Much has changed on the senatorial playing field since our last update. Although we do not have many changes to our general election ratings, we do have new candidacy declarations and primary developments to report on. With just months left until Americans begin casting votes in the first midterm contests, the pressure is on for our coverage to begin. You can find our current ratings below along with a brief rundown of our changes.
In this solidly-Republican state, the primary to determine retiring Senator Richard Shelby’s successor is heating up. 5th district Congressman Mo Brooks appears to be the frontrunner so far, but a path to victory for Katie Boyd Britt has become increasingly possible. Boyd Britt, who served as Senator Shelby’s Chief of Staff, seems to be the party establishment’s preferred candidate. Brooks, who has held his Huntsville-based seat since 2011, has received an endorsement from former President Trump, who remains popular in the Cotton State. The outcome will be one of many midterm tests to see just how important the Trump endorsement remains in Republican primaries.
Political organizations have also been active in the primary so far, with the conservative Club for Growth endorsing Brooks in June. The Senate Leadership Fund, designed to protect the Republican Senate majority, has spent nearly $1.5 million opposing the Brooks candidacy according to the latest FEC reports.
While Brooks may still be the frontrunner, Boyd Britt has a larger warchest. The former CEO of the Alabama Business Council, Boyd Britt has raised over $2.2 million so far compared to $1.1 million brought in for the Brooks campaign. Former Ambassador to Slovenia Lynda Blanchard has struggled to make up ground in polling but has raised over $5.6 million since the campaign season began.
A larger percentage of contributions to Boyd Britt and Brooks has come from inside Alabama, with Blanchard’s contributions sourced from multiple states. The Brooks campaign has set itself apart by amassing more funds from the $200 and under category than either of its opponents. A financial advantage does not always assure victory, but it could give someone like Boyd Britt an advertising advantage. Expect the gap between Boyd Britt and Brooks to tighten as the campaign continues to heat up.
An August Cygnal Poll showed Brooks with a stable, albeit slightly reduced, lead over Boyd Britt 41-18%. Undecided respondents still constituted over a third of the sample – 32%. Though it was an improvement for Boyd Britt from the WPA Intelligence poll in April, she still has a long way to go to have a chance of winning next year. In an ominous sign for establishment opponents of Brooks, the poll reported that 58% of Alabama Republicans would be more likely to support a Trump-endorsed candidate.
The Last Frontier’s entire electoral system was thrown for a loop last year when residents narrowly passed Ballot Measure 2, which replaced the party primary with an open “blanket” primary ranked choice general election system. Under the new rules, all candidates will be placed on the same primary ballot next year regardless of party affiliation. Ranked choice voting will determine the general election winner out of the top four candidates from the blanket primary.
Enter Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican who has drawn the ire of more conservative members of her party throughout her career. Her biggest sin came earlier this year, when she voted to convict former President Trump during his second impeachment trial. Originally an interim Senator, Murkowski won her first full term in 2004, defeating former Governor Tony Knowles in a mild upset. She fell victim to Joe Miller in her 2010 primary, as Tea Party Republicans swept establishment candidates nationwide, but waged a successful write-in campaign to beat Miller and McAdams in a close general election. Despite a somewhat-comfortable 2016 reelection, Murkowski is not exactly on steady ground going into next year.
Reacting to Murkowski’s conviction vote, President Trump endorsed her opponent Kelly Tshibaka. The former Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration has been endorsed by the Alaska GOP and recently hired a prominent member of Governor Dunleavy’s administration to serve as her campaign manager. Murkowski has been endorsed by seven of her colleagues, including Minority Leader McConnell and moderate Democrat Joe Manchin. The Senate Leadership Fund, McConnell’s campaign arm, has also announced its support for the veteran Alaska Senator.
