 41% approval rating among likely voters, according to a poll by Public Policy Polling.
The race for the U.S. Senate seat in Wisconsin is neck-and-neck. Barnes and Johnson are tied at 47%-47%, according to the survey from Public Policy Polling.
Republicans have aired ads trying to tie Barnes to high crime rates and focusing on his previous support of reducing police budgets, labeling him as a “defund the police Democrat.”
Barnes’ campaign has responded with its own ads including one featuring a retired police offer saying Barnes “doesn’t want to defund the police.”
North Carolina: Beasley (D) vs. Budd (R)
In North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley are battling for an open seat after GOP Sen. Richard Burr decided not to seek a fourth term.
Beasley has significantly outraised Budd – by more than double – as of June 30. But North Carolina has not sent a Democratic senator to Washington since 2008.
Trump has visited the Tar Heel State to stump for North Carolina Republicans, including Budd.
Related:Donald Trump embraces QAnon at North Carolina rally as ties to violence raise concern
The race is virtually tied with Beasley leading Budd by one percentage point at 49%-48% according to a poll released by Civiqs, within the poll’s margin of error.
“The state does have a sizable unaffiliated voter bloc, and the key for Beasley is to win over those voters, particularly in suburban Charlotte and Raleigh, while also picking off moderate Republicans who Budd turns off,” Taylor wrote. “The fundamentals of the race still slightly favor Budd, but if this turns out to be a nontraditional year, that may not hold.”
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