2022 midterm elections: The most interesting Senate races to watch, from Georgia, to Pennsylvania and Florida
WASHINGTON – The 2022 midterm elections are less than a year away and the battle for control of the Senate has already started.
Democrats took control of the House, White House and the Senate during the 2020 elections, but midterms often don't favor the party in power and Republicans are looking to regain their majorities next fall.
There are 34 Senate seats up in 2022, providing both parties opportunity to make gains in a Senate evenly split between 50 Republicans and 50 members of the Democratic caucus.
The GOP holds 20 of the seats up for grabs and a number of Democratic-held districts are considered toss-ups. Several Republican retirements in swing states provide opportunities for Democrats, though the party has faced recent setbacks, including a recent loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race.
A USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll from early November showed Republicans holding a clear lead in congressional ballots: If the election were today, those surveyed said, they would vote for their Republican congressional candidate over the Democratic one by 46% to 38%.
This comes as President Joe Biden's approval rating sinks to a new low of 38%, according to that same USA TODAY poll.
Democrats control the 50-50 Senate only due to the tie breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris. While some opportunities exist to potentially expand that slim majority, they'll be staving off Republicans in a number of other races, according to an analysis from Cook Political Report, which analyzes and ranks congressional races.
Spokespeople for both the the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP's Senate campaign arm, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democrat's campaign arm, identified several races across the country they are focused on, including Georgia, Florida, Arizona and Wisconsin among others.
Here are the Senate races to watch as 2021 draws to a close:
Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan is up for reelection in a state Biden carried by 7 points last year.
Rumors circulated that the state's Republican governor, Chris Sununu, was a possible contender. However, Sununu, who was being recruited by national party leaders, instead announced in early November he'd be seeking reelection for a fourth term as governor.
Hassan is a former governor, leading New Hampshire from 2013 to 2017.
The Cook Political Report currently has the seat as leaning Democrat.
There are a few other Republican primary candidates, though they are lesser known across the state. One includes Don Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general who lost a Senate primary race in 2020.
Hassan's latest approval ratings have dropped, with a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll in October showing just 33% viewed her job performance favorably.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., announced in October 2020 he would not be running for reelection, citing personal reasons and a lengthy career serving in both the House and Senate.
Now the open seat, crucial to both parties to reclaim or keep the majority, is viewed by analysts as one of most likely to be flipped in the midterms. Cook Political Report currently has it ranked as a toss-up.
The GOP field in the Pennsylvania race has been making headlines as the candidate endorsed by Trump recently dropped out amid allegations by his estranged wife that he had hurt her and their children.
Sean Parnell, a conservative author, suspended his campaign last week after he lost a court fight over custody of his three children in which the judge said he believed allegations of abuse by Parnell’s estranged wife.
Now that Parnell is out of the running, other high-profile names have been reported as exploring the possibility of jumping in the race and joining a crowded GOP field.
Mehmet Oz, the cardiac surgeon, TV host and author known as "Dr. Oz" has reportedly explored entering the campaign. He made it official Tuesday in an op-ed in the Washington Examiner, citing concerns caused by the pandemic.
Oz says he has lived in the state since last year, though he is a longtime resident of New Jersey and largely works in Manhattan.
David McCormick, who runs one of the world’s largest hedge funds, Bridgewater Associates, has not publicly confirmed a run, but he is being urged by Pennsylvania Republican operatives, sources told the USA TODAY Network's Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau.
Though Trump won the state in 2016, Biden triumphed in 2020 with 3.46 million votes to Trump's 3.38 million.
Democrats are heavily out-fundraising Republicans in the race.
Their field is full names with more political experience, like John Fetterman, the state's lieutenant governor; Conor Lamb, a third-term member of Congress; and Malcolm Kenyatta, a second-term member of the state House of Representatives.
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., who was elected to the Senate in 2020, may face an uphill battle in defending his seat.
Kelly is a former astronaut and Navy combat veteran who flipped the crucial seat, defeating Republican Martha McSally in a special election in November 2020, giving Arizona two Democratic senators for first time in more than six decades.
Arizona was another state that voted for Trump in 2016 and then for Biden in 2020. Kelly outperformed Biden in the state by nearly two points.
The NSRCC, has released many ads against Kelly on key issues to the state, like immigration. One from May slammed the border as Kelly's "crisis."
The Cook Political Report currently has the seat ranked as a toss-up.
Kelly has outraised his competitors, and leads head-to-head against his challengers in an OH Predictive Insights poll from September.
Some of those GOP candidates include Mark Brnovich, Arizona's attorney general, who leads the crowd of Republicans, according to the OH Predictive Insights poll.
Other candidates include Michael McGuire, retired adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard; Jim Lamon, a solar company executive; and Blake Masters, a top aide to billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel.
Republicans are challenging another candidate who flipped a Senate seat by special election in 2020: Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock.
The typically red state, where a Democratic presidential candidate last won in 1992, swung narrowly to Biden in November of 2020. Then just a few weeks later, both of its Senate seats were won by Democrats in runoff elections.
A Democrat hadn’t triumphed in a statewide race of any sort since 2002.
Warnock, a pastor and civil rights activist, prevailed over incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and became the first Black man elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia.
Since then, Warnock has raised an eye-popping amount of money for hisreelection campaign.
But the Cook Political Report has the seat ranked as a toss-up, and Trump has endorsed a candidate with high name recognition in the state: Herschel Walker.
Walker is known for winning a Heisman Trophy in 1982 as a University of Georgia running back. His close relationship with the former president dates back to the 1980s, when Walker played for a Trump-owned team in the short-lived United States Football League.
Other Republicans running include state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, former banking executive and Navy veteran Latham Saddler and contractor Kelvin King.