While it is too early to make definitive predictions for the second round of voting in Alaska, Murkowski appears to be in a good position to advance to the general election. Eric Cunningham articulated this position in March, stating that it would be “almost impossible” to primary Murkowski because the new system would almost always ensure that at least two Republicans would make it to the second round. Given Murkowski’s better track record of winning general elections after excruciating primaries, she could be more ostensibly secure than usual.
Anchorage Democratic State Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson rounds out the current field. Three minor independent candidates are also running. Following his competitive 2020 Senate race against Dan Sullivan, Democratic-aligned independent Al Gross is reportedly considering another bid. Until the fog lifts with the dawn of the new year, we consider the seat Safe Republican. Murkowski begins the cycle as a tentative favorite, but a potential Tshibaka victory in the ranked choice general is still more likely than an outright Democratic victory. The Last Frontier last elected a Democrat to the Senate in 2008, when Mark Begich defeated then-embattled Alaska institution Ted Stevens in a close race.
In Arizona, Attorney General Mark Brnovich remains the early frontrunner in the primary to determine which Republican gets to take on Senator Mark Kelly next year. The former astronaut defeated interim Republican Martha McSally in a close 51-49% special election matchup to fill John McCain’s seat. President Biden won here by an even slimmer margin of 10,457 votes last year.
But Brnovich has grounds to be concerned, with recent polling suggesting that his lead might not be as fortified as it seems. A September Ohio Predictive Insights poll showed Brnovich ahead at 27%, followed by McGuire at 14%, Masters at 6%, and Lamon 3%; over 51% of the electorate was undecided. Michael McGuire is a former Adjutant General of the National Guard and Blake Masters is the CEO of Thiel Capital. It will be crucial to see how the AG’s lead fluctuates over the next few months as the undecided vote declines.
Despite wooing by fellow Republicans, Governor Doug Ducey appears to be sticking firmly to his January refusal to enter the high profile race. Many other potential Republicans, including Kari Lake and Kimberely Yee, are running in the open gubernatorial race instead.
With the Republican nominee up in the air, we consider Senator Mark Kelly the narrow favorite in a Lean Democratic race. Hypothetical polling so far supports our rating, with a bevy of September Ohio Predictive Insights polls showing Kelly leading all of his possible Republican opponents. The early surveys line up with general expectations that Brnovich would be the strongest general election candidate for the GOP, with the most recent numbers showing Kelly up by just four points.
Over the last two decades, the Centennial State has shifted from Republican bastion to Democratic haven, with some exceptions popping up in between. It has not opted to back a Republican Presidential candidate since George W. Bush in 2004 and swung nearly ten points toward the Democrats between 2016 and 2020. Joe Biden’s 13.5 point margin of victory in the state was the largest for a Democrat since LBJ’s 1964 landslide over Barry Goldwater.
Republicans have done slightly better on the Senate front, even with the state rapidly running from their grasp. 4th district Congressman Cory Gardner narrowly defeated freshman Democrat Mark Udall in a low turnout 2014 race that coincided with a good Republican environment at a time when the state’s electorate was more malleable. Udall was also lambasted for running what Republicans called a one-issue campaign on abortion, a stand that garnered the derisive nickname “Mark Uterus“.
In 2016, despite nominating a weak candidate, the GOP managed to hold Senator Michael Bennet under six points in what had been considered a Safe Democratic contest. But the GOP faltered here in important Trump-era races. The 2018 midterms saw longtime Republican Congressman Mike Coffman lose handily in his suburban 6th district as Congressman Jared Polis swept Walker Stapleton to become Governor.
The shifting tides naturally did not bode well for Republicans in 2020. Bolstered by President Biden’s lopsided victory, and his own eight year tenure as Governor, John Hickenlooper was able to oust incumbent Republican Cory Gardner, who had been viewed as the most vulnerable GOP incumbent on the defense that year.
