A Divided Country: 2022 Senate Election Predictions - July Update



The world has changed, literally, since we last reviewed our ratings for the 2022 Senate elections. These last few months have been, to say the least, hectic for American politics.


Joe Biden has become increasingly unpopular. On September 8th, 2021, the day we last updated our Senate election ratings, the President held a 45.0% approval rating and had only been in the "net negative area" for less than two weeks. But, over the last few months, due to an unraveling economic crisis, growing inflation, and hostile geopolitical conditions, that 49.1% disapproval rating has turned into a much larger, scarier 56.9%.

As of today, July 24th, 2022, nearly 20% more Americans disapprove rather than approve of the President's job. Only a small, but still significant (37.9%), part of the public continues to hold faith in the Democratic administration.


The conservative majority within the Supreme Court struck down the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade sentence, giving back to the states full authority over the issue of abortion. Some of the most Republican areas in the country, such as Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas have banned it; other states, mainly Democratic-leaning, have chosen to instead protect the right to abortion and resist the calls from pro-life movements to go down the opposite path.


Said this, it's time to finally move on to our elections ratings. All of the predictions will be based on the following rating system:


- Safe (>+9.5% advantage)


- Likely (+5.6 - +9.5% advantage)


- Lean (+2.1 - +5.5% advantage)


- Tilt (<+2.0% advantage)




The ratings


FLORIDA, LIKELY R --> SAFE R

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is up for re-election this year, seeking a third term in office. Rubio was first elected in the 2010 Senate election, a hectic contest where he faced off with fmr. Governor Crist (running as an Independent), and Kendrick Meek, the Democrat. After this unexpected victory, Rubio cruised then to re-election in 2016, obtaining a second term with a margin of more than 7.0%.

As a very tough target for the DSCC, Democrats have chosen Val Demings, the moderate Representative from Florida's 10th Congressional District, as their apparent nominee. It's an uphill battle for Democrats not only because Marco Rubio has always had a certain degree of popularity in the state and because he's the incumbent, but mainly because Hispanics have shifted further right in (and after) the 2020 Presidential Election.

The last poll from Public Policy Polling, surveying the Floridian electorate on the race, has shown Rubio ahead by six points, holding a 47-41 lead over Rep. Val Demings. It is very important to note that this poll has been conducted by an institution who has historically been slightly biased towards the Democratic Party. Further on, this poll was funded by the Gyffords PAC, a political organisation who publicly supports Democratic candidates running for office across the country.

My prediction is that Senator Rubio will easily win re-election to a third term in office by a margin possibly higher than six years ago. The rating for Florida's Senate race switches to Safe Republican: Rubio +11.0


OHIO, LIKELY REPUBLICAN

A race which would commonly be regarded as one of the most interesting in the nation, has to clash with the reality of demographic and political trends. Once a solidly Democratic Bastion, Ohio is now a Republican fortress where President Trump scored an eight point victory just two years ago.

The Republican candidate, JD Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, political commentator, and venture capitalist, was chosen as Donald Trump's endorsement earlier this year. While the support thrown behind him was significant, he only won 32.2 percent of the total primary vote, fending off a strong challenge by 2012 GOP Senate nominee, Josh Mandel, and Ohio State Senator Matt Dolan.

The polls are showing the republican electorate slowly, but steadily, rallying around his figure as the wounds of the primary season are finally healing. Both the Trump-Republican Josh Mandel and the moderate Matt Dolan have endorsed JD Vance in his attempt to hold onto retiring Sen. Portman's seat.

The Democrats, on the other hand, have chosen Representative Tim Ryan as their nominee. The latter has approached a new campaigning style, in an attempt to recover Democrats' once broad popularity in the state. Except for Sen. Brown's victory in 2018, Democrats have consistently lost in statewide races in Ohio in the past six years, and they have lost a significant amount of House and local legislature seats.

With messaging focused on protectionism, economic populism, MediCare, and failures of the current administration, Tim Ryan is trying to make the race about himself, and not Joe Biden. He is in fact trying to distance from the latter by criticizing his administration and denouncing China. On the other hand, Vance is heavily counting on tying the Representative to the President and his failures, in order to capitalize on the midterm political environment.

My prediction is that JD Vance will win his Senate race relatively easily, though there is a concrete possibility that Ryan's new strategy might gain him a few points, enough to keep the race within ten or eight points.

My rating remains Likely Republican: Vance +9.0


NORTH CAROLINA, LIKELY REPUBLICAN

As a purple state, with a Democratic Governor and Supreme Court, a Republican legislature, and a tossup presidential voting record, North Carolina continues to be a very interesting state to observe politically.

