With the 2020 elections almost finished, it’s time to look forward to the next cycle – 2022. These elections will have the same seats up that were previously up in 2016. Those Senate elections skewed identically to the presidential election. Out of 34 seats, Republicans won 22 of them; Democrats flipped Republican seats in Illinois and New Hampshire while holding all of their remaining seats.
As a result, the 2022 Senate map will have far more Republicans up than Democrats. However, many of these are from safe states that have little to no risk of flipping. On the other side, Democrats have a few vulnerable incumbents but a large number of safe candidates as well.
The Top-Tier Targets
Arizona – Mark Kelly (D)
Out of all the Democratic-held Senate seats in the west, Arizona is currently the most vulnerable. Retired astronaut Mark Kelly narrowly defeated interim Republican Senator Martha McSally in last month’s special election, swearing in just two weeks ago. He already has his eyes glued to the prospect of a difficult re-election bid in two years.
After losing Senate races two cycles in a row, it’s unlikely that McSally will throw her hat in the ring a third time. As a result of this, many Republicans are trying to convince Governor Doug Ducey to run. He was easily re-elected back in 2018 but has grown unpopular in the state following his response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Arizona particularly hard. As a result, there has been some speculation that the term-limited Governor may rule out a Senate bid, a scenario that would open up numerous different possibilities.
Other Republicans who may decide to run if Ducey declines include Representatives Andy Biggs, Debbie Lesko, and Paul Gosar, Ducey Chief of Staff Kirk Adams, and former Senate candidate Kelli Ward. Either way, the Republican bench in Arizona is currently stronger than it is in the neighboring states of Nevada and Colorado, which makes Arizona, despite its Democratic trends, one of the better Senate targets for the Republicans next cycle.
Georgia – TBD
We expect Georgia to be a competitive race in 2022 regardless of who ends up winning the January Special Election Runoff. Come next spring, the incumbent will either be Reverend Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, or Senator Kelly Loeffler, the incumbent appointed Republican. We will have full coverage of the special election results on January 5th.
Nevada – Catherine Cortez Masto (D)
Nevada is in a similar place to New Hampshire going into the midterm cycle; it is a state that has had a persistent Democratic lean in recent years, but it isn’t yet out of reach for Republicans in a good year.
Nonetheless, the story in the Sagebrush State has not been good for Republicans over the last four years. In 2016, then-Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto narrowly defeated Republican Congressman Joe Heck, holding Harry Reid’s Senate seat. Two years later, Representative Jacky Rosen unseated Republican Senator Dean Heller. That same night, Democrat Steve Sisolak defeated Republican Adam Laxalt to flip the Governor’s mansion. The latest blow came just last month, when Joe Biden expanded on Clinton’s 2016 margin in the state.
Looking at potential Republican candidates, the state bench is rather weak. The best candidate would be former Republican Governor Brian Sandoval, a moderate Republican that was tremendously popular during his tenure. Unfortunately for the GOP, Sandoval does not appear interested in running for federal office anytime soon.
Other possible candidates include former Senator Dean Heller, Representative Mark Amodei, and perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian. Yet even bids by these three are unlikely. Heller already lost his Senate seat two years ago, Amodei would be unlikely to give up the state’s only safe Republican House seat, and Tarkanian has already lost multiple Congressional campaigns.
So, we’re going to have to wait and see which Republicans end up running, but in the mean time we’d say that Senator Cortez-Masto has an early advantage. We recommend sticking with Jon Ralston and the Nevada Independent for all political coverage of the state.
New Hampshire – Maggie Hassan (D)
In New Hampshire, one-term Democrat Maggie Hassan is up for re-election to a second term. Hassan served as Governor of the Granite State for two terms prior to her 2016 Senate bid against incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte, a race she ultimately won by 1,017 votes. Hassan recently announced her bid for re-election and should be encouraged by good results for the Democrats last month. Both Senator Shaheen and President-elect Biden secured comfortable victories in New Hampshire.
