Potential Deadlocks Abound as Critical Senate Races Come to a Close
WASHINGTON — With the Senate chamber evenly split, 50-50, and several top Senate races simply too close to forecast, 2022 may well come to be remembered as the year of the prolonged wait to determine which party ultimately holds control of the chamber.
A lot, as you might imagine if you’ve been anywhere near the television or cable news in recent weeks, rides on the outcome of the Senate race in Pennsylvania.
If celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz pulls off a victory over Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Republican path to control of the Senate will be far easier to traverse, with a half-dozen or more state’s possibilities to put the GOP over the top.
If Fetterman wins, the calculus becomes both more focused and more dicey, with Republican hopes coming down to a mere trio of states.
Think of it as a three-game series in which two wins out of three — in Georgia, Nevada and/or Arizona — would make Tuesday night a night to remember for the Grand Old Party.
While Republican strategists in the last few days have begun to say the former strategy is increasingly more likely, Democrats believe there are still election scenarios in play that will enable them not only to hold the Senate, but maybe even add a few seats.
The key races heading into the final weekend of campaigning are described below:
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly has led this race against Trump-backed Republican challenger Blake Masters for months, but thanks to a dramatic change in campaign rhetoric by Masters, and this week’s departure of a Libertarian candidate from the contest, the race has tightened significantly.
It all began with Kelly, a retired astronaut and the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, setting out to secure his first full six-year term with a tremendous fundraising advantage and an image that appealed to a broad range of Arizona voters.
Masters, by comparison, was the Trump acolyte. During the state’s GOP primary, he ran an ad falsely claiming former President Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.
He also took a hardline stance on abortion, advocating for a federal personhood law that would recognize that “unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed.”
Once the primary was over and won, however, Masters did a 180 on both issues. Now, he says he believes Trump did not win the 2020 election and, as for abortion, he prefers to cast himself as the common sense candidate on the issue.
And the strategy appears to have paid off. While a New York Times/Siena College poll released Monday gave Kelly the edge, 51% to 45% among likely voters, a Fox News poll released the following day showed even less of a margin between the two men, with just 2% of voters indicating they were either undecided or had no opinion.
Then came Libertarian candidate Marc Victor’s departure from the race. Victor had also been polling at about 2% and he promptly endorsed Masters in a state where independents have routinely decided elections.
The website FiveThirtyEIght.com has rated the race as leaning Democratic, with Kelly ahead of Masters, 50.1% to 48.1%. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, out of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, continues to say the outcome will likely favor the Democrats, but the nonpartisan The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter is now rating the contest a toss-up.
In Georgia, another contest The Cook Political Report rates as a toss-up, incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock holds a slim lead over his Republican rival, former University of Georgia and NFL star Herschel Walker.
According to a survey from Emerson College Polling and The Hill released on Thursday, Warnock leads Walker 49% to 47% among very likely voters, with another 2% undecided.
A new Marist College poll, released Friday, shows the two candidates tied at 48% each among voters who say they will “definitely” vote in the 2022 midterm elections.
Warnock performed slightly better among registered voters overall, garnering 49% support to Walker’s 45%, but the margin of error is only plus or minus 4.2%.
Because Georgia law requires a candidate to receive more than 50% of the vote to win an election outright, if these numbers hold on election day, it would force a runoff between Warnock and Walker on Dec. 6.
One bright spot for Warnock in the Marist poll is that 51% of voters who said they’ve already cast their ballots say they did so for him, while 47% of the voters supported Walker.
The X factor in the race is how it will be influenced by the gubernatorial contest between incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. A number of political analysts have suggested that if Warnock is to secure a victory outright, he’s going to have to do so with voters who split their ticket and vote Kemp-Warnock.
FiveThirtyEight.com rates the state a toss-up, but has Walker coming out on top 49.5% to 49.0%. Both The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate the race a toss-up.
The polls are also showing a deadlocked Senate race in Nevada, where the contest is shaping up to be the most expensive in state history.
A recent New York Times/Siena College poll showed the candidates, incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto and former Republican State Attorney General Adam Laxalt deadlocked at 47% each.
Laxalt, whose father was a U.S. senator and grandfather a governor, is running on an anti–illegal-immigration platform and is a 2020 election denier who once spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally.
Cortez Masto, the first and only Latina in the U.S. Senate, is the daughter of an influential Las Vegas family, and a product of the Harry Reid political machine. In fact, the former Democratic leader handpicked her to replace him in the Senate when he retired due to declining health in 2016.
Reid died in 2021, and one of the questions dogging Cortez Masto’s campaign is whether the vaunted get-out-the-vote machine he built over a career in public life will still function as efficiently without him.