Due to this year's heavily Republican environment (and due to a growing partisanship within the American public), our projection shows a surprisingly less competitive North Carolina, where the GOP is favored to retain retiring Sen. Richard Burr's seat.

The Republican nominee is Ted Budd, Representative for North Carolina's 13th congressional district and Trump-endorsed candidate. He defeated Pat McCrory, the state's former Governor who had lost against Democrat Roy Cooper in the 2016 gubernatorial race.

The Democratic Party has instead unified around Cheri Beasley, a former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice who was defeated by a razor thin margin just two years ago. State Representative Jeff Jackson, who was also running for the nomination, decided to withdraw earlier this year, to try to fortify Democrats' position in the race.

While Beasley can certainly appeal to a vast range of voters, and would be a great candidate in a presidential year, the chances of her winning this race are indeed very slim. Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight model for the 2022 Senate Elections only gives her a 27% chance of flipping North Carolina blue.

My belief is that, while Budd will certainly need to put effort into it and actually organize events on the campaign trail, he won't have a particularly difficult time. The rating stays Likely Republican: Budd +5.7.


WISCONSIN, LEAN REPUBLICAN

One of the most competitive states in the nation is poised to host a combative, meaningful, impactful Senate race this November.

Against all speculations, incumbent Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican, has filed for re-election and will try to conquer a third term in office. Johnson was first elected in 2010, defeating longtime Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold in one of the numerous stunning 2010 political upsets. The latter faced him again in 2016, losing for the second time and handing Johnson a second term in the United States Senate.

As a controversial figure, Ron Johnson has been chosen by the DNC as a crucial target for Democrats to try to hold onto their Senate majority. On the left, the field has been relatively crowded, with numerous figures from the Governor's administration joining the race. Sarah Godlewski and Mandela Barnes are the two main candidates running for the nomination. Barnes is regarded as the most probable victor of the fall primaries, and as the next contender to Ron Johnson.

Barnes, the state's lieutenant Governor, is a progressive Democrat who is trying to repeat Tammy Baldwin's miracle with a set of progressive policies to sponsor once in the Senate. Sen. Johnson is trying to capitalize off this, tying him to the administration and progressive Representatives across the country, such as Ilhan Omar, Cory Bush, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Johnson is also trying to look more moderate, after he participated in President Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 election and championed the latter's false election fraud accusations. He has in fact stated that he will support the bill aiming to codify Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex marriage) into law, in order to protect it from legal challenges in the Supreme Court. "I see no reason to oppose it", he said yesterday.

Johnson's outstanding popularity in Waukesha and the rest of the Milwaukee suburbs, added to an improving Republican performance in the Driftless area and the north, will, most probably, hand him victory in the race.

My prediction as of today is that, despite all of the controversies surrounding him, and despite his certified unpopularity, Ron Johnson will once again hold on and stay in the US Senate for a third term. FiveThirtyEight agrees, giving the Republican a 71% chance of winning. Even Mandela Barnes' own internal polling, conducted by "Clarity Campaign Labs", can't get him on top. All they could do, counting in the bias, the over-estimation, and all it comes when we talk about internal polling, was a tie (43-43). Marquette Law School has Barnes and other Dem candidates ahead of Johnson by a couple of points, but the institute was gravely unreliable just two years ago, when their final polls had Biden up consistently by a margin of 5 to 8 (won by less than 0.5).

Our rating remains Lean Republican: Johnson +4.8


NEW HAMPSHIRE, LEAN R --> LEAN D

Just months ago, all seemed to indicate that Governor Chris Sununu, an extremely popular figure in the Granite State, would abandon his role to run for Maggie Hassan's Senate seat.

Mitch McConnell, John Thune, and the whole Republican establishment had tried for months to convince him to run for federal office. The former Senate majority leader, a veteran of Senate politics, knew Sununu would be their best chance at defeating Senator Hassan and regain control of the chamber.

Sununu himself, as he later stated, had carefully considered the question, and had called numerous sitting GOP Senators to try and understand the field, the environment he would be entering if elected. His conclusions were that the Washington environment wasn't what he was looking for at that moment, and that his place as Governor was undoubtedly what he wished to continue doing.

The press conference where he declared he would not run was a blow to Republican's chances at taking out Sen. Hassan and gain control of the Senate. The recruitment process within the RNC, which had been focusing on convincing Governor Sununu and Governor Sununu only, collapsed as soon as the statement hit the press.