However, her re-election chances could be significantly dampened by the elephant in the room: Republican Governor Chris Sununu, the heir to the state’s most famous political family. If Sununu does run, and the national environment favors Republicans as many now expect, his gubernatorial record, name recognition, and personal popularity would likely prove difficult for Hassan to overcome.
If Sununu decides not to run, the Republicans have less to look forward to given their weak statewide bench. One other possibility is a potential rematch with Ayotte, which Republicans may push for if their hopes for Sununu do not pan out. Currently, only one Republican candidate has announced his campaign: retired General Don Bolduc, who lost the 2020 Republican Primary for the state’s other Senate seat.
North Carolina – Richard Burr (R)
Long-time Republican incumbent Richard Burr had already announced he didn’t plan to run for another term, but he faced resignation calls this year after an insider trading scandal. With Burr on the way out, it will be interesting to watch how the primary fields develop.
We will be following the Republican primary very closely because there are quite a few contenders who may decide to throw their hat in the ring given the state’s Republican lean. So far only Representative Mark Walker, who is leaving the House next month, has declared his intention to run. Other potential Republican candidates include soon-to-be-former Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, Representative Ted Budd, Representative Dan Bishop, former Governor Pat McCrory, State House Speaker Tim Moore, and Lara Trump.
Despite holding the Governorship and three other Council of State offices this year, Democrats may be discouraged by disappointing losses on the Senate and Presidential level. If 2022 is a favorable Republican environment, the uphill battle for Democrats will be even greater.
Nonetheless, we can expect Democrats to target the seat. Erica Smith, who ran for Senate in 2020, is the only announced Democrat thus far. Candidates like Governor Roy Cooper, State Senator Jeff Jackson, and Attorney General Josh Stein, all of whom passed on the 2020 race, may run this time around. Representative-elects Deborah Ross and Kathy Manning may also run, especially if North Carolina redistricting ends up working against them.
Democrats have had tough luck in North Carolina Senate contests over the last few years, falling short in four straight races from 2010 to 2020. Their most recent attempt with former State Senator Cal Cunningham seemed to be their best chance to flip the Tar Heel State in many years, but even that did not pan out. If precedent holds any stead, North Carolina should continue to be a tough nut to crack for the Democrats two years from now.
Pennsylvania – Pat Toomey (R)
Pennsylvania’s 2022 Senate race is shaping up to be one of the most competitive races of the cycle. Incumbent Republican Pat Toomey has already announced his retirement after two terms, leaving the door open for competitive primaries on both sides.
For Republicans, the Philadelphia Inquirer has listed eight potential candidates: Representatives Dan Meuser, Guy Reschenthaler, Glenn Thompson, and Lloyd Smucker, 2018 Gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango, State Senator Camera Bartolotta, former Representative Ryan Costello, and real-estate developer Jeff Bartos.
When it comes to Democratic candidates, Representatives Chrissy Houlahan and Conor Lamb are reportedly interested in running. Another candidate who may make another bid for Senate, given Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s likely bid for Governor, is Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman.
Pennsylvania, at the time of this writing, is one of only two Biden states with Republican-held Senate seats up in 2022, the other being Wisconsin. (We are still waiting to see the winner of the January runoff for Georgia’s Class 3 seat) This will almost certainly make the state a top target for Senate Democrats. Nonetheless, it’s still far too early to count out Republicans, especially if Pennsylvania reverts back toward the right.
Wisconsin – Ron Johnson (R)
Wisconsin’s Senate race has already been the scene of quite a few interesting developments. The most important of which has revolved around incumbent Republican Ron Johnson, who retracted his initial retirement statement last year. Johnson may run for a third term in the Senate, but he is also reportedly interested in running for Governor.