Gradual trends have chipped away at the credibility of the potential Republican field, but the party may have found its best option for the blue Senate seat in Eli Bremer, a former Olympic athlete. With Gardner unlikely to enter another Senate contest any time soon, and his 4th district successor Ken Buck already declining after losing to Bennet in a 2010 upset, Bremer currently seems like the only chance Republicans have to run a credible campaign next year. State Representative Ron Hanks has also recently declared his candidacy, posing a potential primary threat to Bremer.
Despite the dearth of polling, we are keeping our Safe Democratic rating for now. While this race could move onto the board eventually if the environment ends up being hostile for Democrats, continuity is being maintained because Bremer’s chances of winning a statewide primary remain uncertain. Our line of reasoning holds that Senator Bennet is a strong favorite in a state that is likely out of reach for the GOP, but also concedes that a competitive race, below a ten percent margin of Democratic victory, is possible given the right dynamics.
Orlando Congresswoman Val Demings still looms large over the scattered Democratic primary field, but seems to be struggling against powerful incumbent Republican Marco Rubio. The 10th district Representative’s most prominent primary challenger is former Congressman Alan Grayson, who lost the 2016 Senate primary.
The moderately popular incumbent was first elected to the seat in 2010 as an outsider in a three way race against then-Governor Charlie Crist, who finished second as an independent, and Congressman Kendrick Meeks. His Tea Party appeal allowed him to ascend to the upper chamber after serving just two years as Speaker of the Florida state house.
Initially declining to run for reelection in 2016 after a crushing home state loss ended his 2016 Presidential campaign, Rubio eventually reneged on his promise, cleared the Republican primary field, and easily bested 18th district Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy in the general election. Taking 52% of the vote and winning by almost eight points, Rubio outperformed then-candidate Trump throughout the state, notably in Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties. Rubio’s impressively strong numbers with hispanic and black voters (48% and 17%, respectively) also contributed to his over-performance.
While Demings remains the clear favorite to win the primary election, her chances of winning a general election remain low. With former President Trump’s surprise overperformance with Latino (specifically Cuban) voters in Miami-Dade last year, and a potentially hostile midterm environment shaping up for Democrats, there is no reason to assume Rubio’s hispanic support would be any lower than it was in 2016. The polling has supported the incumbent’s position, with the RCP average showing him with a 6.5 point lead. With memories of narrow Senate and Gubernatorial losses in an otherwise good environment back in 2018 still in Democratic minds, the party still does not appear ready formulate a winning electoral coalition.
High turnout bound with rapidly accelerating trends in and around Atlanta narrowly delivered the Presidency and the Senate majority to Democrats last cycle. One of the dual-runoff victors, reverend Raphael Warnock, is heading into a competitive reelection battle next year.
Most paths to achieving a Republican Senate majority in 2022 run through the Peach State, with the party eager to show its strength after Senators Perdue and Loeffler lost there in January. Despite Georgia’s auspicious Democratic trends, it is still firmly in the swing state category – meaning a statewide race here could theoretically go either way. Republicans are banking on lower minority turnout in the off-year campaign, along with revived enthusiasm from demoralized rural whites that shunned January runoff voting, to win the Peach State. President Biden’s declining popularity in the state has also led some Republicans to consider the likelihood of minor suburban reversion getting the party to a majority of the vote.
To win back the seat, Republicans sought a credible and capable candidate. Many members of the GOP believe they have found one in former UGA running back-turned-entrepreneur Herschel Walker. Walker has already received the Trump endorsement, making it increasingly unlikely that former Senator Loeffler will launch a comeback bid after a June meeting with Leader McConnell to discuss the race. The ex-football star’s heavy polling advantage over Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, his only credible primary challenger, should also be enough to clear the field, with a September Trafalgar poll showing Walker taking 76% of the vote.
Having a clear primary outcome months in advance should give Walker ample opportunity to challenge Warnock’s messaging without significant scathing. The general election is expected to be close, but Warnock has the advantage so far. Utilizing the powers of incumbency, he has raised over $32 million with over a year to go until election day. The Atlanta Democrat also led a recent PPP hypothetical general election poll by two points, 48%-46%. For now, Leans Democratic is the appropriate classification.