Sununu's refusal was then followed by fmr. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) and fmr. Senator Kelly Ayotte's (R-NH) statements, where they addressed the speculations involving them in the Senate race. They too declined to run.

No one could have foreseen such a disaster in the recruitment process, so much that the only candidate left in the race was Dan Bolduc, a far-right, Trump Republican who had lost the GOP Primary for Senate to Cory Messner in 2020.

Donald Trump has endorsed him, but the New Hampshire GOP recruited the House Majority Leader Chuck Morse, a moderate, classic Republican to run for office. Morse might still need time to catch up with Bolduc in the polls, but he has a much greater appeal to the general electorate than the latter, possibly even having a chance at defeating Senator Hassan. While polling on this primary has been scarce, Morse presented higher fundraising numbers than Bolduc and happened to be the most competitive challenger to Maggie Hassan in a series of "Data for Progress" polls.

My prediction is that, if the primary was held today, Bolduc would win and go on to lose against Senator Hassan by, at least, 3-4 points. Since the primaries are held later in the year, two months from today, Morse might win the GOP contest and then face Hassan in the general election. If that were the case, I believe the race would be much closer, possibly with Sen. Hassan losing. Beyond all speculations, fundraising shows that Senator Hassan should not be underestimated. My current rating (with Bolduc) is Lean Democratic: Hassan +4.4


PENNSYLVANIA, TILT REPUBLICAN

One of the most competitive states in the nation will again host one of the closest electoral contests of the cycle. Retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who has not given an endorsement yet, is leaving the seat unguarded from Democratic attacks. It's not casual if the Democratic National Committee has targeted Pennsylvania as their best chance of gaining a seat in the 2022 midterm elections, and possibly retaining the slim Senate majority.

As of today, millions of dollars are being spent by each party on the Pennsylvania Senate race, rendering it the most important in the country, the one on which the future of the Biden administration might depend for the next two years.

The GOP Primary for Senate was incredibly competitive and saw a number of important national figures running for office. Donald Trump, the former President, endorsed TV and media personality Mehmet Oz, a Turkish-American commonly known as Dr. Oz. Oz worked with Oprah Winfrey and the liberal American media for decades and became famous in the whole country as the people's surgeon.

In his opposition, the conservative and anti-Trump wing of the GOP recruited David McCormick, a businessman and Bush administration official, who built up a strong challenge to Trump endorsed-Oz. His campaign was based on Virginia's Youngkin model with a moderate, Trump-ignoring, policy-focused rhetoric. McCormick received Ted Cruz, Mike Pence, and Sean Parnell's (Trump-endorsed who had dropped out earlier this year due to domestic abuse allegations) endorsements. Most of the conservative world admitted to supporting McCormick and considered Oz as a liberal elitist.

In the last weeks of the campaign, incorrect polls from Trafalgar fueled the narrative of the McCormick campaign suddenly losing steam to far right African American candidate Kathy Barnette. Fear that she might win the primary out of the blue and cost the Senate to the GOP, lead many McCormick supporters to vote for OZ, finally determining his 900 votes victory.

Carla Sands, Donald Trump's former ambassador to Denmark, also chose to run, claiming that her foreign policy experience and loyalty to the former President would make her campaign successful in defeating the Democrats and winning the Senate.

While my personal opinion is that McCormick would have been a much better choice, solely based on electability, Dr. Oz can still make the race very competitive, especially if he turns the "liberal" appellative in his favour. Oz can run as a moderate, an independent politician who wants to represent the Keystone State in the United States' Senate in a bipartisan way. Moving away from Trump was already a great choice coming from his campaign HQs, but much more needs to be done if he still wishes to win.

On the other side, sitting Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, won the primary for Senate, defeating moderate PA-17 Representative Conor Lamb and leftist State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta. Fetterman is a progressive, relatively popular figure in the state, and plans on flipping the seat for the democratic Democratic Party and securing the Senate majority.

After recovering from a severe stroke, John Fetterman is back on the campaign trail, bashing Dr. Oz for his relationship with President Trump and the dishonesty of his campaign. Many of his television ads refer to him actually living in New Jersey and being a New Jersey resident (in opposition to Lt. Gov. Fetterman: born and raised in rural PA).

Dr. Oz is instead trying to appeal to the suburban counties of Pennsylvania, capitalizing on his celebrity past and trying to convince the "suburban white moms" demographic by denouncing lawlessness in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and tying Fetterman to President Biden, the end of fracking, and socialism.

