Most of the political class now believes Republicans will take back the House of Representatives in the approaching midterm elections on Nov. 8 — but the U.S. Senate remains a toss up.
Democrats currently control the upper chamber with a 50-50 knife’s edge and require complete unity and the assistance of Vice President Harris’ tie-breaking vote to advance legislation.
Going into 2023, the Democratic Party faces broad national headwinds including historic inflation and low approval ratings for President Biden. It’s not all bad news for Democrats though. In the current Senate cycle, the party will be defending just 14 seats, while Republicans are saddled with protecting 21.
Which party takes the Senate will likely come down to these six races:
Sen. Ron Johnson (Republican) — Incumbent
Total Raised: $16.1 million
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (Democrat) — Challenger
Total Raised: $7 million
Polls: Johnson +1.2
Johnson, a two-term senator, made a name for himself as one of the fiercest critics of President Biden and his son Hunter — but the issue may not play well in Wisconsin, where he is running for reelection as one of the most vulnerable members of the Senate. While the state is historically blue, it has been trending purple in recent years. Barnes has gone after the senator on abortion rights and tax cuts for the wealthy, while promising middle class tax relief of his own. Republicans, however, are confident. “Ron Johnson is moving into a fairly secure polling situation. He is moving in the right direction. He used to be negative four,” said GOP strategist Ryan Girdusky.
Dr. Mehmet Oz (Republican) — Challenger
Total Raised: $19 million
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (Democrat) — Challenger
Total Raised $26 million
Polls: Fetterman +4.5
The keystone state has the biggest celebrity in the race with TV’s Dr. Oz putting up a spirited challenge to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman for a seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. The race has been dominated by national issues such as crime and the economy and both candidates have faced questions about their fitness to serve. Fetterman suffered a stroke in May and appears to have lingering speech problems. Oz, meanwhile, has been dogged as being an unqualified out-of-touch New Jersey carpetbagger. Team Fetterman has also jumped on Oz missteps, including an embarrassing video of the TV doctor griping about the high cost of crudité. “It’s insane how bad Oz is. He has run such a piss poor campaign,” said Corbin Trent, a former top aide to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Others say Fetterman’s stroke made him too ill to serve. “His ability to articulate anything is very much in doubt post stroke,” said Gavin Wax, president of the New York Young Republicans Club.
J.D. Vance (Republican) — Challenger
Total Raised: $3.5 million
Rep. Tim Ryan (Democrat) — Challenger
Total Raised: $21.8 million
Polls: Vance +1.2
J.D. Vance first came onto the national stage with his celebrated memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” and has run a populist campaign which has leaned heavily into his endorsement by former President Trump. He and Rep. Tim Ryan are fighting to fill the seat vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman. Though Vance is the favorite, the polls are tighter than many expected and he is at a severe cash disadvantage to Ryan, a popular Ohio congressman. Ryan has blasted Vance relentlessly, painting him as an out-of-touch millionaire, an abortion extremist, and has accused him of spending a career defending outsourcing of US jobs to China.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (Democrat) — Incumbent
Total Raised: $84.9 million
Herschel Walker (Republican) — Challenger
Total Raised: $20.2 million
Polls: Warnock +0.3
What many once expected would be an easy pickup for Republicans has turned into a dogfight as former NFL star Herschel Walker has faced one scandal after another, including the summer revelation that he has a bevy of illegitimate children. The ex-running back has also raised eyebrows for statements like “I’m not that smart” and other gaffes. Warnock, who narrowly snatched his seat in a special election in the tumult of the 2020 presidential race, still has to contend with Georgia’s deep-red electorate. A Libertarian candidate in the race could force the pair into a high-stakes runoff.
Sen. Mark Kelly (Democrat) — Incumbent
Total Raised: $54.1 million
Blake Masters (Republican) — Challenger
Total Raised: $4.9 million
Polls: Kelly +5.4
Kelly, the popular former astronaut, has proven a formidable candidate in purple Arizona, dominating his rival, businessman Masters, in fundraising. Kelly is married to former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head during an attempted assassination in January 2011. Masters, a protege of GOP uber-donor Peter Thiel, was pulled over the finish line in his primary by former President Trump, and has struggled to connect with voters. In recent weeks Masters has retreated from tough talk on abortion, immigration and false claims about the 2020 presidential election. In ads he has passionately defended the right to own guns. Polls show Masters increasingly underwater with the state’s all-important independent voters. Many in the GOP quietly concede he is likely heading for defeat. Kelly came to office during a special election in 2020.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (Democrat) — Incumbent
Total Raised: $30.1 million
Adam Laxalt (Republican) — Challenger
Total Raised: $7.2 million
Polls: Laxalt + 1.7
Most poll watchers view Cortez Masto as the most endangered member of the Democratic Party this cycle. Laxalt, a former Nevada attorney general, has tried to tie Masto to the ongoing migrant crisis at the US border and has accused her of acting as “a rubber stamp” for the party’s more progressive members. Like many other candidates, Laxalt has hewed closely to former President Trump and previously led local court challenges to try and overturn the 2020 election results in his state. Nevada has trended blue in recent years and has not been won by a Republican presidential candidate since George W. Bush in 2004.