Iowa (Likely to Safe Republican)
Long-time Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who was first elected in Reagan’s 1980 landslide, recently announced that he will be seeking an eighth term next year. The 89 year old veteran lawmaker has achieved institutional status, having served in elected office since 1959. Aided by Iowa’s steady tread toward the Republicans at the federal level during the Trump-era, Grassley’s late-breaking announcement all but assures Republican victory in the Hawkeye State.
After narrowly losing reelection amid down ballot Republican success in 2020, 1st district Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer has little to lose from a quixotic Senate campaign. Other notable Democrats like Cindy Axne, the only remaining party member in the state’s Congressional delegation, and State Auditor Rob Sand have opted to pass on challenging a man who has represented his state in both chambers of Congress since the Ford administration.
The gold standard Selzer poll released in September showed Grassley leading Finkenauer 55%-37%, putting the incumbent on track for another easy victory similar to his defeat of Patty Judge in 2016. While the days of near-unanimous Grassley support are certainly over, his decision finally allows us to shift the Hawkeye State into the Safe Republican column as the spry elder statesman prepares another lay-up victory for his party.
The ridiculously crowded primary field in the Safe Republican race to succeed retiring Senator Roy Blunt seems to finally be topping out as the fall campaign heats up. Following 2nd district Congresswoman Ann Wagner’s candidacy declination and 7th district Congressman Billy Long’s decision to enter the race, five of the ten total candidates are considered credible. Two other viable contenders, 8th district Congressman Jason Smith and State Senate President Dave Schatz, are also considering entry.
7th district Congressman Billy Long won the open Springfield-based Missouri House seat of Roy Blunt in 2010. An auctioneer by trade, Long has never had difficulty winning his heavily-Republican district. Like his opponents, he advocates conservative, party-line stances on a variety of issues.
2nd district Congresswoman Ann Wagner opted to skip the crowded Senate race to run for reelection instead. The prospect of getting a safer seat in redistricting almost certainly had more appeal to the five term Congresswoman than risking a loss in an incredibly-splintered Senate primary field.
8th district Congressman and Budget Committee Ranking Member Jason Smith, from the heavily-Republican southeastern bootheel region, could also throw his hat into the Senate ring following a recent ad his team put out criticizing Democratic spending proposals. A Smith entry would further divide the field on regional lines.
With the release of a new September Remington Research/MO Scout poll, former Governor Greitens has seen his slim advantage evaporate into a tie, as Attorney General Schmitt leads the field at 28%, followed by Greitens at 27%, Hartzler at 17%, Long at 8%, and McCloskey at 5%.
As one might expect, Hartzler and Long both dominated the survey in their Congressional seats. The 4th district, extending from Columbia in the east to the Kansas City suburbs in the west, gave Hartzler 50%; Long’s 7th district, which is based around Springfield, gave him 43%. Regardless of the eventual primary winner, any Republican (even Eric Greitens) will be heavily favored to hold this seat in November. We are sticking with the Safe Republican rating for now.
Since President Biden’s narrow victory last year, Nevada has often been characterized as the Democrats’ Florida in that it is a highly competitive, inelastic state that yields narrow, but reliable, party victories. Ahead of Biden’s win, the Democrats capped off a successful 2018 midterm by ousting Republican Senator Dean Heller and flipping the open governorship. Nevada remains a more attainable target for the GOP than Colorado, but it will still take extraordinary circumstances, even with a favorable environment and reduced Democratic turnout, for Republicans to win any statewide race in the Silver state.
Interestingly, the Republican candidates from 2018 have performed a swap, with Governor nominee Adam Laxalt and Senator nominee Dean Heller now running for opposite offices. Laxalt is the grandson of former Senator Paul Laxalt and son of former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici. He served as the state Attorney General until narrowly losing the Governor’s race to Steve Sisolak in a hostile environment.