Since we don’t know how the Georgia runoffs will go yet, Johnson remains one of only two Republican Senators up for re-election in states that voted for Joe Biden last month. And while Wisconsin is by no means a lock for either party, Republicans would rather have Senator Johnson run for re-election in an effort to avoid a potentially divisive primary.
If Johnson does retire or run for Governor, though, there are a few well-qualified Republican candidates, the most formidable of which, in our view, is Representative Mike Gallagher. Another possible contender is Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth, who previously indicated his interest in the seat. But to reiterate, we will have to see whether or not Johnson will seek re-election before we can get an adequate picture of all the possible Republican contenders.
On the Democratic side, the biggest name being thrown around appears to be long-time Democratic Congressman Ron Kind, who narrowly won re-election to his House seat last month. While Kind has previously eschewed the idea of running for the Senate, the uncertainty of redistricting and a potential loss in his once reliably-Democratic Congressional seat may push him to run for the Senate.
Other Senate Races
Colorado – Michael Bennet (D)
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet is still a strong favorite for re-election in the Centennial State, but the race could be at least somewhat competitive if the environment is very bad for the Democrats. As Kyle Kondik noted in his 2022 Senate preview in the Crystal Ball, Colorado’s competitiveness should be indicative of the national environment. He noted how Colorado was won by now-outgoing Republican Senator Cory Gardner in 2014, an exceptionally bad environment for the Democrats.
Nonetheless, this seat would be a reach for Republicans, even in a good year. One potential challenger is Congressman Ken Buck, who previously lost a Senate race in 2010.
Florida – Marco Rubio (R)
Florida is another competitive state that has had a marginal Republican lean over the last three cycles. President Trump won the state in 2016 and managed to win it by even more this year. Long-time Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum also fell victim to Republican challengers in a 2018 midterm that was otherwise a very good environment for the Democrats.
Republicans have another card up their sleeves in Senator Marco Rubio. The popular incumbent began his career as a rising star in the Tea Party movement back in 2010. In 2016 he ran for President, dropped out, and ultimately won re-election to his Senate seat by a comfortable margin, performing very well in his home county of Miami-Dade in particular.
Potential Democratic candidates include Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried (who may also run for Governor) and Representatives Stephanie Murphy and Val Demings. Former Representative Gwen Graham may also run, but it appears more likely at this point that she will run for Governor. However, Rubio, who announced his re-election bid last month, will be tough to beat.
Iowa – Chuck Grassley (R)
At the moment, we do not expect Iowa to have a competitive Senate race. Long-time Republican Senator Chuck Grassley will be 89 years old when his term ends in 2023 and is one of the Senators we consider most likely to announce his retirement. If Grassley does retire, his grandson Pat Grassley, a member of the Iowa State House, is reportedly being groomed to take over the seat.
One potential Democrat that could make the Iowa race competitive, especially if the seat is open and the Republican nominee does not have the advantage of the Grassley name, is State Auditor Rob Sand. Another possible contender is Representative Cindy Axne, who will be the only Democrat in Iowa’s Congressional delegation when she begins her second term next month.
In the end, though, as this year’s Greenfield v. Ernst matchup showed, Iowa Senate races have been fool’s gold for Democrats. At the moment, the party has more winnable states to target as 2022 rumblings begin.
Ohio – Rob Portman (R)
Out of the three Republican-held seats in this section, Ohio will probably be the most difficult for the Democrats to pull into their column. The incumbent Republican is Rob Portman, who has not yet announced his bid for a third term but is expected to do so. Portman easily dispatched former Governor Ted Strickland back in 2016, capitalizing on Strickland’s collapsing campaign to win by double-digits.
Possible Democratic candidates include Representative Tim Ryan (who may decide to run statewide to avoid the near inevitable destruction of his Congressional seat in redistricting), Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, State House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.
But Ohio is only getting redder, and a good environment for the Republicans would make it even more difficult to flip the seat. Just like Iowa, Democrats will almost certainly have better targets than the Buckeye State.