The 12 states that could decide control of the Senate

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Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, Raphael Warnock, and Mehmet Oz. AP

The 12 states that could decide control of the Senate

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While forecasters are generally bullish that the GOP will capture the House on Election Day, the battle for the evenly divided Senate is widely considered a toss-up.

Given the 50-50 split, a single seat could tip the scales of power in the upper chamber, prompting both parties to pour enormous sums of money in hopes of swinging battleground races their way.

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A slew of factors, such as historical trends favoring the opposition party, late-breaking scandals, bleak economic news, concerns over candidate quality, and more, have given both sides heartburn as they brace for Nov. 8.

The Cook Political Report currently ranks four Senate contests as a toss-up: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. Of those seats, Republicans are defending one, while Democrats are running incumbents in three.

Beyond these four, there are competitive races in several states in which polling favors one candidate, but the result could go either way.

Here is a look at 12 Senate races to watch on Election Day.

Georgia

Widely seen as a pickup opportunity for Republicans, given Georgia’s history as a ruby-red state, the showdown between Republican Herschel Walker and incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) is a nail-biter.

A seasoned orator from the famed Ebenezer Baptist Church, Warnock first won the seat during a special election runoff that took place after the 2020 election. His victory was pivotal to Democrats clinching control of the Senate. Polling has oscillated between him and Walker, who has been dogged by a flurry of recent scandals.

Most recently, Walker has reckoned with reports that he encouraged two ex-girlfriends to have abortions — allegations he vehemently denies. The accusations fly in the face of his staunch anti-abortion platform.

In the Peach State, Senate candidates must garner a majority in order to win outright. Candidates shy of the 50% mark must compete in a runoff election, meaning the Warnock-Walker showdown might not be over on election night, given that both are currently polling below that threshold.

Pennsylvania

The two parties have been engaged in a fierce Senate battle ever since incumbent Pat Toomey (R-PA) announced his retirement in 2020. Led by a Democratic governor and a Republican state legislature, Pennsylvania is a true battleground state, having voted Republican for the 2016 presidential election and Democratic for the 2020 presidential election.

For months, the Keystone State appeared poised to flip to the Democrats, whose nominee, John Fetterman, held a commanding lead over Republican Mehmet Oz. The GOP hopeful had been battered by a contentious GOP primary and then immediately entered the general election weathering an onslaught of attacks from the Fetterman campaign, which painted him as a rich, out-of-touch carpetbagger.

But things took a turn in recent weeks as concerns over Fetterman’s health rose to the fore. The lieutenant governor suffered a stroke just days before his primary and has been left with lingering speech and auditory impairments that were on full display during his debate with Oz last month.

Fetterman has argued that he was being upfront with voters about his verbal hurdles, despite declining to release his medical records, and insisted that he expects to get better with time.

Oz recently captured a slim lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average for the first time.

Nevada

Although Democrats managed to win both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections in the Battle Born State and currently enjoy control over the governor’s office as well as the state legislature, Republicans have performed strongly in a spate of recent polling.

That includes a slim GOP lead in the state’s Senate race between incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and her Republican rival, Adam Laxalt. Throughout the race, Laxalt and Cortez Masto traded barbs on inflation and the 2020 election, which Laxalt has suggested was “rigged.”

Laxalt is a political scion whose father and grandfather were prominent in Nevada politics; he served as the state’s attorney general from 2015 to 2019. Cortez Masto succeeded the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and has served one term in the upper chamber as the only Latina senator. She initially held a small lead over Laxalt in polling, but that began to shift in September.

Latinos are an important voter bloc in Nevada, and Republicans have been keen on making inroads with them this election cycle.

Arizona

Once seen as a reliably red state, Arizona has become purple in recent cycles, electing two Democratic senators and President Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Republicans entered 2022 seeking to retake lost ground in the Grand Canyon State.

Initially, incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) held a commanding lead over Blake Masters, but the Republican foe has narrowed the gap in recent weeks, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.

Masters has projected a conservative populist persona, casting himself as a champion for working-class voters disaffected by inflation and an immigration crisis at the border. Kelly has distanced himself from President Joe Biden on issues such as immigration and sought to put Masters on defense over abortion and his ties to former President Donald Trump.

Last week, Libertarian hopeful Marc Victor dropped out of the race and backed Masters, though it is unclear how big of an impact that will have on the outcome.

Wisconsin

Incumbent Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (R) narrowly won his previous elections in 2010 and 2016 and was widely considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent Republican senators heading into the 2022 cycle.

