Congress is out of session with lawmakers back home for the holiday recess — a traditional time for fireworks, parades, and yes, politicking.
The fight for control of the evenly divided Senate will be the most dramatic showdown of 2022, and based on the candidates who have jumped in so far — and those who are expected to — there are a few changes to this month’s ranking of the Senate seats most likely to flip partisan control.
Pennsylvania — an open-seat race in a state that President Joe Biden carried in 2020 — remains the most likely to flip. But four other states have moved around slightly.
The top 10 Senate seats most likely to flip are based on CNN’s reporting and fundraising data, as well as historical data about how states and candidates have performed. As the cycle heats up, polling and advertising spending data will also become factors. Our ranking first published in March, was updated in April and again in May.
Two other Biden states are trading places, with New Hampshire leapfrogging above Nevada. It’s true that Biden carried the Granite State by a wider margin, but the potential GOP candidate options there are enough to move it above the Silver State for now.
Of course, that could change if two big name Republicans in New Hampshire pass on the race.
Two Trump states are also switching spots. Florida is now above Ohio in terms of likelihood of flipping. Democrats have done better recently at the presidential level in Florida than they have in Ohio, and that’s all the more relevant now that Democratic Rep.
Val Demings is running against Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Democrats already had a candidate in Ohio — Rep. Tim Ryan — but the increasingly red state is tougher terrain for the party. However, this is fluid — it’s still possible that the messy GOP primary in the Buckeye State will be just the opening Democrats need.
Ohio is a prime example of how former President Donald Trump continues to hold enormous sway over the GOP, with Republican Senate candidates competing for the attention of his supporters at his rally in the state late last month.
Trump’s endorsement may not be enough to force other candidates to drop out (see North Carolina), but the idea of running without his backing in a GOP primary does seem to be enough to keep some candidates from jumping in (see Georgia).
The start of July marks the beginning of a new fundraising period, which means more candidates are likely to launch their campaigns, having waited until the end of the second quarter so as not to report a lower total from an incomplete quarter.
Incumbent: Republican Pat Toomey (retiring)
Pennsylvania — where GOP Sen. Pat Toomey is not running for another term — remains the seat most likely to flip, in large part, because it’s an open seat in a state that Biden carried last fall.
And while this race may come down to whatever the national environment looks like next year, Democrats regard it as their top pick up opportunity — even if they don’t yet know who their candidate is going to be. An already big field could get even more crowded with Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb thought to be closely eying the race. At least two potential candidates, fellow Reps.
Madeleine Dean and Chrissy Houlahan, did take themselves out of the running. EMILY’s List, the pro-abortion rights powerhouse, backed Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh. The group is often a powerful player in Democratic primaries, including in another Democratic Senate primary here in 2016.
The biggest name, however, remains Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the progressive former mayor of Braddock and a big fundraiser. Most of the Republican sparring has been between Army veteran Sean Parnell, who ran and lost against Lamb last year, and Jeff Bartos, a wealthy businessman who loaned his campaign $400,000 during the first quarter.
Incumbent: Democrat Raphael Warnock
Republicans are eager to redeem their trifecta of recent losses in Georgia. But they’re still in a waiting game when it comes to who will avenge the loss to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who’s now running for a full six-year term. That’s because Herschel Walker, encouraged by Trump to run, continues to have a freezing effect on the field.
Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black announced his candidacy in early June, becoming one of the most prominent candidates so far, while other Republicans have been reluctant to jump into the race if they know someone else will have Trump’s backing. Former Rep. Doug Collins, for example, already passed on a run.
Walker, who lives in Texas, teased a campaign with a June 17 video of him revving the engine of a car with Peach State license plates (in a garage). “I’m getting ready,” the former NFL running back said.
Trump said in a radio interview last week that Walker told him he’s decided to run. GOP strategists, however, are nervous about a risky candidate jeopardizing a must-win seat. Other Republicans are still testing the waters. Former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who lost to Warnock in the January runoff, recently tweeted about meeting with Trump.
And she met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, too, telling CNN in mid June, “I haven’t ruled it out.” Rep. Buddy Carter, who’s friends with Walker, is waiting to see what Walker does before making a decision. While everyone waits on Walker, national Republicans are not wasting time attacking one of their top targets.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has hit Warnock on TV for supporting the For the People Act, the sweeping voting and elections bill they dub “the welfare for politicians plan” (because of a public financing provision).
Incumbent: Republican Ron Johnson
GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is keeping everyone guessing — will he run for a third term? His indecision could be putting a possible successor at a disadvantage if he decides not to run. Johnson is the only Republican potentially running for reelection in a state Biden carried last year, so the seat is a top target for Democrats, regardless of whether he runs or not.
Given some of the disinformation and conspiracy theories Johnson has peddled about the coronavirus and vaccines, the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection, Wisconsin is the rare state where Democrats may feel more confident running against a two-term incumbent than they would an unknown Republican. They’ve got a handful of decent candidates, with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes making moves too.
Incumbent: Democrat Mark Kelly
Republicans are no longer without candidates to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, who is running for a full six-year term after winning last fall. Several contenders have recently jumped in the race, including Attorney General Mark Brnovich, with others still considering. That’s a relief to party operatives who feared that without Gov. Doug Ducey running, they’d be left scrambling in one of their top pick-up opportunities.
But Democrats are gleefully anticipating a messy primary, where Republicans are forced to cater to the Trump base (and show support for a partisan-driven audit), only to have to make a quick pivot to a general election audience next fall. Still, Republicans believe Kelly, an astronaut and the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, is beatable — despite his compelling personal story and impressive fundraising.
