Eight election night surprises to watch for
This year’s midterms have already proven to be among the most unpredictable in recent history — and there could be more surprises in store for the country when results start coming in Nov. 8.
From a Republican governor looking to avoid an upset in a ruby-red state, to the chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm fighting for his political life in a relatively friendly district, numerous races across the country are seen as potential wild cards.
Here are eight potential surprise races to watch on election night.
New York 17th Congressional District race
U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney faces a tough race in a new district.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, raised eyebrows earlier this year when he said he would run in New York’s 17th Congressional District instead of the 18th, which he currently represents. That forced Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who currently represents the 17th District, to run in a different district to avoid going head-to-head with the powerful Democrat, though he ended up losing his primary there.
In an unexpected twist, Maloney is now finding himself on defense against Republican Mike Lawler as the Democrat faces severe headwinds. As the nonpartisan Cook Political Report notes, the House Democrat has to introduce himself to the majority of the new district’s residents — not an inexpensive feat. And at the state-level, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has seen her own lead against Republican Lee Zeldin shrink, which could spell bad news for other Democrats down the ballot.
“New York was supposed to be the saving grace that was gonna potentially save their majority, and yet it’s turned into this living nightmare,” GOP strategist Colin Reed said.
Colorado Senate race
Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has been comfortable in a steady lead over his opponent.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is running for his third term in office, and while Colorado has been viewed as trending blue, some Republicans are hoping that the Centennial State could be the site of a potential sleeper race.
That’s because Republican contender Joe O’Dea, a construction company executive, is projecting himself as a more centrist member of his party who is comfortable straying from former President Trump and members of his party. Still, most Democrats aren’t concerned Colorado will swing red and recent polling still shows O’Dea trailing.
“Michael Bennet is one of the most bipartisan [senators] there is in D.C. So if you’re a Democrat, you’re happy with him. If you’re an independent, you’re happy with him. And if you’re a moderate Republican, you’re probably happy with him,” said Jonathan Kott, former senior adviser to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Oklahoma gubernatorial race
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has a more challenging race on his hands than expected against a Democrat in a normally solidly red state.
The Sooner State hasn’t elected a Democrat to the governor’s mansion since 2006, but that scenario has become a very real possibility this November as several recent polls have either found Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) polling within the margin of error or trailing Democrat Joy Hofmeister.
“I was stunned to find out that Democrats actually had a shot in Oklahoma,” said Kott.
“I think she’s surging, and it’s hard to stop a surge this close to the election,” he added. “You can stop it three or four months out. It’s really hard 10 days out.”
A culmination of factors have forced Stitt to go on defense in the deep-red state, including outside spending being used to tout Hofmeister and attack Stitt, attacks on his record of crime and education in the state, underwater approval ratings and the unusual move by five Native American tribes to issue a joint endorsement for the Democrat. Still, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates it as “likely Republican.”
New Hampshire Senate race
Sen. Maggie Hassan is facing a tougher race against a Republican opponent some thought would be too far right for the state.
After retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc won the GOP primary in New Hampshire’s Senate race last month, some Republicans worried their chances to oust Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) had been shot. The Republican’s previous claims that Trump won the 2020 election, as well as criticism of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, were seen as liabilities for the candidate.
But recent polls have shown Bolduc closing the gap with Hassan, fueling GOP optimism that they could in fact flip the seat.
“I think there’s clearly a national Republican trend going on. And I think that’s because if you look at the polling … the undecided voters that are still out there are incredibly sour about the mood of the nation,” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said.
North Carolina Senate race
Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), pictured, and Democrat Cheri Beasley has been trading blows vying for the spot of retiring Sen. Richard Burr.
Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (D) is giving Democrats some reason to be cautiously optimistic as she vies with Republican contender Rep. Ted Budd for the Senate seat left open by retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
Beasley has branded Budd, who was among close to 150 House Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election results, an election denier. The Republican, in turn, has sought to tie Beasley to President Biden and target her on issues like inflation. Democrats believe her notoriety in the state as a state Supreme Court justice could aid her.
“I think that people are underestimating the outrage of women, they’re underestimating the engagement of Black voters and young voters, in particular,” said Christopher Huntley, a former speechwriter for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Ohio Senate race
Democratic candidate for Senate, Rep. Tim Ryan, is putting up a good fight in a state that has been difficult for Democrats to win in recent years.
Ohio has not been kind to Democrats in recent years given that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is the only current statewide elected member of the party. Ohioans last elected a Democrat to the governorship in 2006. And while Brown has held his seat in Ohio since 2007, he’s won two of his three elections by single digits.
While outside Democratic spending has snubbed Rep. Tim Ryan (D) in the Senate race, the congressman has out-fundraised Republican J.D. Vance and has continued to poll within the margin of error despite the state’s red leanings.
“I haven’t seen anybody run a better race this cycle than Tim Ryan, and there is nobody more authentically Ohio than Tim Ryan,” Kott said.
Utah Senate race
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee has lead in the polls for most of the race against his independent opponent.
Senate candidate Evan McMullin is hoping to make history as the first independent candidate elected to Utah in his bid to oust two-term Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a Trump ally. McMullin has sought to paint himself as a unifier, one who’s willing to criticize both parties when necessary.
A recent Deseret News-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll showed Lee only holding a 4-point lead over McMullin at 41 percent and 37 percent, respectively, leading the senator to at one point beg for Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) endorsement. Romney, for his part, has stayed out of the race.
Still, Republicans remain bullish about Lee’s chances.
“One, I think Sen. Lee’s gonna win and two, I don’t think the majority — I think we’re looking more like a 52-, 53-seat Republican majority come post-Election Day. So I don’t think it’s gonna matter either way,” said Reed, the GOP strategist.
Washington Senate race
Republican Tiffany Smiley is running a long shot campaign in a solidly blue state.
Many Republicans believe Republican contender Tiffany Smiley is running a good Senate race, perhaps just in the wrong state given Washington’s blue leanings. But that hasn’t stopped some members of the party, such as Senate GOP campaign arm chairman Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), from projecting confidence about the race anyway. Still, both sides concede it’s a long shot for the GOP.
“Washington State is really deep blue. Sen. Murray’s been around forever, for better or worse, so she’s a known commodity, she’s a tough out,” Reed said. “If the red wave is reaching Washington State, then … 2022 … is poised to eclipse even 2010 in terms of the size of the Democratic wipeout.”