Initially, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes pulled ahead of him in polling, but that began to shift in late September, coinciding with an apparent rebound for Republicans across the country. Barnes enjoyed late-in-the-game Democratic firepower, with former President Barack Obama stumping for him.

The campaign has mirrored many other showdowns between Republicans and Democrats, featuring attacks between the duo on inflation, crime, abortion, energy prices, and other issues that are top of mind for voters.

In 2020, Biden narrowly won Wisconsin by less than half a point, while Trump had won by less than 1 point in 2016, making the Badger State a true battleground.

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New Hampshire

Maggie Hassan (D-NH) is among the most vulnerable incumbent Senate Democrats in the country. Seeking to mount a strong challenge, national Republicans courted popular Gov. Chris Sununu for the New Hampshire race but were dealt a blow when he opted to run for reelection as governor instead.

After Republican Don Bolduc nabbed the Republican nomination, Hassan opened up a sizable lead in polling that has begun to wither dramatically in recent weeks. Bolduc has wavered on whether he believes the 2020 election was stolen, changing his answer to that question multiple times, which has provided fodder for Hassan.

New Hampshire swung blue this last election cycle, opting for a Democrat in both the presidential election and congressional contests.

Yet New Hampshire has the reputation of being a perennial swing state, and Republicans currently have control of the state legislature and governor’s mansion.

Ohio

While many forecasters believe the Buckeye State leans Republican, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) voices confidence that he can eke out an upset in the race to fill outgoing GOP Sen. Rob Portman’s seat. His Republican foe, author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, has run as a MAGA-style populist and consistently leads Ryan in polling.

Ryan has anguished over the lack of support he received from national Democrats, insisting his race is winnable. He also highlights instances in which he’s bucked the party, including on matters such as student loan forgiveness and Title 42. His pitch to voters is that he would be an independent voice in the Senate.

Once a critical swing state, with its Rust Belt working-class voters, Ohio has seemingly taken a right turn, voting for Trump as well as a Republican governor and state legislature. If Ryan manages to pull off a victory in a red wave year, it would be a considerable blow to the GOP, as it needs to defend all of its currently held seats.

North Carolina

Democratic-aligned groups have pumped a sizable amount of money into the North Carolina Senate race late in the game after seemingly holding back as Democrat Cheri Beasley challenges Republican Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) for the open seat.

Obama recently cut an ad for Beasley in the hope of boosting her prospects in a fairly tight race. Meanwhile, Budd has enjoyed the support of Trump, who was rankled by outgoing Sen. Richard Burr’s (R) vote to convict him during his second impeachment trial.

Budd has the lead in polling, and the seat is rated “leans Republican” by the Cook Political Report.

Washington

Although below the political radars of many, Democrats have reportedly been scrambling behind the scenes to bolster incumbent Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in her race against Republican Tiffany Smiley in Washington state. Murray leads Smiley in polling, but her advantage is dramatically smaller than the roughly 19-point margin Biden enjoyed in 2020.

Smiley is a political newcomer who has hammered Murray and Democrats more broadly on economic issues. She has also nearly closed a 9-point gap with Murray, indicating that political headwinds for Democrats could be on her side in the traditionally blue stronghold.

Florida

Once widely seen as a critical swing state, Florida has trended red recently. Incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has opened a commanding lead over Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) in polling, but the contest is still worth keeping an eye on. Demings has outraised Rubio and mounted a scrappy campaign against him.

Many voters in the state were recently pummeled by Hurricane Ian, whose aftermath became a major issue in the race in the weeks that followed.

Colorado

Of all the Republican senators vying for Senate this cycle, only one seems to have rankled Trump: Colorado’s Joe O’Dea, who overcame a Democratic spoiler campaign for the GOP nomination. O’Dea has publicly rebuked Trump, prompting the former president to proclaim, “MAGA doesn’t vote for stupid people with big mouths.”

Colorado has leaned Democratic in recent cycles, but O’Dea has run a surprisingly strong campaign against incumbent Sen. and former presidential candidate Michael Bennet (D-CO). Prominent Republicans such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President George W. Bush have backed O’Dea in the contest.

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Utah

In one of the most unconventional political moves, Utah Democrats opted not to run a candidate from their party against incumbent Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), figuring independent contender Evan McMullin stood a better chance against him in the Republican stronghold of Utah than any of their potential candidates.

Recent polling has shown Lee with a sizable lead over McMullin, who has bashed him for his actions surrounding the 2020 election, but the race garnered national attention after multiple polls suggested a relatively tight race.

If McMullin were to win, he says he wouldn’t caucus with either party. Still, a hypothetical victory would cost the GOP a seat and make the Senate math more favorable for Democrats.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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