Walker has held a wide lead over the GOP field throughout his campaign, including in a September poll from the Atlanta-based Trafalgar Group, which showed him on top by a nearly 70-point margin.
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has been polling neck-and-neck with Republican challenger Adam Laxalt. A recent poll released by The Nevada Independent in October showed her 4 points ahead, even though her favorability rating is at 43% compared to Laxalt's 28%.
Laxalt was the former attorney general of Nevada until 2019 and has been endorsed by Trump. He has been campaigning on drawing stark contrasts with Democrats on cultural issues.
Biden won the state narrowly in 2020, as did Hillary Clinton in 2016. Cook Political Report recently changed its ranking to a toss up.
Laxalt also co-chaired Trump's Nevada campaign, which mounted lawsuits to challenge the election results, and like many GOP candidates across the country, he is also campaigning on 2020 election fraud claims.
A big question for people paying attention to the 2022 elections has been: Is Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., running for reelection?
So far, only he knows.
Johnson previously committed to only serving two terms, and recently said he hasn't made a decision on running for reelection next year.
However, he said "the political pros" in his party are telling him he has the best chance to retain the seat for Republicans.
"This is crucial that Republicans retain this Senate seat and I think just about everybody I talk to says I probably have the best chance of doing that,” Johnson told the USA TODAY Network's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in November.
Democrats are eager to take him on.
Johnson has made controversial comments on a slew of issues from COVID-19 to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Days after Trump's Senate impeachment trial for his role during the attack, Johnson questioned whether an armed insurrection even occurred. "This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me," he said during a radio hit.
Johnson, who is unvaccinated, also has pushed contradictory statements about the COVID-19 vaccines that suggested vaccinated Americans could be worsening the pandemic, and incorrectly said a federal database shows thousands of people have died because of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Views of Johnson have trended negative. In a statewide poll by the Marquette University Law School conducted in late October: 36% viewed him favorably and 42% unfavorably. Fifty-four percent of those polled said they didn't trust Johnson for information on the pandemic.
However, Biden only narrowly won the state in 2020 – by less than a point – and his approval rating, according to the Marquette poll, has dipped to 43%.
The Democratic field is crowded, with nearly 10 contenders vying for the nomination, including Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Alex Lasry, on leave from his executive job with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., announced in 2016 he would not seek reelection during the next election, presenting an open seat in a state Democrats have tried to make competitive the last few cycles.
Democrats attempted to flip North Carolina in 2020 for Biden. Trump instead won, though barely, by just more than a percentage point. In 2020, the state's other GOP senator, Thom Tillis, faced a tough battle against Democrat Cal Cunningham, winning by just 2%.
The field for Democrats is full of some prominent names in the state, including former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who has led in fundraising , and state Sen. Jeff Jackson. Former state Sen. Erica Smith recently left the race to run for a redrawn U.S. House seat instead.
The open seat has also inspired several well-known Republicans to jump in: Reps. Ted Budd and Mark Walker are vying for the nomination, along with former Gov. Pat McCrory.
Trump has endorsed Budd, though he has been outraised by McCrory. POLITCO reports internal polls from McCrory's campaign shows him leading Budd.
Cook Political Report has the race ranked as a toss-up.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced in January he would not be seeking reelection. The moderate, who helped pushed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill through the Senate, cited a polarized Congress and a "tough time to be in public service."
Cook Political Report currently has the seat ranked as leaning Republican.
Trump won Ohio in 2016 and 2020 by about 8 percentage points.
Despite its tendency to lean Republican, the state's other senator, Sherrod Brown, is a Democrat.
The open seat has drawn a crowded field of Republicans, and Trump has yet to endorse a candidate.
Some notable names include former state treasurer Josh Mandel, a far-right candidate who has been campaigning on Trump's baseless election fraud claims. He is currently narrowly leading the field in polls.
Another, author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, best known for his memoir "Hillbilly Elegy," joined the race in July. But he has a complicated history with Trump, which could prove challenging as he seeks to woo Republican voters in a state the former president has won twice.
Others include Jane Timken, a former state GOP chairwoman, and businessmen Bernie Moreno and Mike Gibbons.
Democrats have largely coalesced around Rep. Tim Ryan. Brown announced in October he was backing Ryan.
Ryan is vying for the Democratic nomination against attorney Morgan Harper, a progressive who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Joyce Beatty in the state's 3rd Congressional District.
The congressman, who has served in the House since 2003, ran for the Democratic presidential primary for a few months in 2019 before he dropped out .
Florida has been trending more Republican over the past few years: Trump cruised to a victory there, beating Biden in the Sunshine State more decisively than he did Hillary Clinton in 2016, when Democrats lost congressional and other down-ballot races, too.
But that hasn't stopped some high-profile Democrats from launching campaigns against incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., spurring a crowded primary field.
Democrats challenging Rubio include Rep Val Demings, D-Fla., who raised nearly $8.5 million dollars in the third quarter, $2.5 million more than Rubio.
The Cook Political Report has the seat as leaning Republican, and FiveThirtyEight has Rubio trending ahead of Demings in most polls.
Demings is the former police chief of Orlando who is in her third term in Congress.
Former Rep Alan Grayson is also running for Rubio's seat.
Contributing: The Associated Press; Ronald J. Hansen, Arizona Republic; Candy Woodall, Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau; Staff, Portsmouth Herald; Haley BeMiller, and Jessie Balmert, The Columbus Dispatch and Cincinnati Enquirer; Bill Glauber, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Wayne Washington and Chris Persaud, Palm Beach Post
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2022 midterm elections: The most interesting Senate races to watch, from Georgia, to Pennsylvania and Florida