This Senate race is certain to appear amongst the closest in the nation and will certainly take a toll on either party's ambitions of taking over the Senate if lost. As of today, I still believe in Republicans having the upper hand and winning the race. The rating remains Tilt R: Oz +1.1


NEVADA, TILT D --> TILT R

Catherine Cortez-Masto, Nevada's senior Senator first elected in 2016, is up for re-election next November in what will probably be the country's closest Senate race. She will face the state's former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, son of fmr. US Senator Pete Domenici and grandson of the popular fmr. Senator Paul Laxalt.

While the NV GOP decided to go for the far-right candidate Sam Brown, a war veteran, Laxalt received the support of the national Republican establishment and Donald Trump's "total and complete" endorsement. He went on to defeat Sam Brown by a margin of 21.6%, becoming the party's nominee for Senate.

He was, without a doubt, the single most competitive candidate in the Republican field, and the only one able to put up a challenge against Senator Cortez-Masto.

Polling confirms a tight race: Emerson College has the incumbent ahead by three points, but with a lot of undecided voters. A survey funded by the Democratic "Future Majority" PAC and conducted by Change Research shows the same result. A poll funded by a Republican organization, Battle Born Values PAC, and conducted by McLaughlin & Associates has Laxalt ahead by a point.

My prediction is that this race will be incredibly close, if not the closest in absolute terms. In the end, the political environment, the economic conditions, and Joe Biden's unpopularity will be enough to offset any kind of residual popularity and incumbency advantage from Cortez-Masto and finally lead her to a very narrow defeat. Nevada is a tossup state, and any movement, even little, will have a great impact on the general election result.

Don't be mistaken, this will be an uphill battle for Adam Laxalt. Republicans are generally unfavored by the state's election rules: the "none of these candidates" and the absence of any real leftist third party (in fact all third parties in NV are right wing: Libertarian, Constitution, Independent American and various independent candidates) is sometimes the reason why Democrats edge out the GOP. The rating changes from Tilt Democratic to Tilt Republican: Laxalt +0.1


GEORGIA, TILT R --> TILT D

As the battle for the Senate seat up for grabs in Georgia intensifies, we change our rating back to Tilt Democratic. Raphael Warnock, the Peach State's sitting Senator was elected in last year's special Jan. 5th election and is now seeking to extend his permanence in the United States' Senate with a full term.

Both him and his Republican opponent, received no significant primary challengers, meaning that this race has been on for a long time already.

The GOP, ashamed of the 2021 defeat, is now trying to get fmr. senator Isakson's seat back, in an attempt to stop the bleeding Republican support in the state. With the endorsement of both Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, former professional football player Herschel Walker was recruited to run for office and won the primary.

While initially this race seemed to lean towards Walker, simply due to an extremely harsh environment for Democrats and a some false steps coming from Sen. Warnock's campaign, the situation has changed.

Walker has evident difficulties with public speaking and policy knowledge, I also believe he might fare awfully in a debate against the reverend, much worse than Loeffler ever did in 2020 and 2021. This, added to Warnock's fantastic fundraising numbers might indicate that the senator is up again for another upset.

In the end, while I still believe that Republicans will eventually get this seat back, Warnock is the favored at the moment. Walker needs to work on himself if he wants to win the senate back for the GOP.

My rating changes from Tilt Republican to Tilt Democratic: Warnock ahead but DOES NOT AVOID a runoff in January 2023.


ARIZONA, TILT DEMOCRATIC

A formerly solid Republican state, home to John McCain and Doug Ducey, Arizona hosts today a number of statewide competitive races. As Maricopa county, populated by new families from the West and the North of the country, trended left, so did the state. After Romney's landslide 2012 performance in the Great Canyon State, Donald Trump further weakened the already declining state party once and for all.

Since 2016, winning has been a difficult job for the AZGOP. Doug Ducey, the Governor, has been the only one able to win decisively, with Democrats gaining ground at every turn. Kelli Ward, Chair of the state Republicans, has been a large chunk of the problem. Her party management has been a disaster on every level: candidate endorsements, recruitment, popularity, and continuous pivoting to Donald Trump.

The biggest mistake of the AZGOP has been that of putting loyalty for fmr. President Trump ahead of everything else. While, as showed in 2016 and 2018, the State did not like his rhetoric and populist politics, Ward continued to tie the AZGOP to the White House and Trump's national controversies. Instead of focusing on kitchen table issues, like a Republican party in a left-trending state should do, she made the bleeding worse. This is what lead to a majority Democratic congressional representation and to an awful recruitment in this year's races. While the two GOP candidates running for Governor and Senate this year will, almost certainly, be competitive, due to the national environment and the state's residual Republican tradition, and might even win, much more could have been done in terms of electability and saving the state party. Different candidates could have been chosen, different choices could have been made to perform better and ensure a victory for the GOP.