Former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto was Democratic leader Harry Reid’s handpicked successor following his 2016 retirement. She bested Congressman Joe Heck in a nail biter that year. With Congressman Mark Amodei choosing not to run for the upper chamber, Laxalt seems to be the best hope for the GOP. President Trump also recently weighed in on the race, giving the senatorial heir a wholehearted endorsement. Although the former President’s support might still be advantageous in a primary, one must wonder how much of a general election bane it will be in this consistently, albeit narrowly, Democratic state.
Though we expect both the Senate and Gubernatorial races to be hotly contested this cycle, at this early stage we continue to characterize Lean Democratic as the safest rating. Republicans certainly missed an opportunity when popular former Governor Brian Sandoval declined to seek the Senate seat, but the right environment could give Laxalt a chance. Low Democratic turnout would yield a Republican victory in Washoe County and could allow the GOP to get the numbers it needs in Clark County to win. But since that scenario is unlikely and we do not yet have much hypothetical polling to analyze, Masto remains the frontrunner for now.
Will he run? This is the question that has been on every Republican strategist’s mind over the last year as the GOP attempts to solidify the easiest path back to the Senate majority next year. With Georgia and Arizona races against Democratic incumbents currently looking uncertain, and the party defending seats of its own in close states like Pennsylvania, having an advantage, or at least a path to victory, in the Democratic-leaning Granite State would certainly be beneficial.
We last heard from popular Governor Chris Sununu, who was easily reelected in a hallmark of New England ticket-splitting last year, in February, with a declaration that he would be open to running for the upper chamber. Months have since passed, but Sununu has not caved to outside pressure and remains silent on his intentions. But time might be running out for the Governor to make a decision, with failed 2020 Senate candidate Don Bolduc already running and reportedly seeking the Trump endorsement, which would matter in a Republican primary. Given hypothetical polling and candidate quality concerns, Sununu seems to be the only Republican who can win the seat, even in a good environment.
There are plenty of obvious reasons for Sununu not to run. After all, he is effectively an electoral lock for the Governor’s mansion, security that he would be forsaking if he were to jump into a Senate race. But polling has shown that he is the only potential Republican candidate consistently leading Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan, the former Governor who narrowly beat Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte in 2016’s marquee race. With Ducey, Sandoval, and Perdue all passing on Senate runs so far, Republicans are keen on getting this Governor into the race as an insurance cushion on their path to regaining the majority. Under the right circumstances, the Granite State could be a better pickup opportunity than both Arizona and Georgia.
The Governor has led in all four polls conducted so far, including a July UNH poll that he won 49%-48% and an August St. Anselm College poll that showed him ahead 49%-41% over the one term incumbent. Until we know Sununu’s decision, which could be rather soon, we are keeping the race at Leans Democratic.
Out of the three “competitive” seats that the Republicans are seeking to defend next year, the Tar Heel state is probably the one in which they currently have the greatest advantage. Despite trends in both directions depending on the part of the state you analyze, Senate elections here have largely been white whales for Democrats since Kay Hagan’s 2008 victory over incumbent Elizabeth Dole, an outcome that coincided with the last Democratic presidential win in the state. After fumbling the last three Senate races, many Democrats are hesitant to be optimistic about their chances next year. North Carolina is still a competitive state at every level, but the GOP advantage has been persistent.
On the Republican side, Governor Pat McCrory remains the early frontrunner despite not having the Trump endorsement. Even with his slim reelection loss to Roy Cooper back in 2016, a result blamed in large part on his support for HB2, McCrory maintains a statewide name recognition advantage over his opponents Mark Walker and Ted Budd, both of whom are unknown outside of their Congressional districts. The former Charlotte Mayor’s long presence in and around Mecklenburg County, a region that accounts for a significant share of the primary vote, should also be a benefit. For now, we consider McCrory the favorite to win the primary.
