Eleven interesting races to watch in 2022
Republicans and Democrats are gearing up for a contentious 2022 midterm cycle from coast to coast, with both chambers of Congress and 36 governors’ mansions up for grabs.
But beyond which party controls what in Washington and states across the nation, the cycle will also offer tea leaves as to how each party is evolving, which states are emerging as battlegrounds, and which swing states are seeing their purple tint morph into darker shades of red or blue.
With that in mind, here are 11 of the most interesting races taking place in 2022.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is running for a second term in an erstwhile battleground that has shifted toward the GOP in recent cycles.
DeSantis, a former congressman, first won his seat in 2018 after an endorsement from former President Trump helped push him over the finish line in the Republican primary. He’s since drawn conservative adoration and liberal scorn over his fierce resistance to mask and vaccine mandates and business shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.
DeSantis will likely face off in November against Rep. Charlie Crist (D), Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (D) or state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D). However, he starts off with an early advantage given his incumbency, name recognition and exploding campaign bank account.
Should he win reelection, it would mark another data point suggesting that Florida is shrugging off its longtime label of a swing state and moving even deeper into Republicans’ column. A defeat, however, would offer Democrats hope that they can remain competitive in Florida.
Beyond 2022, DeSantis is believed to be mulling a presidential run in 2024. A strong showing in November in a state that is crucial to Republicans’ electoral path to the White House would likely pour jet fuel on speculation about DeSantis’s future political ambitions.
Georgia’s gubernatorial race is anticipated to be the most closely watched of the entire cycle.
Gov. Brian Kemp (R) first won his seat in 2018 in a contentious race against former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D) and is now running for a second term. But despite his incumbent status, he’ll first have to survive a likely brutal primary against former Sen. David Perdue (R), who lost his seat in a runoff election in January and is challenging Kemp with Trump’s backing.
Kemp found himself in the former president’s crosshairs after he refused to overturn his loss in Georgia last year, which marked the first time the GOP presidential nominee had lost the Peach State since 1992.
Trump, fueled by unfounded claims of election fraud and irregularities, spent much of 2021 railing against Kemp and promising to back a primary challenge to him. He made good on that promise in December when he endorsed Perdue, who has made Kemp’s handling of the 2020 election a centerpiece of his own gubernatorial bid.
“Look, I like Brian. This isn’t personal,” Perdue said in his launch video. “It’s simple: He has failed all of us and cannot win in November.
Kemp has looked to bolster support on his right flank by staunchly supporting Georgia’s new stringent voter restrictions.
But the absence of significant ideological differences between Kemp and Perdue makes the primary a potential indicator of how far the GOP grassroots is willing to boot a sitting governor due mostly to grumbling over the 2020 presidential race.
The general election is also going to be a must-watch race, with Abrams expected to coast to the Democratic nomination.
Since losing to Kemp in 2018, Abrams has used her perch as a top voting rights advocate to set up a sprawling network across Georgia, and her candidacy is expected to be a major motivating factor to push Democrats to the polls in November.
Her strength in November will serve as a key indicator for Democrats of where the party stands in Georgia after winning its Electoral College votes last year and flipping its two Senate seats in runoffs in January.
Republicans are making unseating first-term Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) a top priority in the midterms.
Whitmer has drawn fierce Republican rebukes over business closures and other measures intended to blunt the spread of the coronavirus. That furor grew louder after she apologized in April for traveling to visit her ailing father and later apparently violating state-issued social distancing guidelines at a bar.
Whitmer is facing a cavalcade of possible Republican challengers, including former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and conservative media personality Tudor Dixon, and her ability — or inability — to fend off her ultimate challenger will indicate how Democrats are able to rebut coronavirus-related criticism and compete in Rust Belt swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Two-term Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has established a reputation as a staunch conservative, backing stringent abortion rollbacks, voting rights restrictions, a border wall and more. But he’s still facing a challenge from his right flank — while former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) looms in a general election.
Former state Sen. Don Huffines and former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West are among the candidates challenging Abbott for the Republican nomination.
While Trump has endorsed the governor for reelection, Abbott’s detractors have insisted he could implement more hard-line stances on immigration and the coronavirus, including shutting down the border.
Still, Abbott will be no slouch in a primary, boasting sky-high name recognition and a $55 million campaign bank account that is expected to swell even more before the March 1 primary.
Meanwhile, O’Rourke, who first shot to prominence challenging Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in 2018, is looking to build up early momentum for his campaign and is expected to handily win the Democratic nomination.
Democrats in Texas say O’Rourke is their strongest candidate, though Republicans are optimistic they can make him a three-time loser.
Democrats have for years said that Texas is on the verge of flipping, pointing to rising racial diversity and a flood of voters from more liberal states moving there. Still, they have yet to be successful in a statewide contest.
With Democrats boasting that no candidate could do better than O’Rourke, a loss could pare back expectations for the party’s chances in the Lone Star State moving forward.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) was elected in an upset in January’s runoff against then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) to finish former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R) term, but he will face a full-court press from the GOP to deny him a chance at a full term of his own.
Warnock, a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr.’s former congregation, is a top target for Senate Republicans, who are still smarting from losing both of Georgia’s Senate seats in one January night.
Republicans are beginning to coalesce around former football star Herschel Walker, who is running with endorsements from Trump, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and more. Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black is also running in the GOP primary.
Still, some Republicans have voiced concerns over Walker’s past violent behavior toward his ex-wife and history in the private sector, which could give Warnock an opening to go on the offensive.
Warnock is expected to be a beneficiary of the efforts of Abrams’s network to drive up Democratic turnout, but the Senate race will be another crucial gauge of the party’s ability to compete in Georgia.
