Seven Senate races to watch in 2022
Senate Republicans will be on defense once again in the 2022 midterm elections when at least 20 GOP-held seats will be on the ballot.
Democrats, meanwhile, will have to defend at least 13 seats, mostly in politically friendly states like California, New York and Illinois.
The stakes of the 2022 midterm elections for each party will depend in no small part on how the two Senate runoffs in Georgia shake out this month. One GOP win would give Republicans a narrow majority when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
But a pair of Democratic victories in those runoffs would result in an evenly divided Senate in which Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would cast the tie breaking vote – and leave 2022 as Republicans’ next chance to reclaim control of the upper chamber.
Here are seven Senate races to keep an eye on next cycle:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) won by a comfortable 8-point margin the last time he was up for reelection in 2016. But since then, Democratic antipathy toward the second-term Florida senator has only deepened as he’s aligned himself closer and closer with President Trump’s populist wing of the GOP.
Within days of the 2020 presidential election, a newly formed super PAC launched an ad calling on Florida voters to “Retire Rubio.” Democrats in the state have also begun to float potential 2022 challengers, including Reps. Val Demings (D-Fla.) and Stephanie Murray (D-Fla.).
At the same time, Rubio will appear on the ballot alongside Gov. Ron DeSantis, a fellow Republican who has seen his approval rating tank over the past several months due in large part to his lax handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
But Rubio, a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination who is seen as a potential 2024 White House hopeful, likely won’t prove easy to beat. He has a high profile both in Florida and nationally, and the GOP is expected to spend heavily to defend his seat.
What’s more, he’s heading into his reelection campaign after Trump pulled off back-to-back wins in Florida, a pair of victories that have prompted some political observers to wonder whether the nation’s largest swing state is drifting further to the right.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s (R-Ga.) fate in the upper chamber has yet to be decided.
She’s facing a competitive runoff election on Jan. 5 against Democrat Raphael Warnock that will play a critical role in determining the balance of power in the Senate when President-elect Joe Biden takes office later this month.
But regardless of which candidate emerges victorious in that runoff, they’re likely to face a tough reelection bid in 2022, when they’ll have to run for their first full-term in the chamber.
Georgia has long been a political stronghold for Republicans. Democrats haven’t held the governor’s mansion since 2003, and they haven’t won a Senate race in the state since 2000.
But the state is now considered among the fastest-changing and most diverse electoral battlegrounds, with Biden becoming the first Democrat in nearly 30 years last month to carry the state in a presidential election.
Nevertheless, there’s still a strong conservative base in the state, suggesting that whomever runs for Senate in two years will likely find themselves in one of the most competitive – and expensive – races of the 2022 election cycle.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) announced months before his last reelection bid in 2016 that it would be his last, meaning that neither party will have the power of incumbency in 2022.
Burr’s coming retirement sets up a scramble for a Senate seat in a crucial and rapidly changing battleground state after Democrat Cal Cunningham struck out in his bid to unseat Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) last month.
State Sen. Erica Smith, who lost a primary to Cunningham earlier this year, has already indicated that she will run for Burr’s seat in 2022. Other potential Democratic contenders include state Sen. Jeff Jackson, who has said that he will make a decision in January, and state Attorney General Josh Stein.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) has already announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in North Carolina. But he’s not expected to be alone in the field. Former Gov. Pat McCrory has said that he is considering a Senate run in 2022, and President Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump is also said to be a potential contender.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced in October that he would not seek reelection in 2022, leaving the field to replace him wide open.
Both the Republican and Democratic primary fields are expected to get crowded.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination to challenge Toomey in 2016, is seen as a potential candidate for the seat. So are Reps. Connor Lamb (D-Pa.) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), who both flipped GOP-held House seats in recent years.
Several Republicans have also been mentioned as potential successors to Toomey, including former Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018.
Democrats are riding high after Biden scored a narrow victory in the presidential election in Pennsylvania this year, recapturing a state that Trump carried by only 44,000 votes in 2016. But they’ll need to maintain strong support among suburban voters and drive up turnout in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to flip Toomey’s seat next cycle.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) hasn’t said yet whether he will run for a third term, but Democrats are already angling to take him out in 2022.
Few Republican senators have enraged Democrats as much as Johnson, who has used his position as chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Committee to investigate Trump’s political enemies, including Biden’s son Hunter.
Johnson has already drawn a Democratic challenger in Tom Nelson, a county executive and former majority leader in the state General Assembly. Other Democrats mentioned as potential candidates include Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the first African American to hold the office.
During his last reelection bid in 2016, Johnson defeated his Democratic opponent Russ Feingold by just over 3 points, outperforming Trump, who beat Hillary Clinton in the state by less than 1 point that year.
But since then, Democrats have seen some positive trends. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) won reelection in 2018 by an 11-point margin, the same year that Gov. Tony Evers (D) ousted former Gov. Scott Walker (R). And last month, Biden narrowly beat Trump in the state, reclaiming it for Democrats after a disappointing loss in 2016.
Still, Johnson has faced tough challenges in the past. National Republicans had largely written him off in 2016 before he eked out a win.
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) will be on the ballot once again in 2022 after defeating former Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) in a hotly contested special election last month.
Kelly’s win was a major victory for Democrats, handing the party control of both of Arizona’s Senate seats for the first time in nearly 70 years. It was also the latest sign of the state’s shift from a Republican stronghold to a competitive battleground.
But Republicans are poised to go after Kelly in 2022 and are already eyeing potential recruits, most notably Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who was reelected to his role in 2018 and won’t be able to run for another four years in office due to term limits. Kelly Ward, the chair of the Arizona GOP who ran unsuccessfully in a primary against McSally in 2018, has also been floated as a potential 2022 candidate.
Kelly likely won’t prove easy to get rid of. He outperformed Biden on the ballot in Arizona this year and was among the most prolific fundraisers of the 2020 election cycle, pulling in nearly $100 million for his campaign.
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) will face her first reelection bid in 2022 after narrowly beating former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) in 2016 by just a tenth of a percentage point. That same year, Clinton carried the Granite State by a scant 0.3 percentage points.
But after the 2020 elections, there are signs that the playing field has improved for Democrats at the federal level. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) won reelection by a nearly 16-point margin and Biden beat Trump there by more than 7 points, a significant improvement over Clinton’s 2016 margin of victory.
At the state level, however, New Hampshire presents more of a challenge for Democrats. The party lost control of both the state House and Senate this year, while Gov. Chris Sununu (R) coasted to a second term with more than 65 percent of the vote.
What’s more, Sununu is seen as a potential challenger to Hassan in 2022. Last month, Sununu’s campaign manager Paul Collins took aim at Hassan in a tweet that political observers in the state widely interpreted as a hint about the governor’s future political plans.
If Sununu ultimately decides to jump into the 2022 Senate race, Hassan could be in for a tough fight.
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