On the Democratic side, the primary between former State Senator Jeff Jackson and former Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court Cheri Beasley has become very competitive. A new poll, from a firm that has reliably predicted Democratic primaries in years past, showed Beasley maintaining a close 33%-24% lead over Jackson. After Cal Cunningham’s controversial loss last year, many Tar Heel Democrats are looking to nominate a candidate with minority appeal in an effort to rally the base in a different manner. While we currently consider Beasley a favorite to win the primary after her narrow reelection loss in 2020, we maintain the Leans Republican rating in the state given recent historical precedent in federal races.
Utah remains a safely Republican state at all levels of government, but the dynamics of next year’s Senate race could complicate the outcome. The fly in the ointment for incumbent Mike Lee is conservative independent Evan McMullin, who took 22% in the Beehive State’s 2016 Presidential vote.
The former CIA operations officer sought the Presidency as a right-leaning alternative to President Trump, a message that only resonated with conservative Mormons in his home state, many of whom were skeptical of Trump’s style. McMullin stated in his announcement that he would be running as “a patriot committed to defending our nation” rather than as a Republican or Democrat. There are currently no prominent Democrats in the race, but former 4th district Congressman Ben McAdams has been posed as a possible nominee.
Even in a three way race with a strong McMullin presence, Lee would almost certainly remain the commanding favorite. McMullin’s performance could also be weaker than expected, mirroring 2016 Libertarian Presidential nominee Gary Johnson’s feeble third-place finish in his 2018 New Mexico Senate bid.
A final possibility would be reminiscent of the competitive 2014 Senate contest in Kansas, where independent Greg Orman challenged incumbent Republican Pat Roberts void of official Democratic opposition. Orman ultimately lost by a wide margin after failing to separate himself from Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats. Al Gross’s losing 2020 Senate bid against Dan Sullivan was fraught with similar problems regarding characterization.
All told, the prominent Judiciary Committee Republican is still on track for reelection next year. McMullin’s entry into the race is certainly a salient event worth covering, but it does not change our Safe Republican rating. Further updates will be provided once credible polls of the contest emerge over the next few months.
Republicans remain general election favorites to hold the seat of retiring incumbent Rob Portman, a race we currently rate Likely Republican. Our attention is currently concentrated on the competitive primary fight to determine which Republican will take on likely-Democratic nominee 13th district Congressman Tim Ryan next November. 2012 Senate nominee and former State Treasurer Josh Mandel remains a decisive favorite in that race thus far.
Mandel’s most competitive challenger was formerly ex-Ohio GOP chairwoman Jane Timken, but recent polls by Remington Group and WPA Intelligence have shown extensive slippage, with a September survey showing her at 6%. Lapping up most of the free support is JD Vance, the venture capitalist author of the book-turned film Hillbilly Elegy. Representing the party’s burgeoning populist wing, Vance has solidified his second-place position at roughly 15% according to recent data. While that position is certainly far behind Mandel, it does give him a foothold from which to gain ground in the primary over the next few months.
According to hypothetical general election polling from PPP and Redfield & Wilton Strategies, Mandel has been the best-performing of the top three Republicans when pitted against Ryan. But with party endorsements irreparably divided, and well over a year to go until the general election, the definitive outcome of the primary remains uncertain. Barring any major changes, though, Mandel seems to be in a great position to dispatch his opponents and beat Ryan in the Buckeye State, which, like Iowa, has grown more favorable overall to Republicans in federal races as of late.
The battle for the Senate is already brewing in the Keystone State. With narrow races widespread over the history of the northern commonwealth, both parties are already vying to win the seat of retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey. Starting his career as a caustic anti-establishment conservative with a close primary challenge to moderate Arlen Specter in 2004, Toomey managed to play his state’s politics well after his slim 2010 victory. Reelected in 2016 while running significantly ahead of Trump in the crumbling traditionally-Republican Philadelphia collar counties, Toomey made clear early on that his second term would be his last. Along with Wisconsin, Pennsylvania is one of two Republican-held Biden states in the upcoming Senate cycle.