FiveThirtyEight.com rates the contest a toss-up, but forecasts Laxalt coming away with a slight lead, 49.4% to 48.1%. The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball also rate the race a toss-up.
Things look a bit more secure for the Democrats in New Hampshire, where Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., holds a 4 percentage point lead over Republican Don Bolduc, according to a new Emerson College Poll.
The college’s latest survey found Hassan receiving 49% support among very likely voters, compared to Bolduc’s 45%.
Three percent said they were undecided.
“Among New Hampshire’s plurality share of independent voters, Hassan leads Bolduc 50% to 40%. These voters split their ticket and plan to vote for Republican Gov. [Chris] Sununu over Democrat [Tom] Sherman 53% to 37%,” Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling, said in a written statement that accompanied the release of the poll.
FiveThirtyEight.com has the contest leaning Democratic with a forecast vote of 51.1% for Hassan and 47.2% for Bolduc. Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report also have the contest leaning Democratic.
North Carolina, as one might suspect, is leaning the other way.
According to a new poll from Emerson College Polling and The Hill, 50% of voters said they support the three-term Republican Rep. Ted Budd, compared to 45% who said they prefer North Carolina state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley.
The poll found 2% of voters remain undecided.
In recent days, both parties have brought out big guns to headline campaign rallies near Raleigh, North Carolina, a growing city whose suburbs could be the difference maker in the contests.
Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz appeared at a rally on behalf of Budd, while Dave Matthews performed an hourlong set at a get-out-the-vote concert for Beasley.
The wild card in the race is whether the abortion issue, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade in June, will drive the state’s growing population of suburban women to the polls on behalf of the Democrat.
FiveThirtyEight.com has the contest in the likely Republican column with a forecast vote of 51.5% for Budd and 46.6% for Beasley. Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report also have the contest leaning Republican.
You know things have gotten serious when Oprah Winfrey decides to endorse your candidate.
And that’s just what happened Thursday when Winfrey endorsed Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman rather than Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican candidate that she made a television star.
“If I lived in Pennsylvania, I would have already cast my vote for John Fetterman, for many reasons,” she told participants in a virtual town hall meeting.
Winfrey went on to endorse Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, and gubernatorial candidates Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams, of Texas and Georgia, respectively.
Fetterman’s campaign immediately put out a press release saying, “It speaks volumes that Oprah would endorse Fetterman over Oz, after declining to weigh in during Oz’s primary election.”
At the moment, however, Oz, who early on appeared to fail to connect with voters, has a narrow lead in the polls over Fetterman.
A new survey from Emerson College Polling and The Hill, conducted after the two candidates debated a week ago, showed Oz ahead of Fetterman, 48% to 46% among likely voters, with 4% saying they were undecided.
Though the results were well within the survey’s 3-point margin of error, it did show a marked improvement for Oz, who was down by as much as 5% or more as recently as September.
FiveThirtyEight.com has the contest as a toss-up, and forecasts that Fetterman will get the better of Oz, garnering 49.2% of the vote to Oz’s 48.7%.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball has the state leaning toward the Democrats, while The Cook Political Report rates the contest a toss-up.
In Washington state the general election contest is a rematch between five-term Democratic incumbent Patty Murray and Republican newcomer Tiffany Smiley.
Murray crushed Smiley in an open primary earlier this year, garnering 52% of the vote to Smiley’s 34%, but recent polls suggest it’ll be a tighter contest this time around.
A poll released by The Seattle Times last month showed Murray with just an 8 percentage point lead over Smiley, 49% to 41% with 10% undecided.
One reason for Smiley’s gains is that Republicans have been pouring a substantial amount of money into the race. The GOP candidate has also been gaining traction by attacking Murray on inflation and local issues like crime and homelessness.
When all is said and done, however, FiveThirtyEight.com, The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball all believe the race will wind up in the Democrat’s column. FiveThirtyEight.com’s forecast vote is 54.2% for Murray, 45.8% for Smiley.
The Wisconsin race between incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is also a toss-up, the latest Marquette University Law School poll says.
While 50% of likely voters said they will support Johnson when they cast their votes, 48% said they will go for Barnes, the difference falling well within the margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.
Among a slightly larger sample of registered voters, Johnson garnered the support of 48% of respondents, compared to Barnes’ 45%.
As in other races, Johnson, who is reputed to be a hard-nosed campaigner, has been hitting Barnes with everything he’s got on the economy — essentially inflation — and crime.
Barnes, meanwhile, has been hitting him hard on the abortion issue.
FiveThirtyEight.com sees the contest in the likely Republican column with a forecast vote of 52.2% for Johnson and 47.8% for Barnes. Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report also believe the contest is leaning Republican.
Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @DanMcCue
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