That’s because he’ll have a voting record this time — and the national party is already trying to use that against him. Republicans are also using the state’s other Democratic senator, moderate Kyrsten Sinema, as a foil to try to make Kelly look too liberal. “Stand with Senator Sinema against the liberal partisans,” blared one recent ad about the filibuster from the outside GOP-aligned group One Nation.
5. North Carolina
Incumbent: Republican Richard Burr (retiring)
The biggest news in North Carolina was Trump’s surprise endorsement of Rep. Ted Budd to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Burr. Trump did it on stage at the state GOP convention just minutes after his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, said she was passing on the race. Budd, a gun store and range owner, emerged from a 17-way primary in 2016, winning his House seat with the backing of the Club for Growth, which is supporting him in this race, too.
But Trump’s endorsement isn’t clearing the field in this race. Former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker, who were both in the crowd when Trump made his announcement, are still running. On the Democratic side, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has the backing of EMILY’s List. But state Sen. Jeff Jackson and former state Sen. Erica Smith are still running too.
6. New Hampshire
Incumbent: Democrat Maggie Hassan
First-term Sen. Maggie Hassan is still without a top tier challenger, but this race moves up one spot on the list. Republicans know exactly who they want to run here — and even if he doesn’t do it, the GOP may have a back up. Gov. Chris Sununu had originally said he’d make a decision after the end of the legislative session in June, but he seems to have pushed back his timeline, telling “Good Morning New Hampshire” last month, “I won’t make a decision for a really long time.” He does have time — Hassan, in her last run, didn’t announce until October 2015 — and unlike some other candidates making up their minds in other states, he doesn’t need to introduce himself to voters since he’s the sitting governor.
In the event he doesn’t run, former Sen. Kelly Ayotte — who lost to Hassan by just 1,017 votes in 2016 — could run instead. Republicans are convinced that Hassan, herself a former two-term governor, isn’t as well-defined as she should be.
They’re trying to attack her for backing the For the People Act (also going after the public finance part of the legislation). But it’s not just her record that’s being attacked. Democrats think Sununu just handed them a potent weapon with his signature of a budget with new abortion restrictions.
They argue that could be politically perilous for a Republican in a state that voted for Biden by 7 points and has trended more blue in federal elections recently.
Incumbent: Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto
Nevada slides down the list because first-term Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the country’s first Latina senator, largely has this race to herself, with Republicans waiting on former Attorney General Adam Laxalt to get in. Biden carried Nevada by less of a margin than he did New Hampshire — only 2 points — but Laxalt doesn’t quite have the profile of Sununu and it’s not clear the GOP has a back-up option here.
Republicans think he could motivate the base and gain traction as a former statewide elected official, while Democrats are eager to tie him to Trump and his efforts to overturn the election.
Incumbent: Republican Marco Rubio
This race moves up one spot on the list of seats most likely to flip because Democratic Rep. Val Demings is now running, giving GOP Sen. Marco Rubio a formidable opponent (assuming she wins the Democratic primary). Florida trades places with Ohio, which was originally ranked higher because Democrats had a candidate in that race earlier.
Florida, by the numbers, however, is a more viable state for Democrats than Ohio — Biden lost the Sunshine State by 3 points and the Buckeye State by 8 points. That’s not to say Rubio will be easy to beat. The two-term senator starts the race with the advantage, and some Republicans think they dodged a bullet when Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a more moderate Democrat, passed on the race. But Demings, a former social worker and Orlando police chief who was a vice presidential contender for Biden, brings a strong profile to the race — one that could potentially blunt the ubiquitous Republican attacks on Democrats for being soft on crime and wanting to “defund the police.”
Incumbent: Republican Rob Portman (retiring)
The already crowded GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman got another candidate on Thursday when “Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance officially entered the race. And he’s not just a famous author (whose book has been turned into a movie). He comes with the backing of a super PAC that already has a $10 million commitment from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
In a primary that has so far been all about loyalty to Trump, however, those outside connections may only get him so far. He’ll have to navigate attacks over his public opposition to Trump in 2016, for example. Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, meanwhile, has a pretty clear lane to run in while the Republicans duke it out amongst themselves. Even so, this race slides down one spot in terms of likelihood of flipping, switching places with Florida, where the fundamentals of the state are more favorable to Democrats, especially now that they have a big-name candidate running.
Incumbent: Republican Roy Blunt (retiring)
With her announcement in June, Rep. Vicky Hartzler became one of the latest Republicans running to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt. But the main reason this seat, in a state Trump carried by 15 points, is remotely competitive is because of one of the other candidates: former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned from office following a probe into allegations of sexual and campaign misconduct. His candidacy is giving Democrats hope that they could contest this ruby red state, while giving Republicans heartburn about another possible Todd Akin situation.
(The 2012 Senate candidate’s comments about “legitimate rape” cost them the seat and imperiled other Republicans around the country.) And the more Republicans who run in Missouri, the more the primary vote will be splintered, potentially lowering the threshold that Greitens would need to win the nomination.
(State Senate Republicans had been trying to create a runoff rule that would apply for next year). But for now, the intrigue here is trying to figure out whose constituency will cut into whose. Hartzler, who once introduced an amendment to block the military from paying for gender reassignment surgery or hormone therapy for both service members and their families, courts Christian conservatives. But she has plenty of company trying to appeal to the Trump base.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt is running, as is Mark McCloskey, who, along with his wife, recently pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges after they pointed their guns at people protesting racial injustice near their home last year. Several members of the congressional delegation are still eying the race, too.