Voters head to the polls in a matter of days and only one thing is for certain: The battle for the Senate is anyone’s ballgame as both sides look to sprint through the finish line with the majority at stake.
The political winds are firmly at the backs of Republicans, but Democrats are continuing to count on a number of incumbent senators, buoyed by big money fundraising operations, to keep hold of the upper chamber.
The late stages of the race have also brought some high-wattage politicos out to play as commanders in chief, past and present, are appearing in states across the board with the hope of driving voters to the ballot box.
After a hectic week of campaigning and for the final time this season, here’s a look at the seven Senate seats most likely to flip next week:
If Republicans are going to retake the Senate, a key first step would be to deny Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) in her reelection bid against former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R).
For months, the fight for the Battle Born State has been close, and that hasn’t changed. But some surveys in the past week have shown Laxalt opening up an advantage over the incumbent Democrat, headlined by an Emerson College-The Hill poll showing the Republican up by 5 percentage points.
Those numbers have Republicans feeling perhaps more confident about Nevada than any other battleground.
Nevertheless, Democrats still believe a Cortez Masto win is well within reach.
“It’s going to be really close. Really, really tight. I think there’s some reason for optimism in early voting numbers,” said one Democratic operative with Nevada ties, noting this is the first midterm contest where universal mail-in voting has been employed in the state.
“The steady drumbeat of grassroots events [and] surrogates coming into Nevada have helped draw a lot of interest,” the operative continued, referring to former President Obama’s visit to Las Vegas on Tuesday. “There’s still cautious optimism that we can grind out a win. … This race is nowhere near done.”
A win for Laxalt would likely mean a big night for the GOP in the state, as Republican gubernatorial nominee Joe Lombardo is running close polling-wise in his push to unseat Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D).
Republican Mehmet Oz has closed the gap between him and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), but the contest remains a close call as the hourglass winds down on election season.
The situation has changed completely for Fetterman in recent months. After leading or being tied in survey after survey dating back to the May primary, multiple recent polls now show him behind his Republican challenger. Accordingly, the RealClearPolitics average of polls for the first time on Thursday has the former television doctor ahead.
The latest developments come a little more than a week after the campaign’s lone debate proved difficult for Fetterman, who struggled to string together words and sentences due to an auditory processing issue caused by the stroke he suffered in May.
But political prognosticators caution that this is still anyone’s race.
“It’s close. There’s overwhelming evidence it’s quite close. Anybody who’s telling you they can clearly see this has broken one way or another, they’re probably exaggerating. … A lot of currents are pushing up against one another,” said Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College.
The nip-tuck nature of the race has brought heavyweights on both sides to the state in the final days. Oz campaigned alongside former President Trump in Latrobe, Pa., on Saturday, while President Biden and Obama stumped for Fetterman in Philadelphia (in addition to an Obama appearance in Pittsburgh).
While Republicans feel good about Oz’s chances, the governor’s race — featuring state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) and state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) — could threaten the GOP nominee’s chances. Shapiro is the heavy favorite, and if his margin of victory over Mastriano reaches double digits, that could spell trouble for Oz.
“He’s been a terrible candidate,” said Rob Gleason, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, about Mastriano. “He can’t raise any money. If he gets 40 percent, that’s a victory for Trump.”
The nation’s preeminent toss-up contest on the 2022 map is doing exactly what everyone thought it would: giving both sides agita, especially over the possibility that a winner in the race — and of overall Senate control — might not be ultimately known until early December.
The race between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Republican Herschel Walker is airtight with days to go. According to the latest RealClearPolitics average of surveys, Walker leads by less than half a percentage point over Warnock.
However, operatives on both sides of the aisle are expecting that Tuesday will not be the final word on the matter, with a runoff slated for Dec. 6 the most likely scenario. If that takes place, all bets are off.
“A whole new ballgame,” one GOP operative involved in Senate races told The Hill. “Where the Senate majority sits at the time is another factor. Really hard to predict with any real certainty what the shape of that runoff might look like.”
Another complicating factor for Republicans is that Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is likely to win handily over Democrat Stacey Abrams on Tuesday, providing needed coattails for Walker in the Atlanta suburbs. In a runoff, though, Kemp wouldn’t be on the ballot, making things thornier for the former University of Georgia star running back.
However, national Democrats are indicating that the race continues to give them headaches.
“The state where we’re going downhill is Georgia,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told President Biden on the tarmac in Syracuse, N.Y., on Oct. 27. “It’s hard to believe that they will go for Herschel Walker.”
If there’s a Republican wave on Tuesday and the party secures Democratic-held seats beyond those in Nevada and Georgia, look for New Hampshire to be next in line.
