October 27, 2022

Senate races tightening across the country in battle for majority


The battle for the Senate majority is going down to the wire as a series of races across the country tighten in the days before the election, a process that is alternatively giving hope while also panicking partisans in both parties.

Democrats have their eyes on Wisconsin, where a new poll from CNN found Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) clinging to just a one-point lead over Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

Johnson had been seen as building a more significant lead, and the closeness of the race gave Democrats new hope about their ability to take back a seat from Republicans as they are defending their turf in other states.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic nerves are rattling after an uneven debate performance Tuesday night by Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, whose race against Republican Mehmet Oz has tightened.

If Democrats lose both races, it will greatly injure their prospects of retaining a Senate majority that is now evenly divided between the two parties as they could not afford to lose a single race where they now hold a Senate seat.

Republicans and Democrats alike are also paying close attention to a handful of races that have not been under a bright national spotlight.

In Iowa, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) has been seen as a heavy favorite to win an eighth term. But Democrats are starting to believe Mike Franken could have a chance at an upset.

Iowa Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Michael Franken greets supporters with his wife Jordan, right, after a rally in West Des Moines, Iowa.

The most recent Des Moines Register poll put Grassley, 89, only 3 percentage points ahead of Franken, a retired Navy vice admiral.

In a nod to the urgency to boost Grassley, former President Trump announced that he will headline a rally to support him and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) on Nov. 3 in Sioux City. 

“Voters are deeply skeptical of Grassley and Franken has run an unorthodox campaign that has a lot of Iowans feeling that he’d be a quality replacement. It’s about that simple,” one Democratic strategist involved in Senate races said, who also noted that Franken is also outspending Grassley on the airwaves this week, a move that reflects the state of play in the state. 

Republicans had long seen New Hampshire as a pickup opportunity for their party, but GOP candidate Don Bolduc’s chances seemed dim as Republican money was pulled out of the state.

Now polls show Bolduc closing in on Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and the Senate GOP has jumped back into the state to give their candidate another boost.

Twists in the days before a midterm are hardly unusual, but this year’s ups and downs have been truly memorable.

While Republican candidates have an economic climate that is bolstering their chances, several backed by former President Trump have had to walk a tightrope to win over independent and moderate voters in states the ex-president lost in the 2020 election.

That and a favorable map has given Democrats a chance of retaining the Senate even as most prognosticators expect them to lose their House majority.

Moods about a single state can be up for a party, than down, then up again.

In Ohio, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) has always been seen as facing an uphill climb in a state that had trended Republican in recent elections. Yet polls over the summer showed him running what many saw as a surprisingly competitive race.

Recent polls have shown Republican J.D. Vance and Ryan in a statistical dead heat.

In Wisconsin, the CNN poll released earlier this week showed Johnson, who had built a several-point lead over the past few months, with a single-percentage-point advantage over Barnes.

“Do I think it’s going to be close? Yes. Do I think some people may be taking it for granted? Possibly,” one Wisconsin GOP operative said. “Democrats are outspending Republicans on the airwaves in the final weeks, which is not ideal.”

“Wisconsin elections are always close and this could get a lot closer than many people nationally might expect,” the operative continued, adding that Johnson is not up by 6 percentage points — the margin reported by Marquette Law School’s latest poll. 

In New Hampshire, the GOP has put out mixed signals as the Senate Leadership Fund, which is run by allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), canceled $5.6 million in ad reservations late last week and redirected those dollars to Pennsylvania to boost Oz. Now the Senate GOP campaign arm is back in New Hampshire spending about $1 million to help out Bolduc, who has been a lackluster fundraiser. 

The move came after a pair of public polls showed the race within the margin of error and within striking distance for Republicans.

“It’s a crapshoot. I don’t dispute the polls. … Whoever turns out is going to win. It’s 50-50. It is tight as a tick,” said Dave Carney, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist. Carney added a lack of third-party candidate on the ballot is one advantage Bolduc has.

In Arizona, another Republican is showing signs of life after a lackluster two-month stretch.

Polling had put Blake Masters well behind Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) but a poll released Wednesday by the progressive group Data for Progress showed the two essentially tied.

Masters’s resurgence could be due in part to Republican nominee Kari Lake, who has opened up a 3-point lead over Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) in the state’s gubernatorial race, with Lake’s coattails helping to bring Masters along. 

According to the latest RealClearPolitics average, Kelly leads by 1.5 percentage points over the Peter Thiel protégé. 

“We’ve all thought these races were going to be close from the beginning,” said one Democratic strategist, noting that most of the races are in “straight up swing states.” 

“By their nature, they are very close,” the strategist said.

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