No clearly-defined replacement candidate has emerged following Toomey’s retirement announcement. Many Republicans still hope for former Congressman Ryan Costello to enter the race. The collar county Republican retired in 2018 after his seat was redrawn to be inhospitable in mid-decade redistricting. While he has not officially declined, the primary momentum seems to have passed him by.
No members of the state’s Congressional delegation, nor any current or former statewide office holders, have shown significant interest in running, despite the benefits of a possibly excellent environment. Polling has been scarce, but President Trump’s endorsement of former 2020 Congressional candidate Sean Parnell could hold enough weight to classify him as an early favorite. Businessman Jeff Bartos is another possible Republican nominee.
The Democratic primary discourse has been fervent since Congressman Conor Lamb entered the race in August. Lamb, who narrowly won a 2018 special election in the heavily-Republican 18th district before being somewhat shored up by mid-decade redistricting, has jeopardized Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman’s monopoly on western primary support. Calling Allegheny County home, Lamb is seeking to apply the same moderate campaign tactics that have worked at the Congressional level to appeal in the upcoming primary and beyond.
A third variable in the Democratic race has appeared in the form of Philadelphia State Senator Sharif Street. The son of a former Mayor proudly totes an endorsement from Bob Brady, an ex-Congressman and highly-influential Chairman of the Philadelphia Democrats. Street’s campaign should appeal to urban black voters, an important constituency in the state’s Democratic primaries. While he certainly hurts fellow Philly legislator Malcolm Kenyatta more than Lamb and Fettermen, a healthy third place finish could still siphon off enough votes to put the whole outcome in doubt.
All told, Toomey’s retirement seems to have given Democrats what is currently the best possible shot they have at flipping a seat from the GOP. With a precariously narrow majority, and growing discontent in New Hampshire, Arizona, and Georgia, the party would be more than happy to have this race under its belt next fall. A Parnell v. Lamb battle would be a statewide rematch of last year’s competitive 17th district House race. Until we have a clearer picture of the general election environment in this swing state, we see no reason to move the race out of the Tossup column.
The Badger State is the only other Biden-won seat represented by a Republican Senator. That incumbent is Ron Johnson, a businessman who swept long-time Democrat Russ Feingold out of office in the 2010 Republican wave. Feingold tried in vain to win back the seat in 2016, but Johnson upset the Democratic hopeful and managed to outperform Presidential nominee Trump at the top of the ticket. Now the conservative firebrand’s intentions have been obfuscated. After rescinding his retirement pledge and stating that he would only seek a third term if he believed he were the best option for the party’s chances, one must wonder whether or not Johnson even has the desire to run again.
Biden only narrowly carried Wisconsin, and it currently seems to be more winnable for Republicans than its ‘blue wall’ counterpart of Pennsylvania. Unlike Toomey’s in Pennsylvania, a Johnson retirement would not seriously endanger the seat for the GOP. There are countless credible Republicans who could step up to fill his shoes including Congressmen Gallagher and Steil, ex-US Representative Sean Duffy, businessman Kevin Nicholson, and Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth. If Johnson ultimately decides to throw his hat in the ring one last time, former President Trump has already committed to endorsing him. Such an announcement would likely clear the field, allowing the Republicans to focus on the Tossup general election.
As we discussed a few months ago, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes still appears to be a strong frontrunner against his party foes. The single publicly-released primary poll showed him taking 37% of the vote, landing him far ahead of his challengers. Regardless of the Republican nominee, both parties will be fighting vociferously to maintain the seat in the Badger state. It remains too early to speculate on actual campaign dynamics, so the Tossup rating is being kept for now.