Republicans have played footsie with the Granite State in recent months as they have wondered whether Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) could be defeated without what the party considered a top-tier recruit in the race, having missed out on convincing Gov. Chris Sununu (R) to launch a bid.
But Republican Don Bolduc has narrowed the gap against her.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a group run by allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), spent $16 million in the state from early September until Oct. 24, when the group canceled nearly $6 million in ads and redirected it to Pennsylvania. This left the Senate GOP campaign arm and others to fill part of the gap.
In short, Republicans view Pennsylvania (along with Georgia and Nevada) as crucial, while New Hampshire would be the cherry on the sundae. For Democrats, it’s a must-win, but one in which they remain confident.
“Everything points to a close outcome, but Hassan has always been leading this race, and she’ll win on Tuesday. Granite Staters take their elections seriously and as Gov. Sununu said, Don Bolduc is ‘conspiracy theorist’ who simply can’t pull together a winning coalition,” one Democratic operative involved in Senate races said.
“If I’m wrong, we’re in for a long night and a tough two years,” the operative added.
According to the latest Emerson College survey, Hassan leads Bolduc by 4 percentage points. Crucially, she also leads with independent voters, taking 50 percent to only 40 percent for the GOP nominee.
For months, the question about the Arizona Senate race centered on how big a victory Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) was going to score over Republican Blake Masters.
Now it’s whether Kelly will simply win at all.
The change came after a late and hard charge by Masters and national Republicans that has put him within striking distance of defeating Kelly, who is still considered the best Democratic incumbent on the Senate map this cycle.
Masters has seen a number of things move in his direction over the past month. Most notably, the national environment and economic state of the country is buoying Republicans everywhere, and he is chief among them. In addition to Arizona being one of the top swing states on the map, meaning GOP voters were likely to start coming home closer to Election Day, Masters is also the main beneficiary of Republican Kari Lake’s surge in the governor’s race against state Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D).
What matters for Masters and Republicans is the margin of Lake’s potential victory. If it’s narrow, advantage Kelly. But if it’s sizable, look out.
“If Kari Lake wins by 4 [percentage points], then it’s really hard for Masters not to win. But I’m not sure what she actually wins by,” one GOP operative said.
Adding to the Masters momentum, Libertarian candidate Marc Victor dropped out early in the week and endorsed the GOP nominee, giving him a potential added boost. However, more than 1.3 million voters have returned their ballots as of Friday afternoon, limiting the potential impact of the maneuver.
Six years ago, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) secured reelection by coming from behind in the final week of the race to nab what was considered an improbable victory.
The situation has changed drastically for the GOP this time around, however. Dating back to mid-September, the two-term incumbent Republican has led Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) or been tied in every single poll, allowing the party to breathe a little easier. The advantage is improbable to some in the party.
“I would have laughed,” one Wisconsin-based GOP operative said. “Wisconsin’s always been a toss-up state. It’s always been close. Democrats set their sights on taking out Ron Johnson early in the cycle. … They emptied the tank and they went incredibly hard at him.”
Still, Wisconsin remains seen as a battleground.
According to the latest RealClearPolitics average, Johnson leads Barnes by a 3.2-percentage point margin. Despite the polling lead, political pundits in the state are still expecting a tight race, just as most races have been in the Badger State dating back to that 2016 victory, which also saw Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.
“This is purely a toss-up race at this point,” said Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette Law School poll, which showed Johnson with a 2-percentage point lead — having led by 6 percentage points in the school’s survey in early October. “If there was a little bit of a widening of the gap last time, there’s now a tightening of the gap.”
Easily, the least likely of these seven seats to switch hands is in the Buckeye State, where Republican J.D. Vance holds a steady lead over Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who is making a last-minute play for moderate GOP voters and independents to give him a shot on Tuesday.
According to the latest Emerson College survey, Vance leads Ryan by 8 percentage points (51 percent to 43 percent), with that gap having grown since October when Vance led by a single point (46 percent to 45 percent). The winner will replace Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is retiring after two terms in office.
Vance has expanded his lead for a number of reasons, headlined by the national environment that’s trending Republican and the darkening red hue Ohio has taken on over the past six years since Trump’s 2016 victory. Simply, Ohio is not the swing state it was as recently as 2012 when Obama carried the state.
However, the impact of the Ohio race will likely be felt in other parts of the map. By the end of June, Vance had only $600,000 in cash on hand and he has, in total, only posted $6.9 million — a light amount for a Senate candidate, especially compared to the $44 million brought in by Ryan. That forced Senate Leadership Fund to engage in the race to the tune of $32 million to ensure he would be financially competitive, effectively taking away money that could have been potentially spent in Arizona or New Hampshire.