Blake Masters' almost certain nomination is proof of this. While the primary will be held a week from today, polls show that the Peter Thiel-acolyte and Donald Trump-endorsed candidate is faring much better than businessman Jim Lamon and AZ Attorney General Mark Brnovich. With such a choice, Republicans are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, giving Senator Kelly a significant opportunity to remain in office for much longer than a second term.

Not many polls have been conducted on a head-to-head matchup between Masters and Kelly, but from the data we have, again not conclusive, Masters does not look like the right candidate able to defeat an incumbent in left-trending Arizona. If Republicans want to win, they need to take back those disillusioned moderate Maricopa suburbanites who abandoned the party because of Trump and his rhetoric. If that's the case, Blake Masters is not the man for the job.

My prediction is that this race will stay competitive through November and on Election Night. Kelly will eventually take the lead and defeat Blake Masters with a victory which might set up the Democrats for state political dominance in the future. The rating stays Tilt Democratic: Kelly +1.7, excluding surprises in next week's GOP primary.


COLORADO, SAFE D --> LEAN D

Probably in one of the biggest changes of today's forecast, Colorado moves down from Safe Democratic to Lean Democratic, as trouble brews for incumbent Senator Michael Bennet. Just like Arizona, a state once safely in Republican hands, the Centennial State's population, joined by families from all across the United States, has moved towards the Democratic Party. The GOP has lost many statewide races and incumbents, so much that the Republicans are now minority in both chambers of the state's legislature. Denver is blue, and the red suburbs responsible for W. Bush's great victories in 2000 and 2004 are now gone.

While declining, the state GOP continued to score victories until 2016, when Donald Trump's nomination killed the party. This is not meant to be an attack against the former President, but it is clear that Colorado, and we can see this through precincts maps, rejected him and his policies. A state which was 100% winnable in 2016, was lost because of Donald Trump and his populist rhetoric.

The whole party went down with him, even the moderate Senator Cory Gardner, elected in 2014 against Mark Udall and defeated (by a much smaller margin than Donald Trump) by John Hickenlooper. Today, winning is a very difficult job for the Colorado Republican Party.

This does not mean there is no chance of an upset victory happening, but that can be possible only with moderate, centrist candidates with a broader appeal than just the Republican base. Fortunately for the GOP, the voters decided to nominate a great candidate to challenge Michael Bennet. Against all Democratic sabotaging, the moderate Joe O'Dea defeated the extremist, election denier Ron Hanks, who was effectively propped up and funded by Democratic PACs. The Democratic State Party was, evidently, afraid to go up against a competitive candidate such as construction businessman O'Dea. They created attack ads against the latter in an attempt to facilitate Ron Hanks and, consequently, Bennet.

But the Republican voters elected O'Dea to represent them, by a whopping 10 point margin (which is a lot for someone who was supposed to lose).

Today, the GOP nominee is working hard to build name recognition and present himself as Colorado's Joe Manchin: an independent thinker with an ability to reach across the aisle. O'Dea has also said that his campaign will have the goal of showing to the people of Colorado he doesn't have the intention to further divide the country on social issues, but the objective of helping families out of the recession.

A Republican victory in November is unlikely, but still a possibility. Tying Michael Bennet to his 100% voting record in line with President Biden and focusing on kitchen table issues dear to suburbanites might actually do the trick and make this race close. The national environment provides the exact conditions necessary for an upset, something which happens regularly in Colorado. Besides, I don't like to exclude things myself.

My prediction is that Michael Bennet will win, but much less decisively than some might think. The rating moves down to Lean D: Bennet +4.3


WASHINGTON, SAFE D --> LIKELY D

Surprisingly, it's a blue state we are talking about. The national environment, added to significant candidate quality, has made the race between incumbent Democratic Senator Patty Murray and nurse Tiffany Smiley garner national attention. After a series of polls showing Smiley within striking distance of Murray, many Republican politicians have given their endorsement to their presumptive nominee, first amongst them was former US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.

While it's clear that Murray will win, simply because of the Democratic tradition of this state, it is likely that Smiley could make it closer, within 10 points.

My prediction is a Murray victory, but the rating goes down to Likely D: Murray +9.4


Therefore, my current prediction stands at:

GOP: 51 seats (Hold FL, OH, NC, WI. Flip NV)

DEM: 48 seats (Hold WA, CO, AZ, NH. Lose NV)

To be decided in a runoff: 1 seat (GA)


Democrats COULD lose control of the Senate to the Republican Party.