Nevada has been a Republican white whale for the last few years, a state where the GOP insists it is strong but has lost several statewide races in heartbreaking fashion.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) won her seat in a squeaker in 2016, followed by victories for Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D) in 2018. That current trifecta is a far cry from 2016, when Republicans held the governor’s mansion and one of the state’s Senate seats.
Now, Republicans are eager to take a Senate seat back, with many lining up behind Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general who lost to Sisolak as the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2018. The GOP is also boasting that Cortez Masto is particularly vulnerable since she won her seat with just more than 47 percent of the vote in 2016 and Nevada’s hospitality industry has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, possibly fueling anger toward the party in power.
Nevada’s Senate race, as well as Sisolak’s reelection bid, could signify Democrats’ strengths with Latino voters, given that Hispanics make up more than 29 percent of the state population.
Trump showed unexpected strength among Latinos in 2020, particularly in Florida and south Texas, and stronger GOP results among Hispanics in Nevada would likely fuel concerns already percolating within the Democratic Party.
Democrats will face an uphill battle for the open Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Rob Portman (R), though they are still hoping to remain competitive in a state that former President Obama was able to win twice.
Ohio had a long reputation as a swing state before jolting toward Republicans during the Trump years, a shift fueled largely by white voters without a college degree who were ancestral Democratic voters but defected by large margins starting in 2016.
Rep. Tim Ryan is anticipated to be the Democratic nominee. Ryan has long represented a working-class district and is touted by many in his party as the ideal contender to win back blue-collar voters who deserted Democrats. Still, overcoming Republican structural advantages in a state Trump won by 8 points twice will prove difficult.
Should Ryan win — or even narrowly lose — he could chart out a playbook for Democrats to try to retake ground with white voters without a college degree. But if he gets defeated by a substantial margin, it could suggest those voters’ defection from the Democratic Party could be harder to reverse, if not permanent.
Pennsylvania’s Senate race has already become one of the country’s most contested about a year before the election actually takes place.
On the GOP side, Trump-endorsed Republican Sean Parnell suspended his campaign after facing allegations of domestic abuse from his estranged wife and losing a custody battle. His departure was swiftly followed by an announcement from Mehmet Oz, the celebrity cardiothoracic surgeon, that he would jump into the race, indicating that Republicans view the field as wide open. Former hedge fund executive David McCormick is also expected to enter the race in January.
On the Democratic side, the two current front-runners are Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Rep. Conor Lamb, two candidates who hail from the western part of the state but represent opposite sides of the ideological spectrum.
Fetterman, a progressive, has touted a slew of liberal policies, while Lamb, a centrist, has centered his bid around his ability to win in a purple district that Trump won by 3 points in 2016 and Biden won by 3 points in 2020.
Democrats view the race to replace retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R) as one of their best flip opportunities, though keeping the seat in GOP hands is also a lynchpin of Republicans’ strategy of flipping the Senate. Whichever party wins the race will have a leg up in controlling the chamber in 2023.
Colorado’s 8th Congressional District
Colorado is adding an eighth congressional district to its current seven following the results of the 2020 census, and the new seat is expected to be among the most competitive in the country.
The newly formed district expands north from Denver through Thornton to Greeley in Weld County and includes a section of Loveland. It is approximately one-third Hispanic and is the only Colorado House seat that both parties would have won in recent history in statewide contests.
The district would have voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 1.7 points in 2016, but it would have gone for Sen. Michael Bennet (D) over El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn (R) in the same year and for Sen. John Hickenlooper (D) over then-Sen. Cory Gardner (R) by 1.7 percentage points in 2020.
The new district will grant Democrats just a 1.3 percent advantage, according to the results of previous elections, and the race will likely serve as a barometer of the national political atmosphere and Democrats’ appeal to Latino voters.
Maine’s 2nd Congressional District
Rep. Jared Golden’s (D) upset win to flip this seat in 2018 was one of the most surprising of that midterm cycle. He was able to hold on to it in 2020 by an impressive 6 points.
The district Golden won is one of the whitest and most rural in America, making it a top flip opportunity for Republicans. However, Golden has proved deft at balancing the competing interests of his district, voting for major Democratic priorities such as the bipartisan infrastructure bill but bucking the party by voting against the House version of Biden’s reconciliation package and the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package earlier in 2021.
Redistricting implemented only cosmetic changes to the district, and Trump still would have won it under the new lines.
Several Republicans are running for the seat, including former Rep. Bruce Poliquin and state Rep. Mike Perkins.
Should Golden win again, he would prove a capable campaigner in a year that is anticipated to favor Republicans, though his seat is low-hanging fruit for Republicans in what they say is a wave year.
Wyoming’s At-Large Congressional District
Wyoming’s at-large House seat, currently held by Rep. Liz Cheney (R), is in safe Republican hands. But the GOP primary is anticipated to be a bloodbath.
Cheney has been the Republican Party’s fiercest critic of Trump over his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, making her public enemy No. 1 for the former president. He’s come out in support of attorney Harriet Hageman, and he is anticipated to make the race a top priority, including by holding rallies in the Cowboy State.
Cheney has a staunch conservative record, and most of the GOP grumbling with her is over her repeated criticisms of Trump. While Hageman has Trump’s support and her campaign is being advised by consultants close to the former president, she was opposed to his presidential campaign in 2016, initially backing Cruz, the Texas senator.
Cheney is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and has a vast network in the state, making her a strong contender despite GOP blowback she’s faced. But a defeat to Hageman would help Trump mount a major Republican head on his wall and indicate that the grassroots is willing to prioritize fealty to Trump over policy chops.